There are plenty of Android tablets on the market of all sizes but one of the best remains the Google Nexus 7. The Asus built 7″ tablet hit the market in 2013 and two years later, it is still one of the best tablets you can buy. It offers fantastic specs that rivals many tablets today plus has a display that is nothing short of amazing. Couple that with a pure Android experience and you have the complete package.
I’ve been using the Nexus 7 for the last couple of weeks as my main tablet over my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 and I don’t see myself going back. I’m personally a big fan of the 7″ to 8″ tablets as they travel well (and I travel a lot) and while the Nexus 9 certainly offers many of the same benefits, the size of the Nexus 7 is a big advantage if you are looking for this size device but don’t want to compromise on features or functionality. Equally, the tablet is still readily available with the 32GB Wi-Fi unit priced at only $199 making it a great value for what you are getting in the Nexus 7.
The Nexus 7 is built for Google by Asus powered by the Snapdragon S4Pro Quad-Core 1.5GHz Krait processor. It is coupled with the Adreno 320 Graphics Processor (GPU) which provides great performance for the 7″ 1200 x 1920 IPS LCD display. That display renders approximately 323 Pixels Per Inch (PPI) that has 10-finger multi-touch support. Onboard you have 2GB of RAM with either 16GB or 32GB of storage built-in. In the case of the 32GB unit which I am reviewing, you have access to just over 26GB of storage after the OS and other updates.
One of the knocks against the Nexus 7 is that you cannot expand the memory. There is no MicroSD slot in the chassis so what you buy is what you have as far as storage is concerned. Personally, this isn’t that big of a deal to me as I never have more than a few TV shows or movies on my tablets at any given time and with over 90 apps installed on my Nexus 7, I still have 14.81GB of storage available to me for music, movies and the like. Your mileage will vary obviously depending on your usage.
Size wise, the Nexus 7 is 200 x 114 x 8.7mm or 7.87 x 4.49 x .34 inches in old money. There are two versions of the unit, one that is Wi-Fi only which weights in at 290 grams while the LTE version is 299 grams. If you opt for the LTE version, it uses a Micro SIM. As for frequencies, the Nexus 7 supports a wide range of 3G and 4G bands globally:
|2G bands||GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 – all versions|
|3G bands||HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100|
|4G bands||LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 20(800) – EU|
|LTE band 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 13(700), 17(700) – North America|
In my case I do not have an LTE version of the Nexus 7 so I cannot comment on the performance.
If you put those dimensions together along with the screen size then you will sort out that the display takes up about 62% of the body-to-screen ratio. On each side of the display you have a rather sizable bezel which makes holding the Nexus 7 easy and comfortable. More on this later in the form factor section.
Continuing with the connectivity, you will find 802.11 a/b/g/n support with dual antennas in the 7 as well as Bluetooth 4.0 LE and A2DP support. From a sensors perspective you will find all the normal accouterments including A-GPS, accelerometer, Gyroscope, proximity and compass in addition to NFC support.
The cameras built into the Nexus 7 are somewhat stock for a tablet. The rear facing camera is a 5MP auto focus camera while the front camera is a 1.2MP unit. Both cameras support geo-tagging and touch focus. I’ll cover the cameras in more detail in the Camera Performance section of this review but I will say now that if you are buying this tablet for the cameras, you may want to look elsewhere. They aren’t bad but they aren’t going to set your world on fire either.
Finally, the battery in the Nexus 7 is a 3950 mAh rated battery with approximately 9 hours of multimedia use. I’ll cover the battery life and performance in more detail in the Battery Performance section of this review.
The form factor of the Nexus 7 is in a word fantastic. It is easy to hold the device in one hand comfortably and in portrait mode you can easily thumb type with both hands on it. Physically there are very few buttons on the device with only the power button and volume rocker on the right side of the device. The left side is completely clean of buttons as is the top. On the bottom you will
find the USB 2.0 Micro-USB connector for charging. The back of the Nexus 7 has the imprinted NEXUS brand vertical on the back with a smaller Asus branding at the bottom. The dual speakers of the Nexus 7 are on each side of the device and provide good left-right stereo quality when you are viewing in landscape mode. The rear facing camera is in the upper right corner of the back and does not protrude out of the smooth but grippy texture of the case.
