Product: Google Nexus 7
Rating: Strong Recommend*
As someone who is attached at the hip to her tablet and loves to read, I practically leapt at the opportunity to review the Google Nexus 7. I could hardly wait to get my hands on this shiny new tablet, with a much smaller footprint than my beloved iPad, even if it meant changing things up, operating system wise, with the new Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. How does Google's tablet stack up and who is this device right for you? Read on for the skinny on this svelte 7" tablet.
The first thing that you'll notice when you take the Nexus 7 out of the box is the solid construction, easily the most pleasing tablet in hand running Android that we've had a chance to use. Getting started is simple, and of course, one of the first things that you need to do when you turn the device on is to sync your Google account credentials. You are also given the opportunity to connect to Google+, but it's easy to skip past that if you've never signed in or phased the social network out of your life. Once your account info is entered, you can set the device to sync with your Google account and access Gmail, checking Google Calendar, and using any other Google services.
After going through the setup screens, your introduction to using your new tablet begins with the Google Play widget. This gives you a pretty good clue about the intended use of the device. The Nexus 7 is all about consumption, just like the Kindle Fire. This is not a device designed yet for creating art, taking photos (no rear camera), or making music like the iPad has evolved into. The lack of the rear camera is a real shame considering the 7" form factor makes it a much better candidate for shooting video and taking pictures than the "bulky" iPad. If there are two categories of devices, those built for consumption or creation, this one falls firmly in the consumption category.
Speaking of consumption, the device comes loaded with some content already preloaded. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is preloaded alongside a few songs and books to help get you started on your merry consumptive way. Google also gives you a $25 credit to spend in the Google Play store when you purchase your device from them. Although it's easy to blow the $25 quickly on songs and movies, finding apps that are formatted for a 7" screen is another story.
Many of the apps that I use every day on my iPad and are formatted for the Retina Display screen do not yet exist for Google Nexus, or are really just scaled up phone apps that don't take advantage of the larger screen.
This especially rang true with the Kindle app, which syncs beautifully across multiple iPads and an iPhone, but could not sync seamlessly when it came to an Android phone and an Android tablet. Some apps, though, like Google Drive, were much better on Android than its iOS equivalent, and I wish that the iPad app was at least half as good as the one on this snazzy little tablet.
Google Now is also pretty fun, although it makes more sense on a device that has a cellular connection (sorry, the Nexus 7 is wi-fi only), since it really did not bring as much useful content as its Galaxy Nexus big brother. After over a week of heavy use, the only card it would show me (without asking for more cards each time) was for the local weather.
One of the things that separates this device from some other tablets in its price range is it feels like quality. Just as the iPad set itself apart with its design from the other tablets that came before it, so does the Nexus 7 stand out from all of its similarly priced competitors. The device feels great to hold in your hand, with an almost leathery feeling back, making it a confident hold in one hand. The bezel on the top and bottom are thicker than on the sides, and while we understand the desire for a certain aspect ratio, this small bezel on the sides is a pain when it comes to trying to hold the device in one hand and read while it's in the standard, portrait orientation. I have very small hands and I kept accidentally turning pages while holding it because the side bezel is so thin.
Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, is smooth — unlike other incarnations of Android, the stuttering and hesitation has disappeared, and it makes for one snappy tablet experience. The Nexus 7 leaves my original iPad in the dust and feels just as snappy as the 3rd generation iPad most of the time.
While the device might feel as fast as the new iPad, it simply does not look as legible due to the resolution difference. Going from reading text on a Retina to a non-Retina screen is painful, and the migraines I used to get from reading on a screen for longer than 20 minutes before switching to Retina displays on my computer, phone, and tablet returned with a vengeance. Reading on the Nexus 7 can feel like reading on a computer screen, and the feeling like I am disappearing into a book sensation while reading on the new iPad, a print book, or my Kindle with eInk isn't apparent.
After a few days of suffering from some blistering migraines I had to abandon reading on the device. While I loved how easy it was to fit in my purse (even in a tiny cross-body bag) it was just too tough to read on, and it won't be replacing my Kindle, new iPad, or print books any time soon. The screen resolution is less evident when reading photo heavy magazines, but a tablet with a larger screen is the better choice (as is a print magazine) for that, due to magazines really needing those extra inches.
The Nexus 7 is more than a promising start from Google. With the right apps (and more apps period) this tablet is the perfect device for many people. It's ideal for those who are looking for a tablet primarily to play games, listen to music, and watch movies on who are already fans of Google.
Because this tablet is so tied in to all things Google-verse it would not make sense to give it as a gift to someone who is not already a fan of the Google ecosystem. While the Nexus 7 is not going to replace my new iPad anytime soon, it is a very impressive offering for the price (8GB $199, 16 GB $249) and I've considered picking one up simply for how amazing it is with Google Drive.
Pros: Surprisingly fast, feels well designed, Jelly Bean is the best Android OS yet; great price, portable size makes it easy to travel with all day.
Cons: No rear camera, very limited app selection, screen is not ideal for reading, dependent upon Google ecosystem.
(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)
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