Here's Looking at You, IPS Display
While there's been some discussion of quality issues with early batches like poorly attached displays, our 8 gig model purchased from the Google Play Store has no hardware issues. The display looks good and it's properly attached. The 1280 x 800 display is very sharp and has good brightness (350 nits max brightness). That's a high resolution for a 7" tablet (it's the standard resolution for 10.1" Android tablets, and it's only found on higher end 7" tablets) and the result is high pixel density (216 ppi) and razor sharp text. Web page and eBook text are sharper than the lower resolution Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, though we give the Fire credit for its gentle backlighting and neutral whites that are perfect for extended reading. The newer 7" Kindle Fire HD matches the Nexus 7's resolution and has an even better IPS display with not just sharp text but very good color calibration and gamut. The Nexus 7's poor calibration reduces the saturation of brighter images and bring down the display a notch.
Videos look crisp with plenty of detail, and it has good black levels with decent color saturation. The tablet's fast CPU-GPU combo can handle HD video easily, though 1080p is somewhat pointless since it exceeds the panel resolution and there's no HDMI out. There's no dLNA app pre-installed for wireless streaming to HD TVs, since this is something that manufacturers provide with branded tablets. You can try the dLNA apps on the Google Play Store if wireless streaming is something you must have.
Small but Speedy
The Toshiba Excite 7.7, a significantly more expensive tablet with an AMOLED display was the first 7" Tegra 3 quad core Android tablet. For half the price you'll give up a few of the Excite's creature comforts like expandable storage and a rear camera, but you do get the same impressive performance and support for Tegra 3-enhanced TegraZone games. The 1.2GHz Nexus 7 is very quick, and the optimizations in Jelly Bean make it quicker. It benchmarks very well, though not quite as fast as the 10" Android Tegra 3 tablets (especially the pack leading 1.6GHz Transformer Pad Infinity TF700). Experientially, it's one of the fastest Android products we've tested, and we chalk that up to the "Project Butter" speed optimizations in Android 4.1.1. Apps launch quickly, and UI elements like the app drawer, home screens and menus are iPad quick. The tablet has 1 gig of RAM.
While the Nexus 7's speed, future-ready quad core CPU with 12 core GeForce graphics tickle us pink, the lack of expandable storage doesn't. It's pretty darned unusual to see an Android tablet without an SD card slot, and that sets the Nexus 7 apart in a not good way. Thus we recommend you buy the 16 gig model if you can afford it, unless you rarely load movies, don't plan on carrying a healthy music collection or will be in WiFi range often enough that you can rely on streaming media services for this kind of content.
The tablet has single band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth and a GPS with digital compass. WiFi throughput and range were good in our tests and streaming audio to Bluetooth speakers while watching a video worked fine. The GPS works even when WiFi is turned off, though you will need to pre-load maps if you'll be away from WiFi or a mobile hotspot when navigating. There is no 3G/4G option.
For those who want to use Google Wallet for mobile payments, the Nexus 7 has NFC and the Wallet app. That means you can pay for items at a variety of stores simply by touching your Nexus to the payment terminal and consenting to the purchase. Now a smartphone might be more nimble for such things, but a 7" tablet is mobile enough that we're happy to see Google Wallet on board.
With a very fast CPU and a bright display, you might expect battery life to be less than stellar. Happily, battery life is actually excellent. Google and Asus claim up to 9.5 hours of use on a charge, and the 16Wh, 4325 mAh Lithium battery has lasted us an average of 8.5 hours in a mix of use with WiFi on and brightness set to 33%. We noted that turning WiFi off increased battery life by an hour even with brightness set to 50%.
Charging times are reasonably quick at 3 hours to charge a fully drained Nexus 7. The tablet ships with a 5v 2 amp charger (same spec as the iPad charger) that connects to the micro USB port. Like most tablets, the Nexus 7's battery is sealed inside.
Is the Google Nexus 7 tablet the best 7" tablet on the market? No, but for the price it can't be beat. For the cost of a hybrid eReader-tablet you get a full set of tablet features including access to the Google Play Store, a GPS, fully functional Bluetooth and front camera. This is the first device to ship with Android OS 4.1 Jelly Bean and it will be among the first to get OS updates in the future. What are you giving up by not buying the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 or Toshiba Excite 7.7? You won't get a microSD card slot, a rear camera or the more exotic tablet AMOLED display. And Google's product support, beyond handling returns, is notoriously weak (trust me, I've suffered through testing their support). But for those who don't need software or OS support and are Android enthusiasts this is an excellent tablet with a top notch CPU, a lovely IPS display and an attractive design.
$199 for 8 gig model, $249 for 16 gig model $199 for 16 gig, $249 for 32 gig
Websites: www.google.com/nexus, www.asus.com