Google Nexus 7 review: First look

We take a look at the first quad-core 7in tablet, which will ship with the Android Jelly Bean operating system.

IT Pro got some precious hands on time with the first Google-branded tablet, which is designed by Asus, and will ship with the latest Android Jelly Bean 4.1 operating system in mid-July.

The Nexus 7 could be the device that finally breaks Apple's strong hold on the tablet market. From a design perspective, the Nexus 7 looks and feels just as good as tablets that are double the price.

The 7in device is lighter (340g) and thinner (10.45mm) than its main rival, the 7in Amazon Kindle Fire (413g & 11.4mm). It's also 312g lighter than the Wi-Fi only iPad 3. The 340g weight makes the Nexus comfortable to hold in portrait and landscape mode with one hand, especially when compared to its 10in rivals.

Asus has packed in a 1280 x 800 IPS display, which uses a new-manufacturing process to make the screen brighter and thinner. Asus has worked in conjunction with Gorilla Glass maker Corning and its panel manufacturer to ensure the touch module, LCD screen and glass are all integrated as tightly as possible.

Google Nexus 7 - Brightness

The Nexus 7 screen has a depth of 0.7mm in comparison to typical tablet screens, which are usually around 1.2mm thick. Asus claims this helps to make the display 20 per cent more transparent than competing devices resulting in a brighter picture and more vibrant colours.

During our hands on we did found the Nexus 7 to be considerably brighter than other Android tablets we have tested, including the Motorola Xoom 2. The pixel density of the Nexus is 216 ppi, and although it's not quite up there with the Retina display on the iPad 3, which has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 (264 ppi), it's a great effort for the price.

We like the device's simple design. There are no physical buttons on the front. An unlock button is on the reverse together with its volume rockers.

The rubberised coating on the back is also a nice touch. This should prevent the tablet from slipping out of your hands, even if you're prone to sweaty palm syndrome on the train home.

Google Nexus 7 - Rubberised back

NVIDIA's quad-core Tegra 3 processor provides the grunt, running at 1.2GHz and will be paired with 1GB of RAM. Google has made significant performance changes to Android, which has made the Nexus 7 the smoothest Android tablet we have seen to-date.

Fire up the integrated Chrome browser and you're in for a treat pages load faster than you can blink on Wi-Fi, and interaction - such as pinching-to-zoom and scrolling - are faultless.

Even opening apps and flicking between screens is lightening quick. The performance gives the impression that the Jelly Bean software has been tightly integrated to the hardware, instead of just being thrown on top of high-end components.

Google Nexus 7 - Transition

Asus told us it will not be pre-loading any apps onto the device, which is a bit disappointing as previously tablets such as the Transformer Prime have included productivity apps such as Polaris Office out-of-the-box. However, business users will be able to download any productivity apps they have already purchased or search the Play Store to mitigate this.

We were particularly impressed with the voice searching functionality which yielded results in milliseconds over Wi-Fi. The device verbally responds to simple factual questions such as: "How old is Tom Cruise?". However, with more complex questions such as, "what are the biggest grossing films of 2012?" the device presented results as a traditional Google search.

Asus representatives told us the device is aimed at people on the move, unlike its 10in models, which it describes as "sofa tablets".

Whilst the form factor of the Nexus 7 makes it possible to carry the device in a jacket pocket, there are crucial features missing which limit its usefulness on the go.

In an effort to save costs, 3G connectivity, microSD card support and the rear-facing camera have been scrapped. Although 3G support can be sorted by tethering the device to a smartphone, business users would no doubt prefer a dedicated 3G model to browse the web and receive push emails.

The lack of an expandable storage slot means many users are likely to plump for the 16GB model (199) instead of the 8GB edition (159). With Google pushing its Drive cloud storage service, it would have made sense to at least offer a 3G model.

Google Nexus 7

The lack of rear-facing camera may irk some users, but most tablet cameras have been disappointing in comparison to those found on high-end smartphones, such as the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3.

It can be a clunky experience taking photos with a tablet too, so this is not a big miss. Asus has opted for a 1.2-megapixel front facing camera, so video calling is a possibility though.

Considering the starting price of 159, the Nexus is shaping up to be the best of the "budget" Android tablets available and has capabilities associated with iPad-like devices.

Google has beefed up the Play Store to offer a multitude of content, so multimedia fans should be satisfied, too.

Google is selling the 8GB version directly through its Play Store and the 16GB model will be available in retail outlets - including Currys, Dixons, PC World, Ebuyer and HMV - around the 27th July.

It looks like Google has finally found a balance between price and performance in the tablet market and with Amazon's popular Kindle Fire yet to go on sale in the UK, the Nexus 7 is shaping up to be the best portable tablet on the market.

Verdict

Unlike Samsung’s original 7in Galaxy Tab, which was too expensive and tried to do too many things – such integrate voice calling – Asus has kept in simple with the Nexus 7.

The core features in the Nexus 7 such as the display, processing power and software are high-end. The limited amount of storage and lack of 3G are the main omissions, but this has been done to keep the price down as opposed to any technical limitations. We expect more features to be added in future additions.

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