Google's original tablet proved a smash hit when it launched last year. Built by Asus, this small-format 7-inch tablet took market share from e-readers as well as from full-size (mostly 10-inch) tablets. Apple even responded with its 7.9-inch .
A year on, Google has followed up with another Asus-made Nexus 7 that's slimmer and has beefed-up specifications Three 2013 Nexus 7 models have been announced: 16GB of internal storage plus Wi-Fi for £199 (inc. VAT); 32GB+Wi-Fi for £239; and 32GB+Wi-Fi+LTE mobile broadband for £299. The LTE model is not yet available in the UK, however.
The 2013 Nexus 7 has a sleeker design than its predecessor. Many felt that the original's rough-finish backplate slightly cheapened its overall look, and while we disagree, Google clearly took it to heart: the new Nexus 7 has a smooth back.
The silver band around the screen is gone, leaving the new Nexus 7 black all over. As before, branding is minimal, with nothing on the front and (glossy) 'Nexus' plus (matte) 'Asus' marques on the back. This makes for a very neat appearance. The backplate's soft-touch finish is comfortable in the hand and seems to have a coating that's remarkably good at repelling fingerprints.
Connectors are the same as before, except for one location change. The right side has a long volume rocker and a short power switch, while the Micro-USB port is on the bottom edge. Only the headset jack has moved, from its relatively awkward location on the bottom to the top.
The new Nexus 7 is slightly taller (200mm versus 198.5mm), narrower (114mm v. 120mm) and thinner (8.65mm v. 10.45mm) than its predecessor. The 2013 model's slightly narrower profile is achieved by having less bezel around the screen's long edges, but that's not the whole story: the new Nexus 7 also weighs 50g less (290g v. 340g). Less bulky and lighter than before, the new Nexus 7 is a much easier one-handed hold.
The screen is a vast improvement on its predecessor. It's minimally bigger (7.02in. versus 7in.), but the resolution is a huge improvement — 1,280 by 800 pixels (216 pixels per inch, or ppi) compared to 1,920 by 1,200 pixels (323ppi). This is a higher pixel density than you'll find on any other current tablet: to put it into perspective, the iPad mini's 7.9in. screen can only offer 1,024 by 768 pixels — that's 162ppi, or half the new Nexus 7's pixel density.
Add in great viewing angles from the IPS panel and the screen really is a delight to look at. We were as happy reading e-books as streaming video, and if we had the Nexus 7 long term would seriously consider ditching the Kindle. This can't bode well for Amazon.
Many people choose a Google tablet over alternative Android models because Google sends out latest software updates to its own devices before other vendors get a look-in. The new Nexus 7 comes with Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), which you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere at present.
Among the new features in Android 4.3 is the ability to set up multiple user profiles and control access to individual apps — handy if a device is shared around the family, and particularly useful if you need to use your tablet for work and want to restrict access to certain features.
Google and Asus use the same quad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM as found in the smartphone. We had no performance issues with the device, which adds NFC (a.k.a. Android Beam) to the wireless connectivity roster along with dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and optional penta-band LTE.
On the downside, owners of the new Nexus 7 will have to manage without a Micro-SD card slot to augment the internal storage. This is a deal-breaker for many potential buyers, and it's hard to see why Google has persisted with this arrangement when the lack of storage expansion on the original Nexus 7 was badly received.
Although it's not possible to install apps to external storage in Android releases beyond 4.0, it is the ideal repository for music and movies, which can eat the internal storage (especially if you have a 16GB model). Perhaps Google feels it's sufficient to match Apple in this respect, but it does feel like a trick missed.
The original Nexus 7 had a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera but no rear camera, which was not particularly well received. This is now rectified, with a 5-megapixel rear camera complementing the 1.2-megapixel unit on the front. Photo quality is nothing special, though, and the main camera has no flash, but it's good to see user pressure acknowledged.
Audio quality was no better than average on the original Nexus 7, arguably denting its ability to function as a portable media device. Again, the new model sees a marked improvement. There are twin speakers top and bottom at the back of the chassis, with grilles that run around the curve of the edges so that even with the device flat on a desk the sound isn't muffled. Volume goes loud enough for video or movie watching, and sound quality is excellent on headphones.
The Nexus 7 has a closed chassis, so you can't access the 3,950mAh battery. Battery capacity is lower than on the original Nexus — probably because the chassis is thinner. Even so, Google's claimed nine hours of battery life should equate to a full day's use for most people.
In our real-world tests, which involved using the Nexus 7 for a standard array of functions including mobile email, web browsing, streaming and e-book reading for several days, we never found ourselves in desperate need of a power charge on any occasion. A quick boost each morning was enough to keep the device going.
Wireless charging is supported on the new Nexus 7. Like the Nexus 4 smartphone, it supports the Qi standard, and you can use the same charger for both devices. This is just as well, as it's not a cheap accessory: Amazon UK was selling the Nexus wireless charging orb for £79.95 at the time of writing.
The 2013 Nexus 7 is a sleeker, lighter and better-specified device than last year's model, with a stunning 323ppi screen, decent battery life, improved audio quality and optional LTE mobile broadband. There's still no Micro-SD card support, but good all-round performance and a competitive price add up to superb value for money.