We’ve waited a long time for the Nexus tablet; for proof that Google really wants to compete against the iPad. Hardware with the flagship Nexus moniker is co-designed by Google and granted not only the latest and greatest versions of Android, but tend to be high-quality hardware as well. Google said they wanted to spread the Nexus branding amongst their partners and Asus is the latest to join the stable of privileged. While Android dominates in the smartphone market, shoehorning it onto tablets has net lukewarm results, proving that the iPad success story is far more exception than rule. But does the Nexus 7 make enough headway as a tablet to lead Google’s hardware partners to the promised land of tablet dominance? And does it cure my indifference to tablets altogether?
When I said that Nexus hardware is no slouch, I meant it. Owning both a Galaxy Nexus and now the Nexus 7, it’s easy to see that Google wants a device that still feels premium without necessarily breaking the bank on materials. The Nexus 7 is the size of a DVD case with a heft that indicates it means business, but is light enough that it doesn’t fatigue your grip over long periods. On standby with light usage, the battery can last for days and even with heavy usage and video watching (like a 3AM screening of The Prestige while lying in bed) it still gave me a full day of Android-y goodness.
The tablet comes with wi-fi connectivity only, which is puzzling to me. I’ve read and heard so much about how iPad owners never used their 3G/4G connectivity and would opt for a wi-fi model in the future, but it seems antithetical. This is a device that’s designed to be mobile and small enough to keep with you anywhere, but even with access to all the same social and connectivity apps that the phones enjoy, you can’t use it everywhere (that is, unless you’re under a wi-fi umbrella). As a result, much of the tablet’s functionality (including Google Now, which I’ll talk about in a minute) is disabled as soon as I leave the house, much like it is on my laptop (although I can tether my GNex to my laptop and get it that way, but I digress.) Sure, I suppose I could download content to it, but maybe you have to intentionally draw the line on what you’re using the device for: a PC replacement or as a phone replacement.
The tablet’s outer casing, which isn’t terribly dissimilar from the Galaxy Nexus, is divided into three discrete sections: the screen, the rim, and the backing.
The tablet’s display is a 7″ LCD running at 1280×800 which, while just a hair over the native resolution of the smaller Galaxy Nexus, equates to roughly the same experience when holding it at arm’s distance. At 216 pixels per inch, it’s not quite the density of the iPad 3’s “Retina Display” (264 pixels per inch), but I’d dare most anyone to discern between them. In short, the screen is detailed and gorgeous. Unfortunately, Samsung devices have spoiled me on the power of OLED. Even the best LCDs fall victim to their backlights, so the darkest blacks on the Nexus 7 still have the slight tinge of whitewash. Since it’s running Android 4.1 (and this applies to any 4.x device, for that matter), the home screen buttons are integrated into the OS rather than the bezel, but while they fade into the device on the Galaxy Nexus, they pop out here. It’s more a nitpick than anything, but the vibrancy and contrast of OLED displays have spoiled me.
Just like the iPad, the thicker bezel seems weird, but that’s simply the nature of the tablet: you need that extra space to grapple the thing. If you’ve never used a tablet, you’ll realize its usefulness immediately. The bezel also hosts the tablet’s single 1.3MP front-facing camera, which is for your Skypes and your Instagrams, but you’ll find no dedicated camera app here. A nice layer of Gorilla Glass is laid on top and, y’know, it’s indestructible and stuff. So that’s cool. Sadly missing: an LED notification light or haptic motors.
The rim of the device is a sturdy gray plastic, interrupted only by the headphone jack and the standard Micro USB connector on the bottom. Storage is locked internally in 8GB and 16GB quantities, so don’t go hunting for a microSD slot. The back is a soft, slightly rubberized panel with a dimpled texture and the Nexus wordmark embossed into it. The device’s only three hardware inputs, the power button and the dual-sided volume rocker, sit on the tapered portion of the back panel, which seems fine, but I’ve turned the thing off accidentally half a dozen times at least. Maybe if they moved them from the taper to the rim? Maybe that’d be better? The back panel also sports a long slit for the speakers, which are surprisingly decent. They stay out of the way of your fingers while using the device, but as expected, they’re a bit tinny and blare slightly at high volume.