Google Nexus 7 Tablet Review

We have been looking to buy a tablet for a while now. Having previously bought (and subsequently sold) an iPad 2, we have been waiting for a good 7" Google Android tablet to come on the market with a decent screen. The main reason we have been waiting for a 'Google' branded tablet is that Android support for other devices is at best patchy. Google's own Android devices seem to get more regular software updates and much earlier than other Android devices.

We have also been looking for a tablet that would be the perfect companion for our iPhones. The iPad is not such a device in our view, because it is essentially an iPhone with a larger screen and as such duplicates most of the functionality and also the limitations. We want a tablet that does the things our iPhone does not do, such as reading SD cards and supporting file formats other than Apple's limited set. As you will read below, the Nexus 7 is just that tablet.

The main reason why we purchased this device though, is that is amazing value for money and is a very fast 7" tablet, with a good design and build quality. A recent article estimates the Nexus 7 production costs to be $184, leaving Google with a very small profit margin.

At 198.5 × 120 × 10.45mm and only 340g, it is comfortable to hold in one hand for long periods (unlike the iPad). The 1280 × 800 pixel, 7" screen is good enough for viewing photos and videos, though we would have ideally liked a native 1080p display (though this is not yet realistic at this price point).

The main issues we see with it initially, are the lack of SD-card slot for external storage and there is no video output port. These things aside, it is a well specified device though. It comes with a powerful 'Quad-core Tegra 3' processor and then latest Android 4.1 (code named Jelly Bean) operating system. It has 1Gb of RAM and there are two variants, with 8Gb or 16GB of internal storage. The display is 1280 × 800 pixels (216 ppi) and is a back-lit IPS display, with scratch-resistant Corning 'Gorilla' glass.

Purchasing

The Nexus 7 is available in two versions with 8GB (£159) or 16GB (£199) of storage. Those that pre-ordered also received a £15 credit note to use in the Android Play store. We purchased the 16GB version because you can never have too much storage! The Nexus 7 has proved amazingly popular and Google has been surprised by the demand.

Nexus 7 box
The ordering and delivery process was painful. It started with the Google Play site not responding and us accidentally ordering two Nexus 7's. Incredibly, there is no way to cancel an order on-line once placed :-( Google ask you to fill in a form to arrange a call back, which we did. We were then called back and put in a queue, eventually to be told to call back later. We finally managed to speak to someone several hours later and cancelled one of the orders.

Google does not use any payment verification services, so our credit card company spotted this as possible fraudulent transaction and blocked the payments. This wasn't helped by the Google website not displaying CVV numbers and by us also having a previous credit card on record. Every time we made a change Google put a £1 payment attempt through, which made it look even more like a fraudulent payment.

Having spoken to our credit card company twice and updated our credit card details, we finally got a payment through to Google. Then we had all the delivery delays and lack of communication from Google to deal with. Because of all the delays, Google finally shipped with 24-hour delivery via TNT. TNT's tracking system can take 24 hours before it tells you where your parcel is. Not very useful on a 24-hour delivery! All in all, this was a painful experience and Google have so much to learn from Apple, when it comes to customer satisfaction.

In The Box

Nexus 7 box contents
In the box you get the tablet, a two piece UK mains power charger (5Vdc, 2.0A), USB lead for charging & connecting to a PC and the warranty and 'quick start' guide. There is no headset for the 3.5mm jack socket.

Set Up

Set up involved selecting your country/language, then connecting the device to your WiFi. Once this was done, it seemed to know who we were and just ask for our Google password. It then restored our Google account onto the device. It then asks for permission to use your location and the set up is complete. This took less than 60 seconds. The clever thing here is that it knows about all the WiFi hotspots we have used on our Google Nexus S and just connects to them :-)

We then received a couple of emails confirming the set-up of our Nexus 7. The second one informed us of a £15 credit to our Google Play account.

A few minutes into using the device, we were notified of a system update. Our device is now at V4.1.1 and build JRO03D.

When we first went into the Google Play Store, there were a couple of apps that needed updating (Google Earth and Google+).

