Google Nexus 7: a device that finally raises awareness of the 7 inch form factor

Summary:Samsung had a 7 inch Android tablet a couple of years ago, but we haven't seen as much excitement for this form factor until the release of the Asus-manufactured Google Nexus 7.

The last 7 inch Android tablet that I purchased was the HTC Flyer, after owning the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I have been using it for over a year. I wasn't going to pick up a new Nexus 7, but at the low price point I couldn't resist and my pre-order arrived a couple of days ago. The Nexus 7 is a fantastic bargain and I think it is a better option for tablet users than the Amazon Kindle Fire that is more focused on Amazon's ecosystem and reading. It is lacking a bit in quality and there are still very few tablet optimized apps for Android, but it is still a pretty exciting tablet device.

You can check out my image gallery containing product images and several key screenshots from the new Nexus 7.

In the box and first impressions

I enjoyed watching all the unboxing videos where people really struggled to get the Nexus 7 out of the box. As a reviewer, I have a small blade to use for opening boxes so that I can return the review devices in mint condition so it really wasn't as difficult as it was made out to be. Inside the box you will find the Nexus 7, USB charger, and USB cable.

As soon as I pulled my new Nexus 7 from the package I noticed movement and a creaking sound when I held it on the left edge. It turns out 3/4 of my left side display glass panel is raised above the frame and moves down below the frame when you hold it. I then conducted a Google search and read quite a few stories of failed pixels and displays that are not secured to the front of the device. I am going to call Google to see if I can exchange it since I don't trust the quality over the long term with glass that is not secured to the front. I haven't seen any official Google statement about glue not drying or anything so am not sure what the problem is here, but quality control definitely failed somewhere along the line.

Specifications

Specifications for the ASUS manufactured Nexus 7 include the following:

  • Quad-core Tegra 3 processor
  • 7 inch 1280x800 pixels resolution HD display
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS
  • 16GB internal storage (8GB available too)
  • 1GB RAM
  • Bluetooth, NFC, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and GPS
  • 1.2 megapixel front facing camera
  • 4325 mAh removable battery
  • Dimensions: 7.8 x 4.72 x 0.41 inches and 12 ounces

The device seems pretty dang impressive after seeing the price and the list of specifications. If I didn't have the display defect then I would be impressed with the device at $250. It can't begin to compare to the quality of the new iPad, but it is priced at half the cost too. I look forward to using the quad-core NVIDIA Tegra device, especially with games.

Hardware

The display is excellent and is the one major visible difference I see when I place it next to my HTC Flyer. The display has a 216 ppi with high resolution and is just about the perfect resolution for a 7 inch device. The only other physical thing on the front is the 1.2 megapixel front facing camera. You will also find virtual capacitive touch buttons for back, Home, and task switcher that appear on the bottom in both portrait and landscape orientations.

The power and volume buttons are found along the upper right side with nothing on the top and left sides. A 3.5mm headset jack and the microUSB port are found on the bottom.

The back is covered in a non-slip material with a leather feel and indentations all over it. It feels great in your hand and is quite thin at less than half an inch. I am very impressed with the hardware design and find it much more comfortable to hold and use than my HTC Flyer. The Kindle Fire now feels a bit thick and chunky in comparison and the Nexus 7 competes with the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in design.

Software

The Nexus 7 is the first tablet to launch with Android Jelly Bean that includes several new features like Google Now, enhanced notifications, and Project Butter improvements. Google Now is slick, but seems much more useful to me on a smartphone that always has a connection and I am not convinced I will use it that much on the Nexus 7 with only a WiFi connection.

Google uses a dynamic home page where the most recently opened/used content appears so you can quickly jump back into it. You have five displays to use for placing shortcuts and widgets, but I missed how to add widgets at first because tapping and holding on the display just allows you to change wallpaper. You have to go to the App launcher and then tap Widgets up top (or swipe from right to left a few times) and then tap and drag widgets to the home screen. You can tap and drag shortcuts onto each other to easily create folders of apps and then rename them, such as for Games or Reading. In terms of the OS, it doesn't get much better on Android. You will not find any extra manufacturer or carrier bloatware on the Nexus 7 as this is a pure Google experience.

Several Google apps are loaded into the ROM and cannot be removed. These include Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Talk, Gallery, Play Movies, Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Store, Play Music, Google Currents, Google+, Google Wallet, and YouTube. I was very pleased to see that Chrome was loaded by default as the web browser. I am not a fan of Currents, but I cannot remove it from the device at this time. You do get $25 in Google Play Store credit after you sign in on your device and the first time you enable Google Wallet's prepaid card you get $10 in credit there as well. BTW, when my Nexus 7 arrived I just had to enter my password as my Gmail account name was already entered.

Exchange email is supported natively in Jelly Bean and looks similar to the Gmail client, check out the screenshot in my image gallery. There really is not much more loaded than the Google apps and utilities so you have plenty of room to load up your favorite apps. Then again, there are not nearly as many apps for Android tablets as there are for the iPad. You should also be well integrated into the Google ecosystem to get the full advantage of the Android tablet.

Play Movies looks fantastic on the Nexus 7 and you will notice that Google gives you Transformers: Dark of the Moon for free when you buy the Nexus 7. It is not preloaded so you have to download it. I rented and watched Dune to test out Play Movies and enjoyed the experience. If you plan to download movies or TV shows on a regular basis then make sure to pick up a 16GB unit. My 16GB unit shows 13.24GB available out of the box and with a couple movies, several apps and a couple of podcasts I already have consumed nearly 6GB.

The icons in the Play Store are quite large and I find that many apps I load up are simply blown up phone apps with very few appearing to be really optimized for tablets. I did find that Pocket is optimized, but Facebook, Twitter, and many others are just the phone apps. My banking app won't even install on the Nexus 7 as I get a warning that it is not compatible with the device. Hopefully now that Google has their own tablet they will work to get more 3rd party applications optimized for larger displays.

Final first thoughts

In most all respects, the Nexus 7 is a better small tablet than my HTC Flyer. Unfortunately, I am experiencing a quality issue and need to get mine replaced. I look forward to having a small portable tablet that gets the latest and greatest Android updates. It's funny to see so many people getting excited about 7 inch tablets as if there has never been a small tablet before. I've been a fan of the 7 inch form factor for a while since you can put the tablet in your jacket pocket, or even your pants pocket, and carry it wherever you go while large tablets like the iPad remain at home or in a gear bag.

If you are considering a Nexus 7, then I highly recommend you pay the extra $50 for the 16GB model. Remember you get $25 in Play Store credit, the newest Transformers movie, and $10 in Google Wallet credit with the Nexus 7 purchase so the value is excellent.

See also: Jason's Perlow's  How to make your Nexus 7 not suck

UPDATE: I spent about 30 minutes on hold waiting for Google Play support, but after they came online they were very helpful and speedy at processing my replacement. They said they have been getting other calls on the screen separation issue and that early devices apparently had some issues, but replacement devices have better quality (this is just a customer reps words, not official Google statements). Anyway, the customer rep was extremely friendly and helpful and I was told I would be getting a call back to confirm my address so they can ship out my replacement. I really do like the Nexus 7 and look forward to having one without a display problem.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Reviews

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.