So the geek in me couldn’t resist buying the new Google Nexus 7 for 2013. I probably put this thing in my shopping cart at Amazon and removed a couple dozen times before I finally caved in and pressed the buy button.
There are a couple of reasons why I hesitated in buying this device. First of all, I’m still not at all convinced that a tablet has any real use for me. I’ve owned an iPad 2, original Nexus 7 and iPad Mini and haven’t kept any of them. This isn’t like my phone obsession where I keep changing phones few months. No matter how many times I change phones I do always have one (duh!) since a phone is necessary. However, given that I work from home and spend the vast majority of my time in front of an actual computer, the value of a tablet just doesn’t seem as great.
The second problem I had with buying the new Nexus 7 is price. No, not that it is expensive or that it cost $29 more than the old model. The extra $29 is certainly worth it given what the improvements to the device are over the previous model. No, my problem is that it seems too cheap! How could Google and Asus provide a tablet with those specs for such a low price? [For what it's worth, I felt exactly the same way about last year's Nexus 7]. And although I never had a problem with my old Nexus 7 (which is currently providing hours of entertainment to my grandsons) there were many reports of quality control issues at least early on. More recently the stories of how the original Nexus 7 has slowed down over time have been legion – an issue only recently corrected with Android 4.3. I did not have my original long enough to experience the slowdown and it also seems to be related to low storage when people got down to 3 Gigs or so. Again, not a problem I ever had since I keep everything on my NAS and in the cloud so I always had at least 8-10 gigs free on my 16 GB device.
[By the way, people, stop referring to storage as RAM!!! That drives me nuts].
Anyway, I finally pulled the trigger in spite of my misgivings because I figured for $230 there really wasn’t much to lose. The device arrived yesterday afternoon (Friday, 02 August 2013) and I’ve pretty much been using it non-stop since I got it to put it through its paces. And let’s be clear – what I’m writing is not a review – that’s not even possible given the short time I’ve had the device. And I don’t write reviews of my gear – I write first impressions. And typically by the time I buy a device, there are already many reviews floating around on the usual sites that give all the techie information you could want and there is nothing I could add to what they’ve already written in a “review”. All I want to do is just give my impression of a device a day or so after getting it. And it turns out that my first impressions are the ones that stay with me the entire (normally short) time that I own the device. So with all that out of the way, here we go.
The size and weight is best described as small. The device is slightly narrower and taller than the original but as other reviews have pointed out, it really does make the device easier to hold one handed. It is undoubted lighter than the original and possibly as light as the iPad Mini. Your hand is definitely not going to get fatigued holding this device. The build seems more or less equal to the first generation – solid, but not outstanding. It’s no iPad Mini in build, but it’s far better than a device this cheap has any business being. I find no evidence of flex or creaking or groaning on it now matter how I hold it or how hard I squeeze it. Overall, it’s definitely more comfortable to hold than either the first generation device or the iPad Mini. The back material is made of some kind of grippy plasticky material very similar to, if not identical to, the first generation device minus the stipples It’s okay. Honestly, I really like the faux leather, stipply look of the first generation more. But no biggie. I can live with the current material. And fortunately it’s NOT a fingerprint magnet!
The glass on the front is shiny and bright. Like you can shave yourself or put on your makeup using it as a mirror bright. It’s like the shiny screens of the shiniest laptop screen. Reflections abound and although I haven’t used it outside yet, I’m willing to bet that its outside usability probably isn’t that good due to the reflective nature of the screen. What do tablet makers have against matte screens anyway? Other than the bright reflective screen, the only thing you see on the front is the front camera. There is an LED notification light on the bottom of the device, but it’s not at all visible unless it’s flashing. By the way, this is the first device I’ve ever had with the notification screen on the bottom and I gotta tell you, that seems downright weird. But it’s only because I’m so used to it being somewhere at the top on every other device I’ve ever used. Hey, at least it does have a blinky light – the first generation had nothing.
The side bezels are much narrower than the first generation. I’d guess they’re as narrow as the ones on the iPad Mini, but with one very important distinction – without the finger rejection of the iPad Mini. Apple was smart enough to include some kind of software algorithm that detects when a finger is laying in that area and not respond and it is great. Since the Nexus lacks that technology you really have to be more careful how you hold it in portrait mode to avoid unintentionally launching something or provoking a response of some kind. Most reviewers seem to think that Google really intended this device to be run primarily in landscape mode and that does seem to make sense given the, shall we say generosity, of the top and bottom bezels which are quite large. Turns out those large bezels are perfect for use in landscape mode so I tend to agree with the reviewers. Also it has been noted that the Nexus logo on the back is printed in landscape rather than portrait like on last year’s version and this seems in their opinion to lend credence to the idea that Google & Asus regard this primarily as a device to be used in landscape mode. Okay, sure – whatever.