Initial Thoughts

  • Crikey, it's fast! We've used loads of Android tablets over the years and this is fastest of them all.
  • The power button is a bit awkward to locate, being more on the back of the device than on the side. You can't see it.
  • Not all the apps work we have used so far work in landscape mode.
  • WiFi range is a bit average. The Nexus 7 lost connectivity to our BT home Hub when carried up to our study. None of our other devices have done this. To be fair, this hasn't happened since.
  • Browsing the BBC News site we immediately noticed the lack of pixels compared to our iPhone 4 Smartphones.
  • The larger screen and thus keyboard make it easier to type accurately. It is better than an iPhone 4 in this respect.
  • The Nexus 7 is a nice size and shape to hold in the hand. It's light and we feel confident walking around with it.
  • It was a nice touch by Google to give customers a £15 credit. This will cover all of the 'essential apps' listed below.
  • The main charger is rated at 2A. None of our many other micro-USB mains chargers are going to be able to charge the Nexus 7.

  • Google thoughtfully provided free access to a few books and we can see this device making a good book reader for indoor use. It is not going to compete with a Kindle e-Ink screen for readability outside though.
  • The YouTube app doesn't do full-screen playback properly.

It looks like the build quality is pretty good too! One thing to bear in mind is that it's easier to keep hold of the Nexus 7, due to it being lighter and smaller, so you are less likely to drop it too.

Features

Camera

The tablet also has a 1.2MP front-facing camera, which is primary aimed at video calling. For a 1.3Mpixel camera it is really quite good. It isn't going to compete with the higher resolution cameras on the back of the iPad or iPhone but, this is not something we really wanted from this tablet anyway. Strangely, there isn't a camera app by default on the Nexus 7 but, it can be added by using this camera launcher app.

You can also use the camera and your face to unlock the tablet. You can set up biometric face unlock in 'Settings', then 'Security', then 'Screen lock'.

Jelly Bean supports video to panoramic photo mode and this works pretty well in our tests.

Networking

The Nexus 7 is a WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) tablet, with no 3G/4G/LTE network capability. This suits us just fine as we don't want the additional load on the battery, the extra costs of the radio hardware and the on-going data subscription required. We tend to agree with this report that LTE tablets are a waste of money.

On the odd occasion that we do need mobile data connectivity, it is simply a matter of turning on the 'Personal Hotspot' (tethering) on our iPhones. Our testing has shown this works really well.

NFC (Android Beam)

Also of particular interest to us is the in-built Near-Field Comms (NFC) capability. Android 4.1 (aka Jelly Bean) supports a new feature that Google call Android Beam. You just hold two 'beam capable' devices back to back and touch the screen on the device you want to send data from. If the receiving device doesn't have the right app, it takes you to the Google Play app store to download it.

Here is a quick demo of it working:

Navigation

The Nexus 7 has in-built GPS capability and a magnetometer is to enable digital compass capability. Even without 3G/4G data the Nexus 7 will still be a fantastic satellite navigation system, with the right app. We like NavFree [free + adverts]. You can pay to remove the adverts and buy maps to cover the whole world. You can also buy speed camera data and other voices. We also use this app on our iPhones and they share a common registration account across devices.

Initially, we though this was one of those apps that doesn't work in landscape mode but, we then realised that the default setting on the Nexus 7 is to have the screen orientation lock on. It works fine with this switched off! Testing so far shows that this is a solution that works really well. A 7" touch screen satnav is amazing and almost justifies the purchase price on its own!

The Waze app is also available for the Nexus 7 and is our current favourite satnav app. It does require a network connection though, so you either need a 3G Nexus 7 or use tethering.

Connectivity

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Nexus 7 was its lack of micro SD-card slot and USB host support in the OS. Our hope is that USB host support will arrive in a software update later and that we won't have to root our device to enable this. In the mean time, the Nexus Media Importer app [£1.27] has met all of our needs so far.

There are some accessories that may help though and we plan to test it with this USB To Go cable available from Amazon UK.

With this lead, we plugged in a standard USB mouse and a mouse pointer appeared on the screen. It was then possible to drive the tablet UI using the mouse.

