REVIEWED: Google's Nexus 7 Tablet

google nexus 7

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

We’ve known it was coming for a good six or seven months, and now we finally have it: the Nexus 7, Google’s first tablet. Yes, Android tablets are nothing new. But Google’s hardware partners like Samsung, Toshiba, and HTC haven’t been able to come up with a true hit yet. So Google took things into its own hands with the Nexus 7, partnering closely with Asus to come up with what it hopes to be the best Android tablet experience possible.

It worked.

Click here for photos of the Nexus 7 >

Content, Content, Content
I’ll start off by saying the $199 Nexus 7 isn’t a substitute for the iPad. Instead, think of it as an answer to Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a tablet focused more on delivering the best content as opposed to the most useful and innovative apps.

The Nexus 7 integrates tightly with the Google Play Store, which has been updated with new movies, TV shows, and magazines for purchase. One of Google’s biggest weaknesses with Android has been its lack of quality content offerings. With the Nexus 7, that problem is gone.

When you first boot up the Nexus 7 and sign in with your Google Account, you’re greeted by a series of widgets on your home screen called “My Library.” There you’ll find all the stuff you’ve purchased in Google Play. (By the way, if you don’t have any content, Google gives every Nexus 7 owner a $25 credit to Google Play, a free copy of the latest Transformers movie, and a few magazines to get you started.)

Google Play now has plenty of movies or individual TV shows from networks like NBC, ABC, AMC, Bravo, and several others. Like iTunes, Google Play will also let you subscribe to an entire season of a TV show for one flat price. After you buy, you can choose to either stream the video to your Nexus 7 or “pin” it to your device for viewing offline.

The magazine selection is pretty decent too. You’ll find a lot of major titles like EsquireCosmopolitan, or Newsweek. Most magazines are just static images that replicate the print edition, but a few such as Popular Mechanics and Entrepreneur are fully interactive with video and other multimedia goodies. And of course, you can subscribe to any title within Google Play.

google nexus 7 esquire magazine

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Music in Google Play hasn’t changed much since Google Music launched last year. The service still lets you upload up to 20,000 songs from your computer and stream it all to your Nexus 7 for free. There are also plenty of songs available for purchase, but the selection isn’t as good as what you’d find on Amazon or iTunes. (Warner Music, one of the big four labels, won’t let Google sell its music.) 

Despite all that great content, the Nexus 7 blunders when it comes to useful apps. Developers still haven’t subscribed to the concept of an Android tablet, so most apps in Google’s Play Store are designed for smaller smartphone screens. If useful, tablet-optimised apps matter to you, then the Nexus 7 is a bad choice.

Using It
The Nexus 7 is easily one of the highest quality Android tablets I’ve ever used. Despite the low price, it’s extremely well built. The back is covered in a rubbery material that’s a delight to grip, and it’s still thinner, lighter, and much more attractive than the Kindle Fire.

Google didn’t cut corners with internal hardware either. The Nexus 7 runs on a quad-core processor from NVIDIA along with 1 GB of RAM. That means everything from gaming to video to web browsing is smooth and snappy. Its 7-inch display is bright and clear, however the resolution is slightly less than what you get with the Retina display on the iPad. 

google nexus 7 playing transformers movie

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

The Nexus 7’s spec sheet boasts up to 8 hours of battery life, but I found it only lasts about six hours or so. That’s a bummer, considering both the iPad and Kindle Fire last longer.

The Nexus 7 ships with Google’s upcoming version of Android, called Jelly Bean, which adds a number of improvements to the operating system. Overall, Jelly Bean is noticeably smoother and faster than Ice Cream Sandwich, the current version of Android that came out late last year. While Jelly Bean looks a lot like Ice Cream Sandwich, there are a bunch of nice tweaks like an expanded notifications menu and offline maps that make it a lot more user-friendly than before.

Best of all, Jelly Bean includes Google Now, the voice-powered searching tool that makes Apple’s Siri look just plain dumb. I wrote about Google Now at length earlier, but here’s the short version: Google Now is the way search should work on a mobile device. All you have to do is talk or type in a query such as, “How old is Tim Cook?” or “Show me pictures of cute puppies,” and you get the answer in less than a second. (You also get “regular” Google search results in case you need more information.) It’s nearly flawless.

Should You Buy It?
Yes, but there are a few caveats here.

First of all, if you can afford the extra $200 or $300 for an iPad 2 or third-generation iPad, you should buy that instead. The iPad is still the best tablet on the market.

Also, if great apps matter to you, then you should know you’re not going to get the best selection on the Nexus 7. Most apps on the Nexus 7 are just blown-up smartphone versions, making them look pretty awkward on the larger screen. The Nexus 7 is only good for watching video, reading books or magazines, and surfing the web. That’s it.

At $199 ( or $249 for the 16 GB model), the Nexus 7 is tough to pass up. If you were considering the Kindle Fire, stop now. The Nexus 7 is the tablet to get.

Here's the Nexus 7.

There's a front-facing camera for video chatting, but no rear camera.

The rubbery back makes the Nexus 7 super easy to grip.

It's a lot better-looking than the Kindle Fire.

There's a Micro USB port and headphone jack on the bottom of the tablet.

Power and volume buttons on the side.

Here's the videos app.

Streaming video looks nice. The Nexus 7 comes with a free copy of the latest Transformers movie.

Here's the magazine app. you can flip through all the issues you own here. Tap one to open.

Most magazines are just static images

Other widgets help you discover music and apps you may like based on your interests.

Unfortunately, many Android apps aren't designed for tablets. For example, Twitter on the Nexus 7 is just a blown-up version of the smartphone app. It doesn't look good.

But other apps like Google+ are designed to take advantage of the Nexus 7's larger screen.

Now check out Google's other gadget...

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