Hands-On Video Review of Google Nexus 7 and My ‘7-Day Nexus Challenge’

By now, anyone who tracks mobile technology has heard something about the ASUS-made Google Nexus 7. We’ve already heard it alternately described as a ‘Kindle Fire Killer’, an ‘iPad Killer’, or “just another 7″ tablet to toss on the pile”. Let’s take a quick look at the Nexus 7, and the challenge I am undertaking!

The Hype:

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THIN, LIGHT AND PORTABLE: Nexus 7 is a no compromise Android tablet that’s designed to go wherever you go. With a stunning 7” display, powerful quad-core processor and up to 8 hours of battery life during active use, Nexus 7 was built to bring you the best of Google in a slim, portable package that fits perfectly in your hand.

Made for Google Play: Nexus 7 was built for Google Play. With Google Play, all the entertainment you love is right in your hand: more than 600,000 apps and games, millions of eBooks and songs, thousands of movies, and a growing selection of TV shows and magazines. Sign in to your Google Play account and we’ll give you $25 of credit to spend in the Play store, as well as some great free content.

The Best of Google: Nexus 7 comes with all your favorite Google Apps – like Gmail, Chrome, Google+ and YouTube – putting the best of Google in the palm of your hand. Easy to use apps stay in sync automatically across your tablet, phone and PC. With tons of free cloud storage and features you’ll find nowhere else, Nexus 7 brings the best of Google together in one simple, beautiful device.

The Reality:

I have been a fan of tablet devices in the book-sized format since I first grabbed a Newton MessagePad almost 20 years ago. Since then, I have had large-form PDAs such as the HP Jornada and small laptops such as the Toshiba Libretto. I have always loved the combination of portability and power. What I have never liked is the compromises required by such devices such as the neutered Microsoft Office found on the Jornada devices.

When it comes to tablets, I have described the new iPad as my ‘80% computer’. By that I mean that I can do about 80% of what I need outside of my work tasks on the iPad. As a result, use of my home Mac and PC has greatly diminished. I have never found the same utility in a 7″ tablet though. I really liked things about the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HTC Flyer, Acer Iconia and Kindle Fire, but only the Fire remains in my arsenal … and it does so specifically as a consumption device. So the question for me is this – can the Nexus fill the role as 80% computer where others have failed?

Technically the Nexus is a solid device with several compromises made to keep the price low. The device is built around two great components – the quad-core nVidia Tegra 3 processor and a 1280 x 800 screen. These two elements let the Nexus 7 standout in the affordable tablet space. It is here where so many other devices fell short. Fortunately, while Google/ASUS did make compromises they opted to NOT make them here. That matters. In terms of supporting infrastructure, you also get 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage (16GB available), WiFi/BlueTooth/NFC, and a non-slip back.

The Nexus is clearly meant to be held in portrait orientation most of the time, something reinforced by the non-rotating home screen (which cannot be changed). This is a rather bizarre design choice for them to have made since most games and video plays in landscape mode. The result is that you have to start with the device in portrait and then rotate it to landscape. Annoying. To switch games you do the ‘rotate dance’. Really annoying and, again, bizarre.

I already went into length about the gaming performance of the Nexus 7 in a separate post. Suffice to say that this little tablet is a powerhouse for gaming – it has the perfect size, a great screen for graphics, and a solid feel for touch controls. EXCEPT … 8GB is puny for gaming. AND it is not upgradeable. Annoying and… bad. To compare, on my Sony PSP GO I have the internal 16GB augmented by a 16GB memory card for 32GB of gaming goodness!

The physical unit was thoughtfully designed for general utility. The bottom has a USB port and 3.5mm audio jack, and the right side has the power/screen button and volume rocker … and that is it! There is a 4-pin dock on the side for future use, but no other outputs, not even a micro-HDMI similar to my Droid 4.

There is a front-facing camera only, which is meant for webcam usage as no photo apps are included, and the quality is poor enough that you wouldn’t want to use it for anything else anyway. A year ago I wouldn’t have cared, but, with its finally-decent camera, my iPad 3 is my 2nd most used camera behind my Droid. (My nice Fuji sits in the drawer most of the time!)

The audio output through the speaker is mono and the volume is low and offers tinny sound quality. The Kindle Fire has stereo sound, and while the Fire volume is also low, it has better frequency distribution of the sound. The iPad is just better-sounding across the board.

