Since Motorola’s Xoom was launched back in the Spring of 2011 Android tablets have signally failed to make an impact on the market. The only non-iPad device to get any sort of serious traction has been Amazon’s tied-in Kindle Fire and you can’t even buy that outside the USA. But now Google is fighting back with the new Nexus 7 tablet - a quad-core 7in tablet that is yours for £160.
The price is a result of Google who make Android, Nvidia who makes the quad-core Tegra 3 chipset and Asus who actually build the thing - coming to the conclusion that only a very highly specified, very affordable and Google-endorsed device has any chance of gaining Android tablets the sort of market share that Android smartphones enjoy.
For your £160 what you get is a 7in 1280 x 800 IPS LCD screen, a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage - the 16GB version will set you back £199 - and the very latest version of Android, v4.1 or Jellybean.
To keep the price down some sacrifices have been made. There’s no 3G option just 802.11n WiFi, no HDMI output no main camera just a webcam and don’t get micro SD storage expansion. There’s no point moaning about these omissions though because for the price the specification is still massively impressive.
The first thing that impressed me about my Nexus 7 - the unit I’m using for this review is one of those handed out at Google's recent I/O conference - is the build quality. It’s glued together quite as well as any £400 Android or iOS device and feels very solid. The case is plastic but as Asus has proved with it’s Transformer Pad that’s not necessarily a problem and the rubberized back is very pleasant to the touch.
At 10.5mm thick the Nexus 7 is a comfortable hold but thin enough to slide into most spaces in a bag or coat pocket. At 340g it's light enough to be held in one hand without hastening the onset cramp or muscle ache.
The In Plane Switching (IPS) LCD screen is bright and suffers from no backlight bleed or washout no matter what angle you hold it at. The 720p screen’s dpi count of 216 can’t quite match the new iPad’s 264 but it’s still impressively sharp and beats the iPad 2’s 132 by a big margin. The 16:9 ratio - think of it as 1280 x 720 + 80 pixels for the menu bar - makes it perfect for watching video in landscape or reading ebooks in portrait.
The latest version of Android has a host of updates I won’t bore you with but the most obvious is the new screen refresh rate of 60fps which makes the whole UI feel buttery smooth - which I guess is why Google calls this feature Project Butter. To put it simply Android 4.1 is the best mobile device OS there is and now has a better user interface than anything Apple or Microsoft has to offer.
Being an official Google Nexus product Android updates will roll out immediately to the Nexus 7 so you will always have a bang-up-to-date device. This overcomes one of the main problems with Android to date - the time taken by manufacturers to roll out updates from Google.
There’s only one camera - a 1.2MP unit for making video calls over Skype and the like. The absence of a main camera raises no issues me. My phone has a camera and taking pics with a tablet makes you like an unholy spanner.
The battery is a 4,4325mAh unit that Google reckons is good for 8 hours of use. So far I’m getting closer to 6.5 but I tend to run my devices with the screen brightness at the maximum and battery life usually improves once it has cycled through a dozen or so charge/deplete cycles.
MyDadRocks Verdit: For £160 the Nexus 7 is a stunning bit of kit. For browsing the web, reading ebooks, watching video and gaming it’s now the default choice of tablet. Yes the new iPad has a higher rez screen and greater selection of third-party software but it’s well over twice the price, too big, too heavy and comes with all the problems inherent with Apple’s locked-down software/hardware ecosystem. Let's put it this way: I've just ordered a Nexus 7.
Screen: 1280 x 800 7in IPS LCD
CPU: 1.2GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3
Memory: 1GB RAM, 8GB storage
Connectivity: 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, MicroUSB
Camera: 1.2MP webcam
Dimensions: 198.5 x 129 x 10.5 / 340g
Review by Brian Keyes