30 Days with Google’s Nexus 7 Tablet

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

I’d be lying if I said my decision to attend Google’s I/O conference last month had nothing to do with the tablet rumors. I’ve been waiting for a good, affordable 7-inch tablet ever since Samsung pioneered the concept with its original Galaxy Tab in 2010, but every small tablet since then has suffered from some fatal flaw, such as weak battery life, outdated specs or a high price. The possibility of a Nexus tablet announcement was intriguing.

Google announced the Asus-built Nexus 7 as expected, and it’s the first 7-inch tablet to hit all the right notes, including a quad-core processor, a 10-hour battery, and a finely-tuned version of Android known as Jelly Bean. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 includes all of Google’s own apps and the full Google Play Store. But like the Fire, it has a killer price: $200 for the 8 GB version, and $250 for 16 GB.

(MORE: Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus Q: A Photo Tour of the New Hardware)

From Google I/O through the first half of July, I used an 8 GB Nexus 7 that Google gave away to everyone at the conference. After that, I bought a 16 GB model for myself. (I’ll return the original to Google.) As you might guess, I’m happy with the Nexus 7.

Rather than add another straightforward (and positive) review to the heap, I thought I’d share some observations after a solid month of use:

A Bit Phone-Like, for Better and for Worse

For the Nexus 7, Google didn’t just slap on the same interface that it uses for larger tablets. Instead, the Nexus 7′s home screen is more like an overgrown Android phone, with a tray for your six favorite apps at the bottom, and a notifications bar that slides down from the top. This was the right call, because it reduces the learning curve for anyone who has used an Android phone but still allows more room for apps and widgets. Just one big nuisance: You can’t rotate the home screen to landscape mode without third-party apps or alternative launchers, so if you’re switching from one landscape app to the next, you’ll have to twist the tablet or tilt your head.

The App Situation: Not Terrible

Android isn’t known for its vast selection of apps optimized for tablets, but on a 7-inch screen, I was expecting to rely mainly on blown-up smartphone apps. To my surprise, some of my go-to apps already look good on the Nexus 7, including Pulse, Pocket and Netflix. It helps that Google has made its own apps look great, and tablet optimizations are a non-issue for gaming (though some games like Minecraft and Zynga Poker have some big-screen tweaks as well). I’d still kill for a true tablet version of Yelp, but overall I’m satisfied with the app situation.

Hey, It’s a Creation Device!

By now, plenty of pundits have debunked the idea that the iPad’s for consumption, not creation. Fewer people seem interested in defending the productivity chops of a 7-inch tablet like the Nexus 7. And yet, when I need to jot down some ideas and I’m not at my desktop PC, I reach for the Nexus 7 every time. That’s because thumb-typing is much easier on the smaller screen than it is on the larger iPad. I’m now in the habit of throwing some thoughts into the Google Drive app, so my notes are waiting for me when I’m back at the desktop.

The 16 GB Model’s an Easy Upsell for Gamers

If I had stuck with the 8 GB version of the Nexus 7, I’d be almost out of storage space already. I’m not storing any music or videos on the device–I stream them instead–but games like Shadowgun and Grand Theft Auto III are huge storage hogs, and the 8 GB model only has about 5.3 GB of actual storage space. Buyers should splurge on the larger model unless you’re only planning to install a handful of apps and little else.

Android Can Still Get in the Way

As I wrote in my Android 4.1 Jelly Bean overview, Google’s operating system makes some big leaps forward in usability and smoothness. Sometimes I catch myself just scrolling back and forth on the home screen admiring the responsiveness. But things can still get weird. In one instance, an app caused everything to get choppy and slow until I dug into system settings and force-closed the offending program. I’ve experienced a few app crashes, and some websites can get laggy, particularly desktop-optimized ones. Granted, I’ve had some of the same issues on the iPad, but in general iOS still seems a little better at getting out of the way.

MORE: Jelly Bean Impressions: Android’s Most Important Update Yet

16 comments
Christopher Michael Rogers
Christopher Michael Rogers

Despite this, I still love my Nexus 7. They add a front-camera, internal Sim, and sd card, and bring back the MSC transfer, so I can transfer my files to and from the device with Linux, and I'll happily pay the extra $100. 

doublethickcoat
doublethickcoat

Nice work.  Definitely agree with your gaming comments.  If you want to play games, watch movies or just think you might, then go the 16GB.   It will be worth every cent!

