A Top-End Tablet – The 2013 Google Nexus 7
In July 2012, Google released the first iteration of the Nexus 7, a tablet small in form that they aimed directly at the iPad. At the time, it stood up pretty well, but a year on there’s a new model and it’s been given some pretty hefty updates.
The first of the big changes and indeed the main update is the form factor which is now taller, narrower and thinner too. Despite a height increase of 1.5mm, the 2013 Nexus 7 weighs 45g less than its predecessor, which combined with shaving 2mm off the depth means it’s a much nicer device to hold.
Nine months ago, Apple released the iPad Mini which means Google has a main competitor much closer in form to their offering. One downside of the Mini is the width being too much to comfortably hold in one hand. The Nexus 7 doesn’t suffer this problem, since it’s a full 2cm narrower, so holding it for an extended period of time poses no problems for even the smallest of hands.
There is a downside to these changes, however, and that’s simply how it looks. From the front, I prefer the original Nexus 7. Both faces are clean and uninterrupted (save for the silver edge on the original) but the enormous bezels at the top and bottom of the new model are almost laughable. Google say it allows you to hold it easier in landscape – the orientation they showed off most upon release – but there’s easier and then there’s this. I’ve never had a problem holding an iPad Mini in portrait, even with tiny edges. Yet, these grab-bars are three times the size of the side bezels which leads to a rather funny shape. Interestingly, the screen remains identical in size, yet looks smaller.
It’s not all bad though – the screen is fantastic. Sporting a 1920×1200 resolution – a 16:10 aspect ratio – and 323dpi (dots per inch, or for the layman, how clear it is) the Nexus 7 is beaten by nothing. I can’t praise the display enough. Viewing angles are abnormally good and the colours are just about right too. This all leads to text being ultra-clear and totally legible even when reduced to a minuscule size.
The back of the device is adorned with a scaled up version of the Nexus logo, now etched in landscape rather than at the top in portrait. Gone is the soft, perforated plastic back which is now replaced by a much sleeker shell. The overall fit and finish seems to have been improved too – no longer is the screen affected by a hard, single finger press into the back of the device.
Stereo speakers have replaced the previous slit at the bottom of the device and the headphone jack has thankfully been moved to the top. The power and volume buttons remain tucked neatly away on the right edge. Unfortunately, neatness doesn’t always equal ease-of-use and that’s certainly the case here because the buttons don’t protrude very much at all, making hitting the right one harder than it should be.
The best news besides the brilliant display is the speed at which every task is performed. I did encounter a few issues when scrolling but for the most part, it was incredibly fluid. Games ran smoothly, full-HD video was streamed perfectly and leaving tens of apps open seemed to have little effect on overall performance. It’s powered by a 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor (yes, there’s no abbreviation for that) and 2GB of RAM which makes sure that even the most power-intensive processes are accomplished with ease. Strangely, web-pages seem to load at a near-identical time as they do on an iPad 2 which is now two-and-a-half years old. Maybe that’s down to the built-in Chrome browser.
Speaking of video playback, I believe there is currently no tablet better to watch films on. This is all down to the aspect ratio which means there is very little in the way of wasted space above and below the video. In comparison, the iPad suffers massively from this and the large display is wasted. I found it refreshing to be able to watch a film in true fullscreen. Aside from that though, landscape and the Nexus 7 don’t fit very well. This had absolutely no effect on my opinion of it because, videos aside, I use tablets only in portrait. I simply find it odd that Google would push us towards using landscape, when the thin nature of the display means barely any content is visible when it’s used this way.
As is usually the case with tablets, the cameras are mediocre at best, which frankly is a good thing because it means we don’t see too many people attempting to photograph things with them when they’re out and about. The rear camera is 5-megapixel and only takes half-decent shots in the best lighting conditions and the front camera is as poor as you would expect and is only really useful for video calling.
The storage has been bumped up to more equally match the iPad – going from 8GB as standard to 16GB, with a maximum storage of 32GB. A welcome change, especially to those with a limited budget and an ever-growing number of storage eating games.
With a better processor and a vastly better display, you’d expect the battery life to take a hit. Happily, I can tell you that this isn’t the case – battery standards move forward with the rest of the technology. While I found the battery life didn’t match up to a mini or full-size iPad, I did find it to be acceptable. I usually had to charge after a day and a half of standby time along with five to six hours of usage. Many people have muttered higher numbers than those, most no higher than seven hours of on-screen time.
App selection on Android remains a bit of a problem despite vast improvements over the last couple of years. I don’t use a wide variety of apps and for the most part, they’re fine. Facebook for example works more smoothly than the iOS version. Twitter on the other hand doesn’t have an app-experience anywhere near comparable with that of Tweetbot on iOS. There’s also no video-streaming service that works as flawlessly as Air Video. Emit isn’t built to look good on a tablet (yet) and the playback of the video was terrible, despite a number of changes to the settings. I found this did hinder my choice about which tablet to use – iPad or Nexus 7.
Ultimately, the 2013 Nexus 7 is a well made device with improved storage, more speed and a stunning display that I’d recommend as the only other decent tablet alongside the iPad and iPad Mini. There are still things to tighten up, such as those oddly un-even bezels, but at a price point of £199 there is nothing but the iPad that matches it. Nothing else comes close.