Today, during Google's opening day keynote at Google I/O 2012, the company announced a new Asus-branded tablet called the Nexus 7. It was hardly a surprise given the flood of leaks over the past few days, but I was eager to pick up a unit and tear open the box. Here's what I've found so far.
The Nexus 7 sports a 7-inch, IPS (in-plane switching) screen, with a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. The tablet is also the first 7-incher to house a 1.3GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, which includes a 12-core GPU.
Rounding out the specs are a Micro-USB port, 1GB of RAM, a 1.2-megapixel front camera (no back camera included), a gyroscope, GPS, accelerometer, microphone, and 802.11a/b/g/n-compatible Wi-Fi.
The Google Nexus 7 sports a great-looking screen that packs tons of pixels into a small space.(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Look and feel
The device measures 10.45mm thick, weighs 0.7 pound, and has a textured, grippy backside with both "Nexus" and "Asus" embossed on it. Built by Asus, the Nexus 7 feels lighter than the Kindle Fire and the soft, textured back makes the tablet comfortable to hold.
The IPS screen has a wider viewing angle than the Kindle Fire and even wider than some 10-inch Android tablets. The 1,280x800 resolution packed into a 7-inch display gives visuals like text and graphics a sharper look than what I’m typically used to seeing on most 7-inchers.
The Nexus 7 looks thin, but is actually about as thick as most 7-inch tablets.(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Just how sweet is that Bean?
The Nexus 7 will be the first device to run the latest version of the Android 4.1 OS, also known as Jelly Bean. One of the purported new Android 4.1 features is improved precision when typing on the soft keyboard. After taking it out of the box, I wanted to quickly put this to the test. I usually make lots of mistakes when texting on my iPhone 4 or even when testing on other tablets. However, when signing in to my Google account on the Nexus 7, I was able to type fast without making a single mistake. This rarely happens to me on any touch-screen device.
While I did eventually begin making mistakes, I felt much more like they were my own errors and not the tablet misinterpreting my taps. I'm not saying it's perfect, it’s just better than what I've experienced on Android tablets before. At least that's my impression after spending only a couple of hours with the device.
Though Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 is just as customizable as previous incarnations of the OS, the way it's presented on this tablet feels much more controlled, focused, and possibly a bit less intimidating to the uninitiated, Android tablet virgins. Makes sense given that Google is, ostensibly, going after the same market Amazon targeted with the Kindle Fire, which has an even more controlled user experience.
The home screen is presented in portrait mode only and doesn’t rotate. There’s a "toolbar" of apps along the bottom, all of which are Google services apps like Play, Music, Books, and Magazines.
Android 4.1's toolbar and non-rotating home screen makes the OS feel very claustrophobic on the Nexus 7.(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
It all feels very claustrophobic and if I didn’t know this was running a full version of Android, I would have guessed it was a custom, controlled version like the Kindle Fire.
In keeping with the “Google’s gunning for the Kindle Fire” theme, Google Play has been updated to include TV shows, purchasable movies, and magazines; finally bringing the store into modern times.
There's also now a Siri-like voice assistant in Android 4.1. I've not spent a lot a time with it, but my initial impressions were mixed. It definitely felt faster than Siri, returning results in half the time that my test iPhone 4S did, but other times it had trouble understanding what I was saying. Could be my Chicago accent that likes come out at the most inopportune of times, but even us sausage-guzzling Chicagoans deserve to have our voices recognized. I’ll definitely have to spend some more time with it to see exactly what the point of having such a feature on an Wi-fi-only tablet is.
The power of four...or twelve, or is it sixteen?
The quad-core Tegra 3 includes a 12-core GPU as well. It's the same Tegra 3 we’ve seen in most recent Android tablets and it’s just as impressive. Riptide GP ran smoothly, and, of course, it includes the Tegra 3 water splashy effects. I also got a 1080p movie to play on the tablet, and it looks great, especially with that 1,280x800-pixel resolution scrunched to such a small, 7-inch space. As for battery life, Google says to expect 9 hours while playing HD video.
Apps loaded quickly, and swiping through pages produces that satisfying 60 frames per second framerate I've now gotten used to on Tegra 3 tablets, but still very much appreciate.
Impressions: So far, so good
So far, I'm impressed with what I've seen. The screen looks great, feels responsive, and the tablet already does a good job of demonstrating its power in games and movie performance. The lack of expandable memory or a back camera is a bummer, but it's understandable given the dirt-low price for something that feels very well-built.
On paper, sure, it’s a Kindle Fire killer, but with sales of that tablet drying up recently, is that saying all that much? That said, I think Google is off to a good start here. The specs are impressive, Android 4.1 feels simplified while retaining its flexibility, and TV shows and purchasable movies are welcome additions to the Google Play store.
So far, so good. To be an iPad-killer, you'd need to gather a universe-sized amount of app support as just your first step. The Nexus 7 isn't an iPad-killer, but it but it could be the first step on the road to a much more competitive tablet market.
The Nexus 7 is available now from the Google Play store starting at $199 for the 8GB storage configuration and $249 for 16GB. Units will ship in mid-July. Purchasing from Google Play also gifts you a $25 credit to spend on Google Play media.