We also tried a standard Microsoft USB keyboard and this worked too. It was easy to type in all the applications we tried.

The jack socket at the bottom of the tablet is a stereo headphone socket with microphone input too. This is in addition to the twin microphones on the device. It should be good for VOIP calling :-)

One thing that puzzled us to start with was these 4 dots on the bottom left hand corner. These are electrical connections for a dock.

Many people complain about the lack of HDMI port to connect the Nexus 7 using an HDMI lead to a TV. We have yet to find a situation where we have wanted to do this. We have used DLNA and its wireless video capability on a few occasions.

Bluetooth

One thing we want to test is the Bluetooth connectivity within our Mazda 6 as this enables music playback through the car audio system, steering wheel call control and voice dialling (would have to be over IP). It also enables satnav apps to play audio through the car audio system.

We tried pairing up an old Bluetooth folding keyboard with the Nexus 7. Although it appeared to pair OK, we couldn't get any keyboard input on the tablet.

We plan to do a lot more testing with Bluetooth in the next few days.

Contour+ Helmet Camera

One of the main reasons we bought the Nexus 7, was to use it with our Contour+ helmet camera. Contour have their own Contour Connect app [free] to enable this.

Pairing the Contour+ to the Nexus 7 would have been simpler but for the fact that the Nexus 7 sees it as a pair of wireless headphones. Once paired it worked as expected though, with the ability to preview the camera output (at low resolution and frame rate) and to configure the camera settings. It would be really nice if the ability to download files from the Contour+ was added to this app.

Performance

The performance of the Nexus 7 processor is looking very good and early benchmark testing supports this too. It's the fastest Android tablet we've ever used and it feels just as quick as the new iPad.

The audio quality from the speakers is not that impressive, especially at lower volumes but, the quality of the audio from the headphone socket is very good.

Battery

The Nexus 7 has a 4325 mAh battery that provides a claimed 8 hours of active use. This is pretty good considering its low weight. BGR reports that the Nexus 7 crushes Kindle Fires battery performance. According to iFixit's tests, the 16 Wh battery can lasted 9:49 hours, more than two hours longer than the Kindle Fire, which has a 4400 mAh, 16.28 Wh battery. We've been really impressed with battery life so far too.

Go to 'Settings' -> 'Battery' and you can see what apps and processes have been using most battery power.

This useful battery widget [free] can be installed on the desktop to give you a percentage figure of battery life left. Not sure why this isn't part of Android O/S.

Display

The 178º wide-viewing angle IPS display is really good on the Nexus 7. It is nice and bright with good contrast and good blacks. It could obviously benefit from a higher pixel density but, for most of the things we have planned, it is good enough. Where you could really do with more pixels is when browsing web sites. When watching a film, whilst holding the Nexus 7 in a comfortable position, the screen size / viewing angle would be comparable to a 50" TV mounted in our lounge, so the viewing experience is pretty good.

When being used at night time, it can appear a bit to bright. There is a handy Screen Filter app [free] that can help.

There has been some discussion about the Nexus 7 screen having bad image retention but, this seems to be affecting pre-production units given out at the Google IO conference only.

Apps

This is our growing list of 'essential' apps on the Nexus 7:

Google Apps

Not Compatible

Social Networking

The official Twitter app [free] is really quite good, despite us preferring to use Twittelator Pro on the iPhone.

We also like the official Facebook app [free], as it really benefits from the larger screen.

Also does the LinkedIn app [free].

Connectivity

The BT WiFi app is a must have app for the Nexus & if you are a BT Broadband customer. It automatically connects you to BT's huge number of WiFi hotspots when they are in range. As there is no 3G/4G connectivity on the Nexus 7, this is a really useful feature.

The Nexus Media Importer app [£1.27] allows you to read memory sticks and cards without rooting your device. It is a 'must have' app.

Apple AirPlay

We have both an Apple TV and a Denon AVR-1912 home cinema amplifier that is Apple AirPlay (and DLNA) capable, so it makes sense to see what apps are available to connect these to the Nexus 7.

