|Introduction and Specifications|
Google made a brilliant decision last year to take the bull by the horns and deliver its own brand Android tablet to the masses. Built by ASUS to Google's specifications, the original Nexus 7 awarded a patient (and eager) audience with a stock Android experience wrapped in an affordable package that was high on value and low on feature concessions. It was precisely the kind of tablet the Android camp had been clamoring for, because for whatever reason, most third-party manufacturers were tying to push larger, overpriced slates onto an audience that simply wanted a solid tablet without paying a premium. Up until the Nexus 7 arrived, the only viable alternatives, other than cheap off-brands with questionable build quality, were Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, a fine pair of slates for their intended purposes, but also deeply rooted in each company's own ecosystem.
A year later, Google isn't taking a breather and is once again showing the competition how to deliver an Android tablet that caters to consumer demand. The new model Nexus 7 is a worthy successor to the original, boasting an improved design both internally and externally. It's thinner and lighter for improved portability, has a faster processor to handle a new crop of games and applications, and wields a higher resolution display that allows viewers to watch Full HD 1080p movies as they're intended to be viewed.Android 4.3 brings some new features to the table, including support for OpenGL ES 3.0, location detection through Wi-Fi, virtual surround sound, and more.
Let's take a quick look at the new Nexus 7 before moving on:
Google's challenge the first time around was fitting enough features into an affordable tablet to draw a significant crowd. Certain sacrifices had to be made, for instance the lack of a rear-facing camera. The challenge Google faces this time is in justifying the price upgrade over the original. This year's model sees a price bump to $229 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, $269 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model, and $349 for the upcoming 32GB LTE model.
Opening the box won't yield any immediate surprises. Like last time, the Nexus 7 comes with a microUSB cable and charger (slimmed down from the original), a Quick Start guide, warranty papers, and of course the tablet itself. We'd like to see a scratch-free microfiber cloth included to wipe away inevitable finger smudges, but it's not part of the bundle.
We already pointed out that the 2013 Nexus 7 is thinner, lighter, and faster than the original with an upgraded display, but in terms of comparing the two spec sheets, it also has twice as much RAM, wireless charging support, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, HDMI output (via microUSB with optional adapter), and a 5MP rear-facing camera.
|Design and User Interface|
The difference in size and weight between the original Nexus 7 and 2013's model isn't dramatic, but noticeable when placed side-by-side and/or held in different hands. Slimmer and lighter, the updated Nexus 7 measures 0.3 inches (H) by 7.9 inches (W) by 4.5 inches (D) and weighs 11.2 ounces, compared to the original Nexus 7's dimensions of 0.4 inches (H) by 7.8 inches (W) by 4.7 inches (D) and 12 ounces.
In portrait mode, the 2013 Nexus 7 is slightly taller than last year's model, and the front-facing camera has been moved from the top-center to an offset position towards the right. The megapixel count (2.1MP) is unchanged. Also the same is the thick bezels that line the top and bottom in portrait or left and right in landscape model. The other two bezels are noticeably slimmer, having been cut down about in half. It actually looks uncomfortably thin, but in real-world use, we didn't experience accidental finger taps, or at least not any more than usual.
The new Nexus 7 is a sleeker looking tablet, not just because it's been trimmed down and is less chunky, but also because of the all-black design. Gone is the silver bezel accent that ran the circumference of the original, now replaced by an all-black edge. And while the corners are still rounded, they're smaller and curve at a sharper angle.
The real treat is the upgraded display. Google decided to tighten up the pixel density by way of a Full HD 1080p IPS panel with a 1920x1200 resolution, resulting in 323 pixels per inch (PPI). That's upgraded from 1280x800 and 216 PPI on last year's Nexus, and superior to Apple's iPad mini tablet, which features a 1024x768 resolution and 163 PPI stretched out over 7.9 inches.
For some, the display alone is reason to upgrade from the first generation Nexus 7. Everything looks better on the 2013 Nexus 7 as a result of cramming more pixels into the same surface area, and we found that the display gets a little brighter, too. Navigating the icons isn't a hugely different experience, and you might be hard pressed to tell one tablet from the other based on the menu items alone, but as soon as you fire up a picture or a movie, the Full HD 1080p panel springs to life. It also offers a great viewing experience from virtually any angle.
Google and ASUS traded the textured back finish that was an ergonomic highlight of the original for a smoother backside. They also rotated the ingrained NEXUS logo so that it runs left-to-right in a landscape orientation instead of portrait. This offers a little bit of a textured grip, but not as much as before. Not to overstate the issue, the new Nexus 7 isn't slippery, it just doesn't offer as much friction as the previous design.
New to the rear of the Nexus 7 is a 5MP camera. This was an unfortunate omission of the first generation Nexus 7, and one that ASUS justified by saying it would rather nix the camera altogether than to implement a crappy lens at the desired price point just for the sake of having one. Even though it was a bummer, we understood the reasoning, and we're glad to see that a serviceable set of optics fit within the manufacturing budget this time around.