Benjamin Whitaker
Benjamin Whitaker

I love this Jared Newman character.

It's a mix of laconic, entertaining, and yet authoritative in a disarming way.

Favorite reviewer...keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep it comin' Time Magazine !

James
James

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Ian Fitzwilliam
Ian Fitzwilliam

I've often wondered why there are so many complaint about sd cards when u could just stick a flash drive in there.

Christopher Michael Rogers
Christopher Michael Rogers

Because you can't do that with the Nexus 7. You have to root it to connect a flash drive. Hastle hastle hastle.

c4v3man
c4v3man

Because a SD card is IN the tablet, a flash drive sticks out. Having a dongle with a USB flash drive attached for long periods of time risks damaging the port accidentally if you drop it, or handle it roughly. 

Yes you can work around the limitation, but that doesn't mean you should have to. Thankfully, once the N7 has created enough of a tablet market for Android to be significant, you can expect other manufacturers to come out with comparable tablets WITH HDMI and MicroSD slots on them, likely at a small premium. Even at $300 with those ports, it's a steal compared to an iPad2. That's the power of Android... the iPad doesn't have a SD card slot either, but no-one else can make you one that does. Nothing is stopping another vendor from incorporating a SD card slot into this design if the market warrants it.

TechnoBuddha
TechnoBuddha

 And Until a manufacture puts in a SD slot, I won't buy one. As far as I'm concerned, the tablet is a consumption tablet, because it can't expand. 1 usb? please. I'll wait until I can get an SD IN the tablet.

bContextual
bContextual

I believe the device's aspect ratios define a lot what they are for... Please follow this link to check my 50 cents after reviewing them for a week... http://bit.ly/QlD5Nu

c4v3man
c4v3man

I use my N7 much more than I ever used my playbook. The 7" form factor is perfect... the largest screen you can still fit in a pocket, super lightweight, and easy to hold. I enjoy just reading news using the Currents app rather than browsing sites on my computer. Chrome isn't too bad as a browser, but Firefox is also nice. Will have to try out Opera again... haven't used it on android in awhile. 

If you're willing to use Google's services, it's such a complete device. Read an article on a magazine from the Play market, search for a book referenced in one of the articles and get a free sample, and switch over to the browser for additional information. This has been possible on other devices, but it feels much more integrated and seemless now. 

Some ROM's are implimenting SideNAV which I believe is similar to the multitasking interface on the playbook, where you can swipe from off screen to switch apps... I'm waiting a bit for the ROM's to stabilize, but once they do it should be incredibly powerful. I just hope Google realizes that it NEEDS the stock interface to work in landscape. Switching from a landscape app to the homescreen is jarring, and ruins the experience. Fix it Google!

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

"If you're willing to use Google's services, it's such a complete device."

This should be a starting point for anybody choosing a tablet. If you're already enmeshed in the Apple or Amazon ecosystem, go with one of their devices. In my case, I was already a Chromebook owner, and a user of multiple Google services, so the way everything interacts out of the box is a delight. The Nexus is a perfect fit to my needs, but would be awkward if I had an iPad, iPhone, and iPod.

Timothy Scott
Timothy Scott

only option for the web is opera mobile it blows chrome out of the WATER. 

i have experienced the chrome browser lagging and sluggish when scrolling up and down. opera mobile is much better and never lags imo. also the text rapping is a god send, however you size the screen the readable txt fits into the space. flash also works in opera m. if you have the N7 opera M is the clear winner. tablet Ui is the way to go on the N7 a more polished look and feel.

p.s games like a dream.

 

cheers 

Rajeev Bhatta
Rajeev Bhatta

great review... for me the lack of a SD Card slot is the biggest miss in the tablet.. I am not always connected so having files in gdrive does not help... but sure a great tablet..

Timothy Scott
Timothy Scott

root the N7 and use the free stickmount app from play. you can add a flash drive for a max 64gig of additional storage when travelling.

adfree is a great app so you NEVER see a AD. adfree needs the N7 to be rooted as well.

Robert Mitchell
Robert Mitchell

Just like to add: Mx plays movies from an external drive, so you can take your entire movie library on a big flash memory stick. Mx also supports .avi format, so no need to convert.