I viewed Google I/O, Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) and the first Nexus tablet as Google's last chance to deliver a knockout in the tablet space before the onslaught of Windows 8 and Windows RT devices later this year. While the show was undoubtedly a success, I don't know that the market for $499+ Android tablets has a life after Windows 8/RT hit. We should see Windows RT tablets at $499, and Ivy/Haswell based Windows 8 tablets will handle the higher price points.

It seems that Google also realized this as the Nexus 7, its first Nexus branded tablet, starts at just $199. There's a huge market for tablets as a primary computing device, and I believe Windows RT/8 offers something unique and compelling for that usage model. At the same time however, there's decent demand for a tablet to augment your existing computing world. It's a far more specific usage model but one that really demands a lower price point. Users are willing to spend a lot for something that does everything in your life, but for something that's more nice than necessity, price matters even more.

The Nexus 7 is aimed at the latter. It's a device for users who need ultra portability and tons of battery life for content consumption. While Apple has been quietly empowering the iPad to be a content creation device, and dockable Windows 8/RT tablets will attempt to replace your notebook, the Nexus 7 is a more traditional ARM based tablet by default.

It's clearly Google that I have to thank because the Nexus 7 is the most solidly built ASUS tablet I've ever used. That's not to say that its predecessors were examples of shoddy workmanship, it's just that the Nexus 7 is damn near perfect. The back has a great grip to it. The whole thing actually feels like a well made book because of the soft touch plastic back. The book comparison is sort of hilarious because it's a feel that Amazon couldn't get right with its overly generic Kindle Fire. The book illusion stops once your hands touch the glass for obvious reasons, but man does it feel nice to hold.

The Nexus 7 feels considerably lighter than the Kindle Fire, but I still had to prop it up on something or hold it in two hands if I was going to use it for a long period of time.

The power button and volume rocker are placed much like they would be on a phone - at the top right edge of the device. The sole buttons on the device do feel a bit ambiguous, something I feel that I would get used to over time. I had the disadvantage of switching between several tablets during this review and never did get used to the position and feel of the buttons on the N7. That's probably the biggest gripe I have about the design of the device. In other words, there's not much to hate.

The Nexus 7 features two mics for noise canceling action (likely in support of Google Now). You get NFC, Bluetooth and 802.11n WiFi but there's no LTE option as of now. I know there's internal debate about releasing an LTE enabled version at some point in the future.

ASUS Tablet Specification Comparison
  ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity ASUS Transformer Pad 300 Series ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime ASUS Nexus 7
Dimensions 263 x 180.6 x 8.4mm 263 x 180.8 x 9.9mm 263 x 180.8 x 8.3mm 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm
Chassis Aluminum + Plastic RF Strip Plastic Aluminum Plastic + Rubber back
Display 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 Super IPS+ 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 Super IPS+ 7" 1280 x 800 IPS
Weight 594g 635g 586g 340 g

1.6GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T33 - 4 x Cortex A9)

NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)

1.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30 - 4 x Cortex A9) 1.3 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)
Memory 1GB DDR3-1600 1GB 1GB 1 GB
Storage 32/64GB + microSD slot 16GB/32GB + microSD slot 32GB/64GB + microSD slot 8 GB / 16 GB
Battery 25Whr 22Whr 25Whr 16 Whr
Pricing $499/$599 $379/$399 $499/$599 $199/$249

Cost is the major selling point for the Nexus 7: for $199 Google will sell you an 8GB version with a $25 credit at the Google Play store, along with some preloaded magazines, books and a movie (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). It's tough to buy a new tablet and not buy apps for it, so the $25 credit is likely to be incredibly useful - making the effective retail price of the Nexus 7 $174. If you want 16GB of storage the price does go up to $249 however. Unfortunately even Google is not above charging $50 for $4 of MLC NAND.

The limited NAND capacity prevents the Nexus 7 from being home to more than a single full length movie or a couple of TV shows. Streaming video content isn't a problem, Netflix works beautifully on the device but there's no hope if you want to keep a ton of content local. Unfortunately USB OTG isn't supported for storage, so you're left with no other option for expanding local storage (short of rooting the device).

In every sense outside of portability, a 10-inch display is much nicer to look at than a 7-inch one in my opinion. There's less zooming in you need to do on web pages or magazines. Text in general is just easier to read and perhaps I'm getting too old, but there's something nice about everything being comfortably bigger.