You'll still find the power button and volume rocker on the upper-right side of the Nexus 7, though just around the corner (literally) is the new position of the 3.5mm audio jack. It's been moved to the top towards the right side just above the rear-facing camera. We're rather indifferent to its placement, though we imagine there will be those who wholeheartedly like and vehemently dislike the change.
That means the microUSB port on the bottom is now all by its lonesome self. If you peer closely, you'll notice it juts out just a tad, and that's probably because the new model is slimmer than the original. It should also be noted that the microUSB port is a SlimPort, so if you have (or purchase) a SlimPort adapter, you can mirror video over HDMI to your HDTV.
Dual stereo speakers now don the Nexus 7 on the left and right side of the tablet. This delivers a marginal improvement in the overall sound quality, though we were slightly disappointed that it's not really any louder than the original. To be fair, a high-end speaker system on a tablet would add to the cost and weight of the device, but we still wish it would pump out a tad more volume. If that's what you need, you can always plug in a set of headphones or connect to an external speaker via Bluetooth. As it stands, the built-in speakers offer rich audio and enough distortion-free volume for a tablet this size, just not enough to rupture your eardrums.
The latest version of Android (4.3) ships with the newest Nexus 7 tablet, and an upgrade is available for last generation Nexus 7 owners, as well. Most users won't find the changes to be immediately obvious, though if you've kept up with Google's evolving Android platform, you'll there are certain features to look for, one of the highlights being multi-user restricted profiles. Essentially a version of parental controls, multi-user restricted profiles lets you lock the kids out from accessing certain content and features, like in-app purchases. This requires a bit of cooperation from the developer side, as it up to app programmers to code in support for these controls, but at least there's an option for them.
You'll also find emoticons for the stock keyboard, lower latency input for gamepad buttons and joysticks, Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooh Low Energy) support, and a few other upgrades.
|Performance: CPU and Web Browsing|
In the following tests, we take a look at how the 2013 Nexus 7 compares to other tablets by running a few common benchmarks that are currently available in the Google Play Store. Since it was available, we also upgraded the original Nexus 7 to Android 4.3 Jelly, the same OS that's on the current model, and re-ran those benchmarks for a more accurate comparison between the two.
Right out of the gate, Google's updated Nexus 7 shows a vast improvement in performance over the original model. The 2013 Nexus 7 also runs circles around the competition, which is a testament to the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM. It also works in the Nexus 7's favor that it doesn't have to waste any resources on third-party overlays like TouchWiz.
Here again, the 2013 Nexus 7 put a fair amount of distance between it and its predecessor, though it wasn't quite able to dip below the 1,000ms mark like the Surface RT, Galaxy Note 8.0, or Transformer Pad Infinity. Subjectively, browsing the web on the Nexus 7 is silky smooth. We didn't experience any hiccups or lag, nor did we expect to with 2GB of RAM at our disposable and the most mature version of Android to date.
In Browsermark, the 2013 Nexus 7 didn't put any significant distance between and the 2012 model, but it did run at the front of the pack trailing only the iPhone 5.
|Performance: Graphics and GLBenchmark|
The GLBenchmark test suite is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark with a number of performance metrics incorporated within. We specifically use the fillrate test here 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 resolution are not limiting performance factors.
Apple's iPad remained untouchable in GLBenchmark's texture fill test, but after that, it was the new Nexus 7 that led the rest of the pack with a score that's almost twice as high as the previous iteration.
The SoC in the Nexus 7 is a powerful platform with a 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and Adreno 320 GPU clocked at 400MHz. On the GPU side, the Adreno 320 is armed with a unified shader architecture and dual-channel memory support offering up to four times the performance of Adreno 225. As we can see in the Egypt test, it's a capable architecture for playing games, posting an impressive 41 frames per second.
The Basemark X benchmark is built on top of an actual game engine, Unity 4, and features workloads modeled after actual games designed for smartphones and tablets. Basemark X exploits features like particle effects, advanced lighting effects and post processing, and really taxes the current generation of tablets.
No big surprise here, given what we've already seen from the Nexus 7 and its powerful SoC. Once again, it put up class-leading performance metrics, easily besting its predecessor and every other tablet we've run this benchmark on.
|Performance: Graphics and General System Level|
3DMark Ice Storm is an OpenGL ES 2.0 benchmark test that uses fixed off-screen rendering at 720p then scales the output to fit the native display resolution of your device. Ice Storm includes two graphics tests designed to stress the GPU performance of your device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance.
Google's Nexus 7 tablet took pole position in every single subsection of Futuremark's 3DMark Fire Storm test. Another impressive showing for an SoC that's clearly up to the task of gaming.
The Android-based AnTuTu benchmark does a nice job of measuring individual subsystem level performance for our tablet competitors here, with models for CPU, GPU, RAM and IO (or storage subsystem) performance.