Remote for iTunes looked pretty good and gets good reviews, so we bought it to try out. There is a free trial version but we went for the full version [£3.99]. Once installed you are given a 4-digit PIN to enter in iTunes, to enable the device to do remote control. This pairing is done once.

The user interface is clear and intuitive, more so than the 'iPod'/'Music' app on the iPhone itself. It also displays all the album art. The one plus with apps like these are that they provide access to the full set of music in your iTunes library and not just the tracks synchronised to the iPhone. The volume control has tick boxes for our Apple TV and Denon AVR-1912. It is also possible to select multiple output sources.

Overall, it's pretty impressive! The only downside of this approach is that your computer/laptop needs to be on. It's fair to say that Apple no longer has sole control of the eco-system it has created and AirPlay is a well supported capability of Android devices now. We like this.

News

The BBC News app [free] provides a much better way to access BBC news on the Nexus 7, especially when considering our comments on the lack of pixels being evident whilst browsing the BBC News website.

The Guardian News app [free] is also very good.

Books

The Nexus 7 has the Google Play eBook reader installed. We also installed the Kindle app and this works really well. The Nexus 7 is ideally sized to be a eBook reader but, our testing showed the screen to be too reflective to really use outside. You can't beat an eInk screen in this respect.

TV & Film

The iPhone and iPad are the centre of most innovation when it comes to entertainment apps and this is reflected in the lack of many apps we use on our iPhones.

Their is no TV Catchup app yet but, there is the website which requires Flash (not properly supported on the Nexus 7). There is also a beta app in development for Android and we are currently testing it. So far it is working really well on fast Internet connections but, doesn't seem to work so well on slower ones. One plus point is that this service now includes all 24 BBC Olympics channels.

The BBC iPlayer app [free] was not compatible as it uses Flash (not supported on Nexus 7 by default). An new version has now been released though that uses a media player :-)

We tried the ITV Player app and this requires you to install Adobe Air. So far, it hasn't been very reliable though.

The TV Guide app is OK but, it doesn't do the landscape grid view that you get with the iOS equivalent app.

The IMDb app is also really good.

The LOVEFiLM by Post is a good app that lets us manage our DVD & Blu-Ray film rental lists (we subscribe to the postal rental service).

The EuroSport Player app [free + subscription] works really well and we use it to watch the Le Mans 24 race each year.

Video Players

The default app installed for movie/film playback is 'Play Movies'. This is also linked to the Google Play store and access to some films is provided by default (Transformers, etc.). This is a nice app that supports letter-box, full-screen zoom and handles landscape and portrait modes.

VLC [free] is a media player app with excellent format support. It is current in beta though. We may try this one later.

For now, we are using the DicePlayer [£3.34], which get excellent reviews. It plays all the formats we have so far, including those produced by iOS devices and our Contour+ helmet camera. More on this app later.

We also have a NetFlix subscription and this app is really good. This is the kind of app these tablets were designed for.

Video Editing

Our video editor of choice is iMovie but, we really want an editor that can run on this tablet. The plan is to use it on holiday, to edit footage taken on devices like our Contour+ helmet camera. It would be good to access stills from our Nikon D40 DSLR camera too though. These are stored on and SD-card, so a micro SD-card slot wouldn't help much.

AndroMedia Video Editor

We are currently testing the AndroMedia Video Editor app. The first thing we noticed is that it only allows output files with frame rates of 24 or 30fps. Our Contour+ records best at 720p and 60fps.

Once created, the video and audio have to be rendered (2-step process), before you can view it. This takes a few minutes (too long really). The resulting files from our tests so far are looking pretty good though. By default, this app uses notifications to send you adverts. These have been switched off.

Photo Editing

We like the Photo Editor app.

google have recently purchased SnapSeed and it is now available as a free app.

Music Videos

We like the VEVO app [free] for music videos. It covers mainly popular music but, the video and sound quality is excellent.

Comms

We have installed the Skype app. With a forward facing video camera, it is ideal for ideal for video chats. The camera quality isn't very high but it is good enough for video chat. We also wanted to install Viber but, it is not compatible with the Nexus 7.