On the front, the Nexus 7 is an uninterrupted sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass. The unit utilizes the soft keys of Android Lollipop for navigation which means there are no physical buttons like a Home button. Off center at the top of the display is the 1.2MP front facing camera for Hangouts or other video calls or photos. In the middle of the bottom of the display is the white LED that is your Notification indicator.
There is a simple elegance to the Nexus 7 that I personally find appealing. You won’t find any trickery going on with buttons or designs. Asus and Google produced a clean looking and feeling device that’s easy to hold and use with one hand or two.
From a texture perspective, the back of the Nexus 7 has a soft feeling rubber like back which makes it comfortable to hold and it doesn’t feel slippery, especially if you hold it in one hand.
With a 62% body-to-display ratio, it is somewhat expected that the device will have a big bezel around the display and that is certainly the case of the Nexus 7. On the top and bottom (or left and right in landscape mode) you have a about 2″ of bezel while on the long side of the display you have about 1″ of bezel. So the negative of that is that you have a lot of black around the 7″ display which can make it look small. I notice the bezel most when I’m watching a video and less so in my day-to-day email and web surfing on the device. On the plus, if you play games where you have to hold the device (like Real Racing 3) the added area makes it very easy to hold the Nexus 7 firmly to control the game.
Overall the performance of the Nexus 7 is smooth and snappy. I will admit that the rather pokey 1.5GHz processor gave me pause despite it being a Snapdragon S4 Pro which is a good chipset despite it’s age. When I ran the Geekbench 3 benchmark app on the device, it scored an 1854 on the multi-core test. That puts if firmly in the upper end of tablets that are within the app. As for real world use I’ve had no complaints about the 7. Scrolling is smooth while pinch-and-pull zooming in also is smooth. Game play is also great, even on high frame rate apps like Real Racing 3 or even the Angry Birds 2.
From a touch display perspective it is equally responsive. I admit that I did find the smaller display of the Nexus 7 a bit tough at first to type on (I use the Google Keyboard) when I first got the device but once I got the hang of it, it has become less of a problem. Equally, if I really need to do a lot of typing on the device, I connect up a Bluetooth keyboard (I use the iClever Foldable Keyboard) to give me a bit more comfort.
Overall I’m very pleased with the Nexus 7’s performance. For normal everyday use it has no problem keeping up with my needs.
One of the big advantages of the Nexus 7 is the crisp and bright display. The maximum resolution is 1200 x 1920 with 323 ppi. It makes the display incredibly readable for eBooks and magazines. The display has auto brightness adjustments for viewing in bright settings or low light which also makes it easy to view. Performance wise the display performs exceptionally well. Games are not a problem on the 7 even graphic intensive games. The display’s color accuracy is also great regardless of lighting. Generally speaking I keep the device at or near 100% screen brightness which is still easy on the eyes.
Watching videos is also crisp and clean viewing. While it is not a full 1080 display, you will find the quality certainly easy viewing.
I would contend that the display of the Nexus 7 is one of the best I have ever used. It is very easy on the eyes regardless of what you are doing on it.
With dual speakers on the back of the Nexus 7 – one at the top and one at the bottom in portrait mode – are the best I have seen in a tablet, including the iPad. The quality of sound out of the speakers is fantastic regardless if you are watching a podcast, a movie or playing a game. Even with the volume turned up to 100%, there is no distortion in the quality of audio.
Part of the reason for this is the synthetic surround sound that Google has coded into Android for the tablet. It produces a very high quality surround experience albeit a fake one (we are dealing with two speakers here, not 5 or 6 or more). Equally, the fact that the Nexus 7 actually has two speakers makes a world of difference in the sound quality.
