A Tag-Team Look At The New Nexus 7

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Gillmor Gang Live 08.02.13 (TCTV)

Darrell: Google recently updated its Nexus 7 tablet, with a new design and brand new specs including a more powerful processor and much better screen. The device also has the distinction of being among the first in line for new Android updates, so it’s an early-adopter’s delight. But despite all the new, the Nexus 7 doesn’t really dramatically change the tablet space; it slots in more or less where the original version did, as a tablet that’s good for the price but unlikely to provoke any passion.

Chris: Well, maybe it doesn’t for you. But for a market teeming with people who are itching to buy tablets over more traditional computers, the new Nexus 7 represents a major step forward over the original without a corresponding increase in price. I suspect that a considerable chunk of people are going to look at this thing, mull their options, and take the plunge. And, you know what? They could do a lot worse.

Darrell: If anyone gets this instead of a computer, they’re in for a rough surprise.
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Darrell: The Nexus 7 has a lot going for it on paper, not least of which is the super high resolution display. The 7-inch screen has 1980×1200 resolution, making it officially the sharpest knife in the drawer, if the drawer is filled with tablets and sharpest knife here refers to sharpest screen.

That’s not all that the Nexus 7 brings to the table; its other big selling point is price. In the U.S., the 16GB version retails for $229, which is $30 more than its predecessor, but still $100 cheaper than the iPad mini with the same amount of onboard storage and wireless connectivity. So that’s double the screen resolution, for a third less money.

Chris: Yeah, that’s fine, get on with it.

Darrell: It’s also smaller and lighter than the iPad mini (and has a smaller display, too). You’d think that would give it portability/usability benefits, but oddly it doesn’t. I can’t help but shake the feeling that the Nexus 7 is larger than the iPad mini, even though objective measures prove that isn’t the case. Is it the gargantuan top and bottom bezels? The slightly thicker case? Hard to tell exactly, but ergonomically it’s just not up to scratch with the Apple tablet.

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Chris: Anyone ever tell you you’re sort of a tablet snob? Sure, it’s no iPad mini, but are you shelling out iPad mini money for this thing? No, you’re not. I agree that those bezels are huge and they make the Nexus 7 feel strangely long when you hold it vertically, but I certainly wouldn’t call them dealbreakers. Holding this thing is like holding a slightly heavier Paperwhite Kindle, which is most definitely a good thing — there’s definitely some heft there but I find it more reassuring than anything. The soft touch finish on the 7’s rear is a welcome addition too, as it helps you get a better grip on things if you’re playing games or furiously swiping through one of Darrell’s many Apple patent articles.

Darrell: Pricing arguments start to feel hollow when the difference is $100, and it’s only $50 if you go with Apple Certified Refurbished products. The Nexus 7 was a pricing bomb when it first hit and the full-sized iPad starting at $399 was the alternative from Apple, but no one’s going hungry over the difference now, so you can stop with the cries of class bias.

Darrell: It feels cheaper, too, but that’s because it is cheaper. And it doesn’t feel as cheap as some other third-party Android tablets I’ve held, so the build quality is actually a net plus for the new Nexus 7. Also top and bottom speakers make for better sound orientation when watching movies, but they don’t beat the sound quality on the iPad mini’s two bottom-edge stereo speakers.

Chris: I’ve got to give it you on that one. The stereo speakers that Asus loaded this thing up with produce reasonably loud, crisp sound, but they do fall flat when compared to the sort of sound that the iPad mini’s downward-facing pair can pump out. That’s honestly quite a shame considering that 7-inch 1920×1200 display is pretty great for taking in a mobile movie or two.

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Darrell: This Nexus 7 comes with Android 4.3 (though you might need to update out of the box to get it up to speed), which brings a few new features for users including restricted access for multiple user profiles! Exciting! … sort of. If you have lots of mischievous children who share your device. Or if you want to keep your tablet porn habit hidden from your loved ones. It’s a nice addition, but Google certainly is not going to sell any tablets on the strength of Android 4.3 alone, unless dev shops are looking for new testing devices to cover their bases.

We’re not going to talk about cameras because if you’re buying a tablet based on its picture- or video-taking abilities you’re doing it wrong.

Chris: I’ll expound a bit since Darrell’s being sort of a grump — neither the 5-megapixel camera nor its 2-megapixel front-facing brother managed to produce anything worth writing home about. They’ll certainly do in a pinch if you’ve got absolutely nothing else on hand that could do the job, but you’ll definitely want to whip out your phone instead when the urge to snap selfies becomes too much to resist.

Darrell: Don’t listen to Chris: If it’s a choice between taking a pic with your tablet and missing the moment, you’ll always have your memories.

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As for the other aspects of the Nexus 7’s performance, it’s absolutely fine in most cases, with some slowdown in Chrome when scrolling that’s a little disconcerting. Overall, nothing to write home about, but no problems that would annoy the average user to the point of making them want to return the device, either. Adequate, in other words.

Chris: Some people maybe nonplussed by the Nexus 7’s spec sheet since it isn’t loaded up with the absolute latest and greatest chipsets, but its 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM kept things chugging along with a minimum of headaches. I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but I didn’t notice any lag or performance issues while putzing around in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or losing at Riptide GP. And loading up and playing several high-definition films (that I, uh, own) didn’t present many issues for the 7 either. There was the occasional visual stutter, but that’s at least partially because most of the video player apps I use haven’t been optimized for Android 4.3 yet.

And there’s the battery, which has actually shrunk a bit since the last Nexus 7. I’ve been able browse web pages, fire up non-graphics intensive apps, answer emails, and basically mess around for about a day and a half before having to recharge. Loading up those videos definitely takes a toll on things though (especially if you’ve got that screen brightness cranked up) — I generally managed to get between six and seven hours of non-stop video going before everything went dark.

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Darrell: The Nexus 7 is good for a few, very specific things: it makes an excellent e-reader; if you like digital comics they look amazing on this screen; and if you’re into acts of piracy such as torrenting it’s much easier to accomplish on Android than on iOS without getting a proper computer involved. But ultimately the Nexus 7’s screen isn’t enough to lure me away from the iPad mini permanently; if anything, it has only whetted my appetite for a Retina iPad mini, which indications suggest we’ll probably see before the end of the year.

Chris: I’d characterize it a little differently — the new Nexus 7 is a great generalist tablet. It’s reasonably handsome (those bezels aside), it can hold its own when it comes to pure horsepower, and that price tag can be awfully hard to resist. Is it a perfect tablet? Obviously not, but it’s definitely a worthy purchase for first-time tablet owners or people who want a hardy companion to throw in a bag every day.