Games

It is fair to say that we are not massively into gaming in our household despite the iPods, iPhones, Android phones, Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3 and Onlive streamed gaming console :-). That said, Angry Birds looks fantastic on the 7" screen.

We were surprised that some of our favourites on the iPhone such as Bejeweled and Plants v Zombies are not available or compatible.

OnLive

The OnLive app is worth a mention, since we have this service. It is something we will be testing out in the next few weeks, along with any compatible hardware (controllers, keyboards, etc.). Our testing showed that the Nexus 7 could easily handle the streamed video rendering at a decent frame rate. - Note that OnLive has since closed its service in the UK.

Cloud Storage

Google Drive

Chrome browser [free] is not pre-installed but, it is a must have app! By default you get 5GB of free cloud storage but, you can buy more. The PC client allows you to store files in the cloud such as music and video but, in the Android app you can force files to be available off-line. This makes it a very easy way to load content onto the device, to view it later offline.

With Google Drive you can also share files and folder, sending a link by email. Google Drive also has a cache (25MB by default but, adjustable up to 250MB) to cache content accessed frequently and to thus speed things up a bit.

If you were going on holiday, you could upload 5GB (or more) of content you want to watch whilst away and then mark some to be available off-line (e.g. to watch on the plane). When you get to your hotel (with WiFi), you can then watch more of it. At the end of you holiday, you then mark more for off-line access, to watch on the plane home.

What we also like about Google Drive is that there is an iOS app too. Unfortunately, it does not allow you to upload photos and video from an iPhone, so that they can be shared with relatives whilst you are still on holiday. For this we use Dropbox.

Dropbox

Dropbox [free] does much the same as Google Drive but both the Android and the iOS app allow you to upload files :-) For this reason we use it for personal photo and video upload and sharing.

Tools

  • We love the SimpleMind app [£3.76] mind-mapping tool. It works really well and supports the storing files in DropBox, so you can seamlessly access them on a PC, Android device and iOS devices.
  • This Evernote [free] is really useful note taking app that synchronises across devices.
  • This WiFi Analyzer app [free] is really useful and one we wish was available for iOS devices.
  • GPS Status [free].
  • ES File Explorer [free].
  • Circle Battery Widget [free].

Car & Automotive

As you might have gathered already, we plan to use the Nexus 7 in several cars as a satnav. We are planning to try out a few 'performance meter' apps in the next few days.

We are starting with Car Performance [free] but, there is also a paid-for version of Car Performance [£2.49].

Other

Other Stuff Of Interest

iFixit gives the Nexus 7 a 'Repairability Score' of 7 out of 10, which means that it's much easier to repair than the new iPad, which scored just 2 out of 10 for repairability. The Nexus 7 iFixit teardown

Content

Recent reports suggest that Google Play store movies, shows, and magazines are not coming to UK with Nexus 7.

Rooting The Nexus 7

The main reason to want to unlock the bootloader and root the device will be so that it can read USB flash drives. It seems strange that Google force you down this route to achieve this.

Summary

Despite the painful ordering and delivery process, we are very pleased with this device. It does everything we expected and it does it all really well. It is a seriously quick little tablet and great for streamed video and general web browsing. We were convinced that the 7" tablet format was the best compromise between screen size, usability & portability and the Nexus 7 has proved this to be true.

The more we use the Nexus 7, the better it seems to get. As a family that primarily use iPhones, we really appreciate the extra flexibility and configurability that we get on this tablet via Android. The range of apps, tools and content is very compelling and we can only recommend this device.

If it had an SD-card slot and a retina display, it would be perfect and we would willingly pay £300 or even £350 for such a device. The lack of video out is not real an issue as we can push video around using an iPhone and AirPlay. We bought this tablet because it had a screen big enough to watch video on.

