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Review: Google Nexus 7

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Can the Google Nexus 7 eat into Apple, put out Kindle’s fire and lead the Android tablet charge?

It’s not unfair to suggest that Android tablets have failed to set the world alight so far. While there have been a number of noble efforts, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Sony Tablet S spring to mind, they have failed to capture the imaginations of consumers, leaving Apple and its iPad to dominate the market.

However late last year, a tablet running a modified version of Android arrived on the scene and threatened to seize control of the lower end of the tablet spectrum – the Amazon Kindle Fire. Its low price point and association with the Kindle brand ensured that it enjoyed great success in the US.

But the Kindle Fire uses a rival marketplace and with its imminent launch in the UK, Google finally decided to take a lead in the Android tablet arena and release its own device, in a similar fashion to what it has done with its Nexus range of smartphones.

Google Nexus 7

As the name suggests, the Google Nexus 7 opts for the seven-inch display preferred by the Kindle Fire. Steve Jobs might have been convinced that a seven-inch tablet defeated the purpose of owning one, but this isn’t the case as the Nexus 7 feels good in the hands and offers a more personal experience than larger devices. Weighing in at 340 grams it isn’t uncomfortable to hold it for long periods of time either.

The Google Nexus 7 is aggressively priced at just £159 for the 8GB version and £199 for the 16GB edition, but it doesn’t feel like an inferior product and boasts a full complement of connectivity options. A Micro USB port is located at the bottom for connecting it to the PC or power, alongside a headphone jack. Along the side is a volume control, along with the sleep button, which is a little bit awkwardly placed if you are used to an iPad.

The screen is capable of a 1280 x 800 resolution and is rather impressive. High-definition movies look particularly good on the display, which is protected by scratch-resistant Corning Glass rather than Gorilla Glass.

Inside the Nexus

Under the bonnet, the Nexus 7 is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor which it is claimed will boost all aspects of performance, including browsing, graphics and gaming. The tablet handled everything asked of it and having several applications open at one time did not impair performance.

It’s true to its word when it comes to browsing and the tablet comes preloaded with the Chrome browser, which makes surfing the web a quick, painless experience. Mobile-optimised pages look especially good, but one problem with the seven-inch form is that some websites just don’t have enough screen space to be practical.

However given that using touchscreen controls on an iPad can prove particularly cumbersome at times, it’s reassuring to learn that they are easier to perform on a smaller tablet. This is particularly true of gaming. While Angry Birds isn’t going to push any mobile device to its limits, more graphically demanding games don’t appear to challenge the Nexus 7’s capabilities either.

Jelly Bean Joy

A quick tap of the screen and you’re greeted by the latest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean. Android has had a hard time making the transition from smartphone to tablet, but it feels as though Google has finally stumbled upon the perfect formula.

The interface is smart, sleek and well organised, with most applications just a few taps and swipes away. Favourite apps and folders can be added to the bottom of the screen, while others are located in the menus.

With Jelly Bean, it feels as though more relevant information is at your fingertips. Compared to iOS notifications are less intrusive and more detailed, while new virtual assistant software Google Now can be summoned from any screen by swiping upwards.

It’s natural to compare Google Now to Siri as it responds to voice commands by returning data such as the weather, stock prices and traffic information and can be used to take notes and write emails. Text commands can also be issued, which gives it an immediate advantage over its Apple rival and rather than feeling gimmicky, it is genuinely useful, especially since it learns to predict what information you want to see.

Needless to say, the Nexus 7 has access to the Google Play store, offering a full range of applications, movies and books. It comes preloaded with Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon and a novel by Jeffrey Archer, although it’s difficult to determine whether the latter is a positive inclusion.

Media Machine?

Aside from such trivialities, at its price point, it’s difficult to find anything wrong with the Nexus 7, but it isn’t the perfect tablet. While there are a number of productivity applications available such as Skype and Google Drive, it never really feels as though it’s a suitable replacement for a fully-fledged laptop, a role which the iPad revels in.

The smaller form and close integration with the Google Play store make it feel more of a vehicle to consume media rather than a tool to create. However it offers a more personal experience for gaming, movies and books. Its advantage over its larger rivals as an e-reader should be obvious, not least because it’s possible to hold it with one hand, making it much more convenient and easy on the hands.

There are also a few notable omissions such as a lack of support for 3G networks and the absence of a rear facing camera to take photos. While 16GB is enough space to store some music, a few videos and play a few games, it fills up quickly and isn’t ideal if you want to store a substantial amount of media and applications.

Power users might struggle to adapt, but for the rest of us who want to read our email or play a game on the train, then it’s ideal and doesn’t break the bank. Google wanted its own tablet to lead the Android charge against Apple and its seven-inch rivals. The ball is now firmly in Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s court.

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