|Introduction and Specifications|
A couple of years ago, Google introduced its Nexus line of smartphones. Nexus branded phones feature a pure Android experience without the customizations and tweaks we generally get from smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers. Nexus-branded products also come with an unlockable bootloader which provides for further development and end-user modification.
This year, however, Google expanded its Nexus line to include more than just smartphones. At the Google I/O conference in June, Google unveiled its first ever Nexus tablet, known as the Nexus 7. In keeping with the tradition that Nexus devices are among the first to run the latest versions of Android, the Nexus 7 is the lead device for Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. Google says this is the fastest and smoothest version of Android yet. In addition to performance enhancements in Jelly Bean, Google has also included some new functionality in the form of better notifications, new widgets, and even better integration with Google's Play store than before.
Google has partnered with a few manufacturers for its Nexus devices in the past, like HTC and Samsung. For the Nexus 7 tablet, Google partnered with Asus to develop a tablet that's lightweight and fits comfortably in your hand. When developing the Nexus 7, Google and Asus focused on making the tablet powerful but affordable. With its NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core-plus-one processor and starting price of $199 for the 8GB model (a 16GB model is available for $249), the companies seem to have struck a good balance between performance and price.
Here's a quick hands-on with Google's new tablet and then we'll get into the nitty-gritty next.
Given its 7-inch screen size and competitive price, the Nexus 7 competes directly with popular tablets such as Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, and a number of other 7-inch tablets. For many hard-core Android users, however, the Nexus 7's pure Android experience makes the Nexus 7 more compelling than the other. Does the Nexus 7 live up to the hype? Read on as we take a hands-on look at this hot new tablet...
In the box, you'll find the Nexus 7 as well as a microUSB cable and USB charger. A Quick Start guide and warranty papers are also included with the tablet. Although there aren't a lot of extras in the box, that's what we prefer – let users buy accessories separately rather than charging all users for something they may or may not use or want.
|Design and Aesthetics|
When designing the Nexus 7, Google wanted the tablet to be comfortable to hold. Asus and Google have achieved this goal by giving the Nexus 7 rounded corners and edges and a soft back. The tablet is very comfortable to hold in a single hand. And while the textured back of the tablet makes it easier to grip than some others we've seen, the tablet could still slide out of your hand if you don't provide a little resistance.
The Nexus 7 measures about 7.81 x 4.72 x 0.41 inches and weighs approximately 0.75 pounds. Although the Nexus 7 has a similar footprint to many other 7-inch tablets, its footprint is most similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, as you can see in the chart below. It's also worth noting that the Nexus 7 is the lightest of these four tablets.
Viewing angles with the Nexus 7 are excellent and it is possible to read the screen outdoors in direct sunlight, though the Nexus 7 faces the same challenges in direct sunlight as other tablets: reflections and glare. Overall, visibility under direct sunlight was comparable to other tablets we've seen, if not a little better.
The Nexus 7's front-facing 1.2 megapixel webcam is located at the top of the device, in the center of the bezel. On the left edge of the tablet, you'll find a microphone as well as a 4-pin connector. The right edge of the tablet houses the Power/lock key and the volume key. The microUSB port and 3.5mm headset jack are located on the bottom edge of the Nexus 7.
When you flip the tablet over, you'll notice the soft, textured surface of the Nexus 7's back cover. This textured surface does not attract fingerprints. The Nexus 7's NFC area is located in the upper half of the tablet on the back near the Nexus logo. A speaker grill can be found near the bottom.
Google wanted to create a device that is optimized for use with all of the content in the Google Play store. As you can see from looking at two of the default home screens, Google is definitely highlighting the content capabilities of the Nexus 7. From books to magazines to movies, the Nexus 7 is designed to provide easy and quick access to your favorite content. The Nexus 7 has five customizable home screens. Out of the box, three of the five home screens have no widgets or content, so they're ready for you to customize.
The Nexus 7 runs on Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. With Jelly Bean, you'll get new Google Play widgets, Google Now, new notification controls, and more. Google describes Google Now as a feature that "will give you just the right information at just the right time", whatever that means.
You can access Google Now by swiping up from the bottom of the tablet. Now provides helpful information such as nearby places, traffic information, scores for your favorite team, and more. You can configure some settings in Google Now but for the most part, the feature is designed to use contextual data from your tablet and other Google products as well as data from third-party products to determine the most relevant information to display.