You can really put that sound quality in your head with headphones via the 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the device.
As with any tablet, battery life is critical for it being useful as a temporary laptop replacement or to get work done while you are on-the-go. The Nexus 7 doesn’t disappoint. Google states that the 3950 mAh battery will last 9 hours of video playback and 10 hours of web surfing. Like any device, your mileage will vary but I generally had no problem getting through a couple of days between charges on this device. I generally use my tablets 3-4 hours a day unplugged in meetings, surfing the web or watching YouTube at the coffee shop and taking meeting notes. While I certainly can’t make it a full day if I watch a full length movie or two on a plane trip, I can easily make it through the day for my use.
Again, your mileage may vary.
There are a couple of things that work in my favor which I should disclose to readers. First, remember that I have the Wi-Fi only model of the Nexus 7. Those who pick up the GSM version will see less battery life if the GSM stays connected – just like your Android phone. Second, I do not keep Bluetooth turned on all the time. I only turn it on when I’m connecting my iClever keyboard to it for more comfortable typing but otherwise, I shut it off.
The cameras built into the Nexus 7 are, unquestionably, garden variety. There is nothing really special about the 5MP rear shooter and the 1.2MP front camera. They do the job and they do it well but you are not going to be completely blown away. That said, if you are viewing photos on a display, they are going to be more than sufficient for most readers’ usage. The color saturation on the
photos is really good and frankly a bit better than most 5MP shooters. I did find however that the camera struggled a bit with extremely bright or dark situations. This improved after I upgraded the device to Lollipop but it still doesn’t have a good enough sensor to completely sort it out.
The rear camera can also shoot up to 1080p video (although the default is 720p) and does a really good job. It struggles with the same exposure issues but it’s not horrible.
Generally speaking, tablets are meant to be your main camera and they by-and-large lag behind their smartphone counterparts. The Nexus 7 is no exception and if you are looking for this to be your main camera, you probably are going to be disappointed.
Android Lollipop… and Marshmallow?
When you get the Nexus 7 it will come with Android KitKat installed and one of the first things you will need to do is update it to Android Lollipop. The current rev is 5.1.1 and it is well worth taking the time to do. I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time covering Lollipop because it is nearly a year old at this point and undoubtedly you have read plenty on it and may even have it on a device or two. That said, the Nexus 7 performs exceptionally well with Lollipop. You have all the security benefits for sure but you also gain some of the other benefits like an improved camera functionality. By default you are going to get the Lollipop upgrade anyway so I recommend doing the upgrade first, then do another factory reset then doing a restore from your previous tablet.
The big question facing the Nexus 7 is if it will receive the Android Marshmallow update. It is a legitimate question. On the plus side, the device is within the 2 year window that Google has set for supporting older devices. On that note the Nexus 7 should see the Marshmallow update. On the negative is the fact that the device has not been included on the beta cycles. The Nexus 5, Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 have all receive beta previews for Marshmallow. This could be a signal that the device won’t get the update.
As a user of the Nexus 7, I do hope it sees Marshmallow, fully understanding that it will be the last update for the device. Whenever Android N is announced, it will be well beyond the 2 year window of support for the Nexus 7 so Marshmallow would represent the last update. Ultimately the answer of if the device will see Marshmallow will be answered in the coming weeks.
Being a nearly 2 year old device, it is easy to dismiss the Nexus 7. But when you stack up what it offers on the whole, I would put it up against many of the low to mid-range tablets on the market today. The specs are outstanding, the performance is just as outstanding and the display is simply one of the best you will find on a tablet today. Couple all of this with the pure Android Lollipop experience and you have a device that will serve you well regardless if you are doing email triage or watching a movie. Plus it’s compact and easy to hold in one hand.
If you are looking for a 7-8″ tablet, take a serious look at the Nexus 7. At only $199 it has the performance to keep you satisfied.