Google Nexus 7 2013: Fondledroids, THE 7-inch slab has arrived
Probably the best tablet in the world
Review When Google launched the Asus-built Nexus 7 Android tablet back in August 2012, it dropped a big mean city-raised alleycat among the budget tablet pigeons. Starting at only £160 for the 8GB version, the Nexus 7 offered performance, style and build quality (kind of) at a price that previously had only bought you shoddy no-name tat with a gutless chip and iffy provenance.
It was, not surprisingly, a huge hit. And now, one year on, Google has released a follow-up: a new Nexus 7, again made by Asus. The question is, can lightning strike twice?
Google’s 2013 Nexus 7: easier than ever to use one-handed
As soon as you get the new 7 out of the box and fire it up, it is immediately obvious that this fondleslab is a big improvement in the most important area: the display. The 7-inch screen now has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 rather than 1200 x 800, pushing up the pixel density from 216 dots per inch to 323.
This makes it the sharpest tablet display on the market at any price, let alone for £199 which is that a 16GB Nexus 7 mk.2 will set you back. Spend exactly twice the money on an Apple iPad 4 or a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and you have to make do with 264dpi and 224dpi, respectively, though you do get bigger screens, of course.
Out with the old: the new Nexus 7 (left) alongside its predecessor
The Nexus’ screen remains a high-quality IPS LCD affair with a Gorilla Glass cover, so it’s tough, bright, supports extended viewing angles and is very colourful. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to fault as a display and looks simply spectacular when gaming in high resolution or watching a well-encoded 1080p Blu-ray rips.
For its second coming, the Nexus 7 has also been put on a diet. The original weighed 340g, the new one just 290g. Fifty grams may not sound much but it is if you regularly use your tablet as an ebook reader. It is also the best part of 2mm thinner and 6mm narrower which makes it much easier to hold in one hand. The back is made from a new soft-feel polycarbonate which feels very comfortable to the touch.
The new Nexus 7 is thinner than the old one (right)
Taken in the round, the 7 is now without doubt a more solid, better quality device. On a purely aesthetic basis, it looks and feels more like a unibody design rather than something put together from separate parts with screws and glue. That’s thanks to the removal of the silver band that previously separated back and front.
My only regret is that the power and volume controls are still a little too close together on the right side. Inadvertently pressing the former when you are fumbling for the latter is all too easy.
The new 5MP main camera and, right at the top, one of the stereo speakers
While the first Nexus 7 only had a 1.2MP webcam, the new model adds a 5MP main camera to the mix. How much use a camera on a tablet actually is remains a matter for discussion, but I reckon it’s better to have one and not need it than the other way around.
Certainly, I’m seeing more and more folk out and about holding up tablets to take the kind of pictures they’d once have snapped on a compact camera or a phone. As 5MP cameras go, the Nexus 7’s shooter isn’t at all bad and can record video at 1080p at 30f/s, though there’s no LED flash.
Improvement all round
One of the major problems with the first Nexus 7 was the wholly wretched loudspeaker. Thankfully the new incarnation features two speakers wired up to a surround sound system designed by Fraunhofer, the folk behind the MP3 audio format. The new speaker arrangement is a massive improvement on the old. It pumps out ample volume and wallop, though it still sounds a bit puny alongside an HTC One.
Could almost be a unibody
There’s no need to talk too much about the operating system because, being a Nexus-branded device, it runs unadulterated Android - now version 4.3 - and updates are rolled out directly from Google not from the manufacturer. It’s worth mentioning here how much Android has evolved in the last 18 months. If you only know it from its two-point-something days you will be stunned to see how it has come on in terms of features, design and usability.
The most notable changes to Android 4.3 include improved multi-user support with the introduction of restricted profiles; spiced-up notifications; and support for OpenGL ES 3.0 for improved graphics. These aren’t the sort of headline-grabbing improvements we saw in Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, but Android is getting more mature so that is only to be expected.
There’s still a Micro USB port on the bottom, but it’s not On-The-Go
Inside the new Nexus you’ll find that the old model’s Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset has been replaced by a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro component with a quad-core 1.5GHz Krait CPU, 2GB of Ram and an Adreno 320 graphics processor. It’s a combination that makes the new Nexus 7 as fast and as powerful as any tablet on the market, including the likes of the iPad 4, Google’s own Nexus 10 and the Xperia Tablet Z.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the absence of a memory card slot, and the Micro USB port still doesn’t support On-The-Go USB hosting. Those are aggravating and wholly unnecessary omissions in my book. Wireless connectivity is bang on the money, though, with dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Qi-standard wireless charging is supported too, as is NFC touch-to-share data exchange.
Benchmark results: not bad performance for a 200 quid tablet
Making the 2013 Nexus 7 thinner than than the 2012 model has had an impact on battery capacity which has dropped from 4325mAh to 3950mAh. But thanks to the more efficient chipset you can expect to see broadly similar times between trips to the wall socket. Looping a 720p MP4 video file with the screen brightness set at 50 per cent drained the battery in just shy of eight hours.
I’ve already touched on the matter of price but it warrants repeating: the 16GB device only costs £199, the 32GB model £239. No matter which way you look at it this is exceptional value. At the time of writing, a Play Store price or release date has yet to announced for the 32GB LTE model though O2 will apparently be selling it for the £320 later this month. As I understand it, the LTE-model doesn’t support cellular voice calls which is a shame. If it did, it could replace your phone and tablet and be the ultimate Very Large Phone™.
The Reg Verdict
The new Nexus 7 once again redefines how much tablet you can expect for under two hundred quid, just as the original did. In every single measurable way the new model is a big step forward from the old, being smaller, lighter, more powerful and possessed of a much improved display.
Despite one single niggle - there’s still no physical storage expansion - the Nexus 7 still easily deserves the title of the Best Tablet in the World. ®