My history with tablets has been rather short. Unfortunately, I jumped on the ill-fated netbook train and wasted my time there when the first practical and affordable commercial tablets began to appear on the market. Contrary to popular belief, the iPad was not the first tablet… The first iPad was released in 2010, a full seventeen years after Apple’s initial PDA project “Newton” was attempted, and twenty-two years after the actual first commercial tablet, the GRiDPad, was released. For graduate school and programming interest, I attained an iPad 2 in the fall of 2011. While I never really programmed for the device, it was quite useful during school. I used a Logitech keyboard case that allowed me to forgo notebooks/pens/pencils in favor of Evernote! I got the iPad2 when I still used the Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S1) smartphone. At the time I did not believe that the Android OS was versatile and stable enough to deliver a quality experience. Over the next two years I would struggle with the reality that while the Android OS certainly advanced by leaps and bounds in the stability and usability departments, the problem was no longer about the operating system, but instead had shifted to being nearly exclusively regarding the hardware. Manufacturers could not or would not market a tablet with specs requisite to rival the iPad at a respectable price-point. Even still, tablets manufactured by Archos, Velocity, Ematic, D2, Coby, and several others, helped to flood the market with extremely lackluster budget tablets. This pushed me further away from the idea of an Android tablet. I think I walked into a Big Lots and saw a display for an Android tablet… A tablet, at Big Lots…

There was nothing wrong with the iPad2 I was using, except that it was an expensive device for what I using it for. I desired to have a device that was larger and faster than a smartphone, but cheaper than an iPad. I bought the Second Gen Nexus 7. Branded by Google, built by Asus, this tablet rocks.

 

TLDR

Buy it!

 

History

In July 2012, Google released the first generation Nexus 7. This model was a success, and the second generation was improved and modernized for a July 2013 release.

Specs

Weight: 10 Ounces
Dimensions: 7.9″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ (HxWxD)
Onboard Storage: 16 GB / 32 GB
Processor: 1.5 GHz Quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro
Graphics: Adreno 320, running at 400 MHz
Memory: 2GB
Resolution: 1900 x 1200 / 7.02″ screen with 323 pixels per inch
Camera: 5 MP Rear / 1.2 MP Front
OS: Android 4.3
Extra:

  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Wireless a/b/g/n (Dual band)
  • Near Field Communication
  • Qi Wireless Charging
  • Slimport
  • USB On-The-Go

User Interface

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While the tablet fits very well in one hand, and displays nicely in portrait mode, landscape mode is just as nice! The 1920 x 1200 resolution is simply gorgeous!

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Android 4.3 looks and feels nice and responsive on the device. I’ve been out of the Android game since 2.1, so I can’t comment on the OS’s progression as much as I’d like to. However, it has come a very long way! Version 4.3 features three buttons on the bottom-center of the screen; Back, Home, and a Running Tasks button. The decision to drop the dedicated ‘Settings’ or ‘Options’ button is smart in my opinion. The Home screen affords a total of 36 icon spaces per page, arranged in a 6 x 6 grid, as well as 6 icons on the dock, also called the ‘Hotseat’ (which are displayed on every page). There are 6 pages by default. Apps like ‘Beautiful Widgets’ and ‘Spotify’ fit very well in either orientation.

 

Apps & Widgets

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Apps and Widgets are installed and accessible via the ‘Apps’ icon in the middle of the dock on the Home Screen. While you can group objects on the Home screen pages, you are unable to group objects in the App and Widget menu by default. For me, this is a non-issue at the moment; however, as I acquire more apps I can see it becoming a problem. The Google Play Store is available via the top-right icon.

The default apps are minimal, and that’s a good thing! No bloatware! Sure, you may never use ‘Keep’ to take notes, but at least you won’t have to deal with AT&T, Verizon, Asus, or HTC apps as well.

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The default installed widgets aren’t spectacular, but do their basic jobs. Syncing with a Google account affords you synced bookmarks, and Facebook integration allows you to see the most recent feed updates, but you’ll definitely want some third-party widgets. I installed ‘Beautiful Widgets’ and am enjoying life!

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Pulling down the top-right corner reveals the control panel for enabling/disabling common settings, as well as checking wifi strength and battery life. Pulling down the top-left corner reveals any app notifications.