Some of the factors Google Now considers are the time of day, your location, your location history, your Web history, and information from synced calendar entries among other things. You can dismiss a card from the Google Now screen by swiping it away.
With the new notification shade, you'll be able to expand certain notifications to show more information using pinch-and-zoom controls. When relevant, you'll also see options to snooze or email guests with select notifications. You can open the app that's related to the notification by pressing the icon on the left. You can dismiss notifications by swiping them away.
In order to give you a pure Jelly Bean experience, Asus and Google didn't preload the Nexus 7 with extra apps. As you can see from the app listing, you'll get the standard Google apps – Gmail, Chrome, Google+, and YouTube – without extra clutter.
The Nexus 7 is the first device to ship with Chrome as the standard browser. With Chrome, you'll get support for unlimited tabs, the ability to rearrange tabs, and Incognito tabs. With its quad-core-plus-one Tegra 3 SoC with GeForce graphics, gyroscope, and accelerometer, the Nexus 7 is also designed with gaming in mind.
|CPU and Browser Performance|
Next, we'll take a look at how the Nexus 7 tablet compares to other tablets by running and examining a few benchmarks that are currently available in the Android Marketplace.
The Nexus 7 outscored all other tablets in the Linpack multithreaded test, outscoring even the closest competitor by nearly 20MFLOPS.
The Nexus 7 once again shows its power and strength in the Rightware BrowserMark test, earning the top spot in this test.
GLBenchmark is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated within. We specifically used the Fill Texture Fetch suite to measure raw texture fill rate of a graphics core and the Egypt Off Screen test to measure 3D performance in frames per second. The Off Screen test renders workloads at 1280x720 for all devices, but off-screen, so Vsynch and screen refresh are not limiting performance.
The Nexus 7 performed well in both of the GLBenchmark tests (Egypt Off Screen and Fill Texture Fetch). Although it didn't earn the No. 1 spot, it wasn't far behind in either of these tests.
If you notice, many of today's top tablets in the An3DBench XL test are neck-and-neck. The Nexus 7 may not have earned the top spot, but it's right up there with all of today's popular tablets in terms of benchmark scores on the An3DBench XL test.
Google says you should get up to 9 hours of HD video playback, 10 hours of web browsing or e-reading, and up to 300 hours of standby time from the Nexus 7's battery.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Nexus 7's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran a test in which we set up a webpage with a mix of graphics, Flash media and text. The page automatically refreshes every three minutes, we loop the page and also setup a screen lock utility that keeps the display from sleeping during the test. Battery life is measured down to the minute the tablet finally shuts down. The Wi-Fi radio is enabled in this test to simulate battery life in real-world web browsing over a wireless connection.
For this test, we set the Nexus 7's display to 50% brightness, which is still plenty bright and easy on the eyes. The Nexus 7 lasted 7 hours untethered before it powered down.
Hard-core Android fans know Google's Nexus line of products offer a pure Android experience and an unlockable bootloader which provides for further development and end-user modification. The average consumer, however, may not know or appreciate these two factors. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall though, the Nexus 7 has a lot to offer.
For tech enthusiasts, the Nexus 7 offers all of the latest and greatest performance and OS features you'd want, including Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) as well as a NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core-plus-one SoC. The tablet also has a price tag that should be attractive to all users: $199 for the 8GB version and $249 for the 16GB version.
Google and ASUS put some time and effort into designing this tablet, and it shows. The Nexus 7 is very responsive, and some of the extra widgets and controls found in the OS add to the overall enjoyment of using the tablet. Google says Jelly Bean is the fastest and smoothest version of Android to date. From our tests, we'd have to agree: Jelly Bean was very responsive and we didn't experience any hiccups during our hands-on time with the Nexus 7.
There are plenty of other 7-inch tablets on the market today, including the popular Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. For a relatively similar price, we feel the Nexus 7 is much more attractive than either of these tablets since it provides a full Android experience without bloatware, as well as a powerful processor that can handle demanding games and content.
All in all, we feel Google and ASUS have a hit on their hands with the first Nexus tablet. Although the 7-inch form factor is popular at the moment, we also like what 10-inch tablets have to offer. Now that we've seen the first Nexus tablet in action, we're hoping Google continues to expand their line-up with a 10-inch model that's equally as powerful and as much fun to use.