Useful Tips

  • To take a screenshot on your the Nexus 7, press the volume down and power button at the same time. After a brief pause, the screen will be captured.
  • You can add your contact details to the Android lock screen, so if someone finds it, they can could it to you. Under 'Settings', then 'Security', then 'Owner info'.
  • Swipe down from the top of the screen to access notifications and you can also access 'Settings' and the screen auto-rotate locking.
  • You can swipe up from the bottom center of any screen to immediately head to the Google Now screen.
  • The settings icon at the right end of the volume bar (appears when you press volume up or down) allows you to adjust the notification volume separately.
  • Go to 'Settings', then 'About tablet', then tap 3 times fast on the 'Android Version' label, then tap once on red jelly bean to see a face, and finally press and hold screen for a game.

Cases & Skins

Protective case
We've ordered a neoprene protective case to carry the Nexus 7 around in. It isn't one of those devices that needs a permanent protective case on it in our view, as the back has a protective rubber surface.

Mazda 6 mounting
We have built a custom mount for the above Nexus 7 skin to sit on. This is described on our Mazda 6 review page.

Silicon skin
We have also ordered a cheap silicon skin for it to sit in, when being used in a car. The main reason for this is that we stick Velcro to this case and stick it to the dash in our kitcar or to a mount in our Mazda 6. This skin has all the holes in the right places for microphones, speakers, USB port, etc.

Covers

Official Asus Nexus 7 case
An official cover is in the pipeline and the Nexus 7 also has magnetic sensors to detect if the cover is open or closed (like the iPad 2 Smart cover).

Chargers

High current charger
The Nexus 7 needs quite a lot of current to charge when the screen is on. All of our existing car USB chargers failed to deliver sufficient current, so we bought this dual-charger. It can provide 2.1A and seems up to the job.

With an Android tablet like the Nexus 7, you need a charger that can supply high current and has the data pins shorted together. Without this it will charge the Nexus 7 slowly using 500mA. Even a charger like this may not be able to supply enough current to keep the device fully charged, whilst it is in use.

Docks

Nexus 7 dosc
There are rumours of an official dock appearing.

Printers

We tested the PrintBot app [free] with our networked Brother HL5170DN laser printer but, it didn't seem to work with it, despite listing it as a supported printer. The privacy policy associated with this app and what it does with your documents, meant that we stopped using it.

Further Reading

Updates

18th January 2013 - Recent news shows that the Nexus 7 is still very popular and in terms of sales the Google Nexus 7 tops iPad in Japan.

7th Dec 2012 - Lots of discussion about tablets and their memory storage recently. Many have much less usable storage than the headline figure quoted. Our 16Gb Nexus 7 has 13.24GB available to the user and we are a long way from using all of this. At the time of writing this, we still have 8.2GB free.

15th Nov 2012 - Android 4.2 is now available on the Nexus 7. This release supports multiple user accounts. This is a massive improvement in terms of using it as a family device.

11th Oct 2012 - The Android Jelly Bean V4.1.2. update has rolled out to some friends with Nexus 7 devices today. This brings home screen orientation support. If you can't wait, you can do it yourself.

10th Oct 2012 - There is a 32GB version of the Nexus 7 due very soon. One owner has already been sent one by mistake.

8th Aug 2012 - The Nexus 7 wins the T3 tablet of the year award.

Aug 2012 - The latest rumour suggests a Nexus 7 with 3G is coming soon. Personally, we wouldn't bother as we use personal hotspots on our iPhones. Not all contracts support this though.

Aug 2012 - Whilst using the Nexus 7 on holiday, I noticed a couple of dead pixles. In one place there are two next-door pixels not working and strangely, the display has turned mirror like at this point (even when off you can see this). After some thought, I've realised that I don't notice them in use and have decided to avoid the hassle of getting my device exchanged for a new one.

31st July 2012 - It is looking very likely that multi-user support is coming to Android.

June 2012 - There have been lots of rumours suggesting that and iPad Mini will be announced by Apple later on in 2012. Even if it hits the same price point, it is still not going to address our issues, in wanting a device to compliment the iPhone.

April 2013 - Latest rumours suggest a new Nexus 7 tablet is due out in July 2013.

10th May 2013 - CNET article Why the Nexus 7 succeeded where others failed.

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