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By default, ‘Gesture Typing’ is enabled. Before it was baked into Android, this functionality was called ‘Swype’. It allows text to be entered by either tapping on the individual letters (think ‘keyboard’), or by sliding your finger through all the letters to spell a given word using a gesture. The system intelligently adds punctuation and spacing, allowing the user to just gesture and type away! Using a configurable dictionary, users may add words that are not included by default. I was a huge fan of this input method on my Captivate, and was disappointed to find that the iOS devices did not support it without a jailbreak. It has gotten so much better; in fact, most of this review was written using the Nexus 7 and GT. FYI: The image above is supposed to be gibberish at the end…

 

Battery Performance

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The battery life is very respectable on the Nexus 7. The largest drop was during my ‘Ingress’ test phase where Wifi, GPS, and the screen were all being used continuously for about 45 minutes. This test forced nearly a 25% drop, but that was expected. The interesting thing to notice is that during the entire day of testing, when the screen was off, the N7’s battery loss was very low. I’ve run extended tests, and have had over 5 days up-time with regular use. It is advertised at ‘up to 9 hours active use.’

 

Graphical Performance

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Graphically, this tablet is one the best. 3DMark benchmarks revealed that the N7 performed extremely well, and was rated third on both tests. That’s third overall, as in “when compared to every rated tablet on the market!” Check out the screens below, and then stick around for the rest of the review!

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Pre-Conclusion ‘Catch-All’

I mentioned the screen resolution earlier, but I avoided the pixel-per-inch and screen construction altogether. PPI refers to the number of pixels in a square-inch of screen. This density is extremely important, and factors into the overall visible quality of the screen. The iPad version 3/4 has a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 with 264 ppi, the iPhone 5 has a maximum resolution of 1136 x 640 with 326 ppi,and the Nexus 7 has a maximum resolution of  1920 x 1200 with 323 ppi. I know that’s a mindful of numbers, but all you really need to know is that its ‘ok’ for larger resolution displays to have smaller ppi. But notice that the Nexus 7 has a much larger resolution than the iPhone 5, but still maintains a relatively high ppi. Likewise, compare the iPad resolution to the N7’s, and then compare the ppi. In a nutshell, the N7 has better screen clarity because of its resolution and ppi. Construction-wise, the N7 sports scratch resistant ‘Corning (R)’ glass.

The N7 contains built-in stereo speakers. They lack bass, but I didn’t expect them to have awesome sound quality. I will say that they exceeded my expectations though. No matter how I held the tablet, I got respectable sound from the speakers.

I’m not sure wireless charging is really that beneficial at the moment. It is incredibly convenient, but I don’t want to pay $60-$90 for the charging pad, on top of paying $230 for the tablet.

Another, seemingly, inconvient characteristic of the N7 is it’s exclusion of onboard storage expansion. Initially, I thought this was a major hindrance as 16 GB is not a lot of storage capacity when you take into account that the Wifi only version must take it’s data with it, rather than access it on the road via 4G/LTE. But, thanks to the USB OTG adapter (pictured below), this isn’t really a problem.

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USB OTG uses a USB Micro->USB adapter to allow USB storage devices (Jump-drives, Hard Drives, etc…) to connect to the Nexus 7. Files can then be ferried over using a number of free file managers. While this is not as perfect as throwing a 64 GB Micro SD card into the tablet and just ‘having’ more space, it certainly allows more granularity and ease of file management. I’d much rather carry a 2 TB external HDD full of my neccessary files, transferring as I need them, than having to choose the files that fit on the SD card…

The cameras on the N7 did not impress me. They are good enough for casual use, but worse than the iPhone camera. There is no flash LED, making images muddy and dark. I did not buy the tablet for camera use, but if that is a big thing for you, steer clear.

Like wireless charging, Near Field Communication (NFC) is not a priority for me. I never used it because I have an iPhone 5, but I’ve never been left wanting to use it either. I understand that Google and Asus are trying to somewhat ‘future-proof’ this device; two things: 1.) that’s impossible, and 2.) why? Maybe taking NFC and Wireless Charging out wouldn’t change the price that much. In that case, fine, leave them; but, if there was a version for $40 less that excluded the requisite chips, I would’ve probably jumped for it.

 

Conclusion

Running Quadrant Standard you can see that the device is no joke!

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So the big question is, ‘should you buy the Nexus 7?’ If you’ve ever wanted a tablet (assuming that you are ‘ok’ with Android devices)  then the N7 is for you! It excelled in every test I threw at it, and performed extremely well in practical use. I’ve perused several comparable tablets, but none offer the N7’s quality for under $250! MG approved!

 

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