Does the Nexus 7's form factor make it feel substantially better than using a smartphone? Yes, I'd say so. The same reasons I gave above for a 10-inch tablet being nicer to use than a 7-inch tablet are equally applicable to 7-inch tablet vs. a smartphone. There's this size/usability optimization curve that requires some soul searching to figure out exactly where you land on it. I suspect most people fall into the small smartphone + large tablet dichotomy, but the beauty of this current mobile revolution is the availability of choice. The Nexus 7 in many ways is very much like the 11-inch MacBook Air. A bit impractical for many, but those who crave portability are drawn to it. The Nexus 7 still feels like you're using a tablet, just a small one.

I needn't dwell on the benefits of a 7-inch form factor for portability any longer. If I'm wearing baggy enough pants I can even pocket the Nexus 7, something I simply couldn't do with the iPad. I'm more likely to carry the Nexus 7 with me than I would the iPad, but the comparison isn't quite as open and shut as that. The iPad offers LTE, the Nexus 7 is more portable, the iPad is easier to look at, the Nexus 7 is more affordable...the back and forth is endless.

Android 4.1
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  • tuxRoller - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    One more thing: the lag that happened when there was high io suggests that android isn't properly using the softirq for io that the preempt kernel provides.
    As for the cheap nand, I don't see why the oems couldn't use raw nand and then use a file system like nilfs or one of the others to let the kernel properly handle the io.
  • ssddaydream - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Interestingly, the Trinity kernel seems to improve IO throughput when used in conjunction with a certain script (TKT app runs the script when opened, I believe.)
  • tipoo - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I never got why it could be mostly smooth but going to a that blank search screen always lagged. Also similar to this if an app is writing to NAND it can take a while to get back to the home screen.
  • TekDemon - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    To be fair the Kindle still has one other advantage as an e-Reader, you get to borrow a free book per month if you're a Prime member, in addition to the free video streaming support. So here it's really Amazon's ecosystem that's the Kindle's big feature-if you've bought into their ecosystem it'll give you quite a bit more content and they have a $39 per year student Prime (that you get after the expired Student trial) that does let you access videos/books.

    Of course if you're into the Amazon ecosystem I'd suspect that you're waiting on the Fire 2.
  • SantaAna12 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I think Gabe Newells comments regarding Apples controlling access is applicable to this device and Google. Google wants us on their cloud to sell us content.....its one of their business models. Amazon does the same.....but you can be smart and buy the CD. I think the more we talk about these issues the better......as knowledge is power. For me....this device doesn't work because of the lack of memory....and the known lack of sound quality.
  • milli - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    I feel you're ignoring the Playbook comparison a bit too much in this review. I've just bought a new Playbook 32GB for $175. Same 7" screen size (lower res though), OMAP4, bigger battery, better cam (front & back), ....
    Playbook OS is very usable since version 2.0. I use mine strictly professionally and at that, it's probably better than iOS en Android. Version 2.1 is around the corner and 3.0 around new years.
    Maybe not the best option if you're an app addict but the amazing multitasking combined with what most call the best mobile browsing experience, made this a no brainer for me. The 'Print to Go' feature is very handy.
  • kenyee - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    I have a Playbook too (earned it for porting an Android app).
    Playbook as muchhhhh better speakers.

    Nexus 7 is what I grab for if I'm reading, etc. It's lighter than the Kindle and Nook so it's a lot more comfortable to hold for extended periods of time.
    And no comparison to any 10" tablet...not sure what he reviewer is thinking...the 7" ones have a perfect use case for reading and playing games. The 10" ones might be better for web surfing for a little while until you get tired of holding it...
  • joshv - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    One of my frustrations with the Fire (one of many) is the WiFi reconnect when you wake the device. It would frequently take 20-30 seconds, and that's a ton of time for a casual use device. On the other hand the iPad just seems to be always on the Internet. Pick it up, launch the browser, the Internet is on. I know that can't actually be the case, as it would decimate battery life, but the iPad somehow manages the WiFi connection almost perfectly.

    So, I am wondering how the Nexus 7 performs in this regard.
  • Impulses - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    If it's anything like ASUS' other tablets (minus the Prime & it's signal strength issues) then it should be pretty seamless. I've rarely ever been held back while waiting for my original Transformer to connect, and I actually have it set to go into airplane mode when the screen is off, for maximum battery life... So it's doing a cold reconnect every time and it's usually good to go before I tap the browser icon.

    I'm pretty sure it reconnects faster than my Krait phone, tho the handover from 3G to Wifi is probably never given priority.

    FWIW, the TF loses about half a percentage of battery life like that when sleeping. You can set it to always remain connected if you wanna receive live notifications or whatever but it'll obviously chew threw battery life much faster (probably twice as fast while idle, so you'd need to charge it every night or every other night at best).
  • kenyee - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    It defaults to keeping wifi on even if the screen is off...and no problem w/ the batteries

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