Nexus 7 hands-on: Form and function meet flash and panache

Summary:The 7-inch tablet from Asus and Google is not the perfect tablet, but it is a good fit for many uses for such a tablet. These first impressions of the Nexus 7 show it to be well worth the price.

Nexus 7 box

The Nexus 7 has only been in my hands for a few days, yet it has already changed my habits of using a tablet. That is the mark of a device that is a good fit for what I do. The 7-inch tablet is very comfortable to carry and use, and that is the big draw of the tablet from Google.

Having the Nexus 7 for such a short time precludes being able to make big determinations about its usefulness, but my experience with 7-inch tablets speeds up that process. I have owned and used the original Galaxy Tab since it debuted a couple of years ago, and I already new a small tablet would be useful. 

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Google and Asus have packed the Nexus 7 with solid hardware for such a low price which makes it an ideal starter tablet for those not sure if the tablet is a good fit for their needs. It is a solid performer due to that hardware, and the latest version of Android, aka Jelly Bean makes it an outstanding bargain for the purchase price.

The Nvidia Tegra 3 qual-core processor keeps the tablet humming snappily, and the graphics performance is as good as any tablet available. Throw in the smooth UI enabled by the Project Butter team of Android and you have the best user experience to date on any Android tablet. It's not perfect, but it is quite pleasant to use for extended periods.

Nexus 7 front
Nexus 7 back

The Nexus 7 is as thin and light as can be, making it very comfortable to hold in one hand for long sessions. It is just as easy to use in landscape orientation as in portrait, although Google saw fit to try to lock it into portrait by default.

A lot has been written about the inabiility to rotate the Nexus 7 home screen into landscape orientation, a strange decision by Google. I admit it is jarring to be using an app in landscape, something only possible after turning off the default screen rotation lock, only to have the home screen display sideways when you hit the soft home button.

04 Jelly Bean landscape

Colleague Jason Perlow found a good solution to this lack of landscape support on the home screen by installing the Apex Launcher app. This is a launcher replacement that gets rid of the locked Jelly Bean home screen. That works well, but an easier way around this restriction is to install the Ultimate Rotation app. This enables rotation in any app and scenario, and the default configuration for this utility works well.

The 7-inch tablet is perfect for consuming media, especially reading ebooks, and the Nexus 7 the best of the lot due to its light form. I use the Kindle app for reading, but there are several alternatives in Android for those who prefer those.

The Nexus 7 ships with the Chrome browser as the default browser, and it may be the best mobile browser on any platform. It works smoothly on the Nexus 7, and the ability to have all bookmarks at hand is priceless. I also find it useful to see the last web sites visited on every device on which I use Chrome.

Nexus 7 on iPad 3

The smaller tablet is not as good at content creation as its larger siblings, but for those curious about external keyboards I found one that works with the Nexus 7. The Logitech Keyboard Case for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 pairs and works with the Nexus 7, even the special tablet control keys. The Nexus 7 doesn't fit in the stand, though, so it's an iffy pair at best.

The Nexus 7 may not be ideal for everyone but it is likely to appeal to the majority of folks interested in tablets. It works well and is a bargain at the $200 price point. It is a good place to start for those not sure about the tablet as a useful device. I suspect it will win over some tablet contrarians who give it a try.

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Topics: Tablets, Google

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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