When examining all the compute subsystems within the Nexus 7, there really aren't any weak points to be found. The CPU and GPU are blazing fast for this class tablet (or any mobile device, really), and RAM and I/O performance both hold their own. Google and ASUS clearly put together a tablet that will remain relevant for a long while to come.
|Performance: Battery Life and Camera|
Brand new to this year's Nexus 7 is the introduction of a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. It's a feature addition that's lacking in the original model because, at the time, ASUS had to decide between implementing poor quality optics at the desired price point, or skip it altogether rather. ASUS chose the latter, but this time around, a higher MSRP and continued advances in technology made it possible to squeeze a rear camera into the spec sheet. Is it any good?
After putting it to the test, we'd describe the rear-facing camera as "serviceable," if not occasionally very good. It takes pictures that are easily good enough to post to Facebook and other social sites, and some are nice enough to be printed. By and large, however, you'll want to use a dedicated point-n-shoot if image quality trumps convenience. While the Nexus 7's camera does relatively well in both well-lit and dimly lit environments, the colors don't pop and too much sunshine can wash out an image, even when pointing the lens in the complete opposite direction. In the bottom middle pic shown above, you can see the sun washing out the image a little, and to the right of that, you can see an example of over saturation among the white colored flowers.
To be fair, we're nitpicking a welcome feature addition. For the most part, the pictures are pretty good.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the Nexus 7's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran two tests. For a more controlled setting, we used AnTuTu's battery rundown test. This a newer test for us, so we're still building out our baseline reference numbers still. This test is fairly intense, ramping-up CPU cycles in an effort to drain the battery as fast as possible -- it's a solid look at endurance under duress and heavy use.
Like everyone else, we were a little worried that Google and ASUS downsized the battery in the Nexus 7 from 4,345 mAh in last year's model to 3,950 mAh in the 2013 model. We understand the desire to slim down and lighten the tablet, but not if it comes at the expense of significant battery life.
Luckily, our fears proved unfounded. Google rates the battery life at up to 9 hours of active use, and in the real world, you can easily squeeze a full day out of the tablet; some of you will see as many as 2-3 days if you're not doing anything too intense. Of course, you're mileage will vary depending on the activity and how bright the screen is set at. Playing games tend to stress the components and drain the battery at a fast clip, though surfing and even streaming videos doesn't put much of a strain on the Nexus 7.
In the AnTuTu battery test, the 2013 model Nexus 7 scored 457, the second best score we've seen so far.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Analysis: What was already a fast and nimble tablet is now even faster and more adept at every task you throw at it. The 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro with Adreno 320 graphics gives the 2013 Nexus 7 a serious boost in power over last year's model, and on several occasions, we saw the new model post benchmark scores twice as high as its predecessor. Gamers in particular stand to benefit from the upgraded SoC, which was able to pull 41 frames per second in GLBenchmark's Egypt Off Screen test. The Nexus 7's 3DMark performance was equally impressive.
The obvious highlight of the 2013 Nexus 7 is the upgraded IPS display, which now boasts a 1920x1200 resolution. Far be it for us to downplay the hype, because as far as we're concerned, this is one of the best looking tablet displays available, if not the best around. Everything simply looks better compared to the 2012 model, and the best part about it is the experience starts at well under $300. It's remarkable to think that a $229 tablet (16GB Wi-Fi SKU) can offer such a premium viewing experience, but it's here, it's real, and it's every bit as good as advertised. If you think you'll need more storage, the 32GB variant is still under the $300 mark, which is still reasonably competitive.
At the expense of sounding too smitten, everything about the new model Nexus 7 is improved from the original. Granted, we didn't find the 2012 model to be heavy or chunky, but next to the 2013 release, it almost feels that way. The new Nexus 7 is slimmer, lighter, and a whole lot faster, the last of which is reason alone to upgrade if you like to stay on the cutting edge or are specifically interested in playing games. Not to mention, the new Nexus 7's display is drop-dead gorgeous.
Lest we be accused of writing a love letter here, Google and ASUS left some room for improvement. We love that there's now a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera for impromptu photo shoots, but in reality, its image output is best served for social media or other casual uses. You might end up with a gem that's worth printing, but you'll also end up with photos that are a bit washed out and grainy. But hey, it's there and the results are at least far from terrible.
We also would like the speakers to be a little bit louder. As it stands, they deliver rich audio and are pretty good for a 7-inch tablet, but if Google and ASUS truly want to knock our socks off, they'll find a way to fill our eardrums a bit more in the next iteration. It's a tall order for a tablet but between Google and ASUS, they should be able to figure it out.
Minor quibbles notwithstanding, the 2013 Nexus 7 is our definitive choice in the 7 and 8-inch tablet category. Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 could pull up a close second if they dropped its price by at least $150 (not likely). Put simply, you won't find a better all-around tablet in this size or price range. From the external display to the internal engine, this is the total package, and it's affordable to boot. Google's 2013 second generation Nexus 7 is a no-brainer HotHardware Editor's Choice.