The battery life seems somewhat lacking. I had fully charged the Nexus and by the end of the day it was essentially dead. This, compared to my iPad which still had 50% power – and I used the iPad more! The charging system was rather bizarre as well – I have a car charger system, something I use to charge iPads, iPods, my Droid 4 and Galaxy S2, Nooks, Kindles and so on and the Nexus wouldn’t recognize the charge. When I plugged the system into a normal wall-charger it charged, but I noticed the wall-transformer got much warmer than I ever noticed with other devices, and the charging itself is much slower – in the time my iPad went from 41% to full charge, the Nexus went from 14% to 29%.

Over the last couple of years most developers have tweaked their apps to work reasonably well across a variety of screen sizes, so for normal apps I have yet to see a compatibility issue. I have used productivity apps like Documents to Go, Evernote, and others without issue, as well as the normal array of social media and internet apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Kindle and so on. The only compatibility issues were with games, and even then it was better than I expected.

The PR for the device singles out ‘the best of Google’, and let me be clear that this IS a Google Tablet from end to end. The Nexus is centered around GMail, Chrome, and Google Docs. Also along for the ride are the apps Google HOPES will bring them more money and share, such as Google+, Google Books, Google Video and so on. Fortunately, the interface allows you to remove these and put your preferred apps there instead. A special mention of the Chrome browser is warranted – I have heard excellent things, and they are all deserved.

Also deserved is the attention and praise heaped on Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’. It seems well suited to the 7″ tablet, and is better performing, with better internal consistency, than Honeycomb … which I hated. There remain oddities in app interfaces and over the next week I will decide what is just me getting used to things and what remains kludgy design.

The build quality has been getting considerable scrutiny as many have seen problems with screen separation, dead pixels, blown speakers and a host of other issues. In general, I am pleased with the build of my unit, but again, we are operating in ‘Kindle Fire space’ … NOT ‘iPad space’. In other words, the fit and finish is solid – but not pristine. This IS, after all, a $200 tablet.

My bottom line is this: I had been teetering about grabbing a Playstation Vita or Nintendo 3DS XL but wanted to wait for this – and now I am decided. Even if it doesn’t meet my tablet needs, the gaming performance and portability are great on the Nexus to the point that I am keeping it. Add to that the general performance and portability, and Google has themselves a solid winner of a tablet, albeit one with some reasonable issues and concerns.

The Nexus Challenge

Overall I am very satisfied with the Nexus – but who cares, that is based on ONE DAY just like the rest of reviews you see this week! What I have found – similar to other gear-heads – is that it is easy to insert a new toy into part of your daily life, but then it slowly ebbs out of use until you realize you don’t even carry it around anymore.

So here is what I am doing – starting this morning I left my New iPad at home and am ONLY carrying the Nexus 7. For the next week I will use only the Nexus and will make a log that I will publish next week.

A couple of notes: I am finishing a couple of iPad game/app reviews, and need to finish the games and grab a video of the app in action. That will be my only iPad usage.

I am not expecting this to be easy, especially since I have LTE on the iPad – but if I cannot go a week without the iPad I consider the Nexus a failure and it will have to go (figuratively, meaning it becomes a game box).

What do you think?

Here is my hands-on review:

Review: Google Nexus 7

Where to Buy: Google Play Store (link is for 8GB model, 16GB also available)

Price: $199.99 (16GB model is $249.99)

What I Like: Excellent gaming performance; solid build quality; great price; Android OS finally seems at home on a tablet; non-slip back feels secure;

What Needs Improvement: lacking sound quality; no camera; some OS funkiness remains; too main build quality problem reports to ignore; mediocre battery life and poor charging performance

Source: Personal purchase

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3 replies

  1. I’ll be interested to see how you do with it. For me I could only use it for playing games and reading paperbacks – otherwise the iPad would win every time. I also can’t tolerate the screen rotation “issue” (yup – to me it’s an “issue”). I use my iPad much more in landscape mode (with a BT keyboard) than portrait. The decision to use portrait only for the launcher is completely incomprehensible to me.

    • I won’t comment yet, but believe me I am taking notes.

      And I am SO glad that Dan, Judie and Carly challenged me to do this. It really changes how you approach things …

  2. I like your question of the Nexus 7 being your “80% device”
    and that makes the review much more practical for me. Well, the Nexus is certainly no iPad, and I
    didn’t expect it to be, but I have a Galaxy 10.1 and I don’t take it as often because
    it is too large to fit in my pocket. Thus,
    the iPhone fills the role of watching live and recorded TV with my Dish Remote
    Access app and Sling Adapter at home.
    Besides, when I bring my Galaxy Tab to work my Dish co-worker just wants
    to borrow it all the time because he bought a Kindle Fire that doesn’t work with
    the Dish Remote Access app. So, like you
    said, if you take it, you will use it.