Turning the device on the clarity of the screen is nothing short of stunning when compared to last year’s model. Apparently it’s the highest resolution tablet out there, surpassing even Apple’s Retina Display in DPI and PPI. But here’s the rub – once you reach a certain level of resolution, increasing the pixels is pointless. I look at my Retina Display iPod Touch 5th Generation, my 1080P HD HTC One and the whatever resolution new Nexus 7 and they all are equally sharp and clear. So yes, the screen on the Nexus 7 is a joy to behold and clear as can possibly be, but no more so than the two other high-resolution devices I have. But when we take it in context of every other tablet out there, including the older version and the Retina Displays of Apple devices, well one is absolutely astounded that a screen like this exists on a device this cheap. And THAT is what makes this display special – that it’s on an inexpensive device and this is what Google and Asus deserve kudos for. Every single device out there with a display this good costs hundreds of dollars more. (Well, the iPod Touch 5th generation only costs $70 more but the screen is much smaller. You get the point though).
In terms of speed, I have no complaints. And let’s not forget this device has two gigabytes of RAM – something else that only much more expensive devices have had until now. In every day use, this puppy just flies from one task to another and I’ve had up to 12 tasks open with no slowdown at all. And yes, it does still stutter slightly from time to time – I don’t know why Google can’t fix this but every Android device I’ve ever owned has this problem regardless of how powerful the processor and graphics chip and amount of RAM. But to be honest, you really won’t notice it unless you’re really looking for it and it’s not something that really affects the user experience. In fact, if you’ve never owned an iOS device or Windows Phone device, you probably won’t even notice it. So in spite of the tech sites wanting to make a big deal over this, IT ISN’T A BIG DEAL AT ALL to the average user or to me.
Screen brightness is just fine and I am running at about 70% brightness which is about the same as I use on all my gadgets. I don’t bother with auto-brightness so can’t comment on how well it works or doesn’t except to say that I always find it annoying which is why I always turn it off on all devices.
The speakers are loud but otherwise nothing to write home about. The HTC BoomSound on my HTC One blows the Nexus speakers out of the water in terms of loudness and quality of sound. And I have noticed that they do crackle especially when turned up loud. Not constantly, but it is noticeable. Also, there is something that has been noted in the reviews that I have also experienced that can be rather disconcerting. Often after quitting a video midway the sound keeps on playing even though you’ve quit the video. You either have to reboot the device or go into the task manager and quit the offending process to make it stop. It doesn’t happen all the time and I honestly can’t say how often it will happen. I’ve played about a dozen videos and it’s happened once. How prevalent the issue is I have no idea at this point. But it is something that Google/Asus need to address as I’m sure it’s a thing that can be fixed in software.
Another annoyance is that some apps that don’t recognize the Nexus 7 as a tablet and won’t install the tablet versions. The only program I’ve actually run into that does this is the tablet version of Amazon Mobile which tells me it’s incompatible with my device. The phone version runs fine and actually looks fine and I don’t know what the differences are since I can’t run the tablet version! Also HBO Go won’t install on the Nexus 7 claiming it’s not compatible although Netflix does install just fine. (I haven’t actually used Netflix on the device yet so I can’t say how well it works on it). Google/Android still haven’t gotten this whole tablet thing worked out in regards to apps and it’s annoying when one considers how totally a non-issue this is on the iPad.
Supposedly Android 4.3 has brought problems of its own regarding use of Bluetooth keyboards. I do in fact have the BT keyboard that I bought for my original Nexus 7, but I’ve not bothered to pair it with the new one and probably won’t. It’s a cheapie and wasn’t all that great with the original N7 so I’ll just wait for Google to sort out the BT keyboard issue and then I’ll eventually buy a new portfolio keyboard case (assuming I actually keep this device that long).
So overall, my first impression is that the Google Nexus 7 (2013) is the absolute best 7 inch tablet you can buy especially if you’re an Android fan. The software issues I am sure will get sorted out in a future upgrade and honestly don’t seem to impact daily use of the device a lot. The screen resolution alone makes this device worthy of purchase especially at the 7 inch size and for the impossibly low price. For comparison – I did own a Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 for a week (I returned it) and it has NOTHING over the Nexus 7 and costs $70 more. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’d be a fool to buy any of the Galaxy Tab 3 tablets over this one. Comparing to the iPad Mini is a totally different call. If you prefer iOS and Apple’s ecosystem and outstanding build quality of their devices, it’s hard to say the new Nexus 7 is better because we’re no longer comparing apples to apples. Yes, the Nexus 7 is cheaper and has a better display. But if you are married to iOS or not a big Android fan it’d be hard to recommend this over the iPad Mini in spite of what the specs say. iOS users tend to be fiercely loyal (and with good reason) and probably won’t find the Nexus 7 at all compelling. But for everyone else, I’d have to say there’s absolutely no reason not to buy the Nexus 7 over just about any other Android tablet of any size. It’s that good.
Finally, it will be very interesting to see how this tablet holds up over time and whether we’ll see issues with it as with the original Nexus 7 that weren’t obvious at time of purchase. The fact that it’s a Nexus device means you’ll not have to worry about timely updates. The question is will updates be needed to correct inherent flaws (like the video issue and crackling mentioned above). Okay, for about $200 it’s not going to kill you to buy a new one yearly. The big question is will you have to because of device degradation? I guess we’ll find out in time!