There's the old adage that you get what you pay for, and nowhere is that more true than at the low end of the tablet market. But with their first foray into the tablet hardware biz, Google (and hardware partner Asus) may be turning that saying on it's ear. The Nexus 7, which starts at $199 feels solid both in build and software. It may not be the long-fabled iPad killer, but Google's Nexus 7 has clearly set its sights on Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Design-wise, the Nexus 7 keeps it simple. Up front there's a 1.2MP camera for video chatting. The top and left edges are free of any ports and controls, although the left side features two microphones and a four-pin connector that may find some use eventually. The right edge features the Power/Lock button, and a volume rocker. A 3.5mm headphone jack, and MicroUSB port along the bottom round out the port configuration. Noticeably absent is a card slot for expanding storage. There's also no cellular data option with the Nexus 7—this tablet is WiFi only.
The back is covered in a rubber material with debossed dot pattern that affords a slight amount of grip, although this tablet is slippery enough that most people should plan on buying a case. I managed to drop the Nexus 7 twice within the first hour, but it't no worse for wear. The back of the Nexus 7 also features a small slit where the speaker is mounted.
At just under 12 ounces, the Nexus 7 is obviously much lighter than an iPad, and nearly three ounces lighter than its closer competitor the Kindle Fire. It's .41 inches thick, although the rounded edges make it appear thinner.
The Nexus 7 is the first tablet to ship with Google's latest OS. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean feels quick and smooth on the Nexus 7. That's due in large part to the quad-core Tegra 3 processor, which is backed by 1GB of RAM. At the Google I/O unveiling of the Nexus 7, Google also spent a great deal of time touting "Project Butter," the predictive software enhancements they've baked in to make Android 4.1 run—well, like butter.
Using the Nexus 7 is a great tablet experience. The 1200 x 800 screen is bright and crisp, and a wide viewing angle makes it easy to share whatever you're looking at. Under Jelly Bean, navigation is fast and buttons and menus feel responsive.
The Nexus 7 ships with Google's new Chrome for Android browser, which is snappy and offers a few new tricks, such as the ability to sync browsing sessions with Chrome on a desktop. The Nexus 7's stock browser doesn't support Flash, however, so if you frequently view Flash content from a tablet, you'll need to head to the Google Play store for a copy of the old Browser (or a third-party browser).
Introducing Jelly Bean
Speaking of Jelly Bean, there are lots of other Android tweaks that are put to good use on the Nexus 7. The new voice search can do everything from set an alarm on your device to playing music and sending email. Google Now offers useful information tailored to you. You'll have to opt-in, as Google Now does a fair amount of watching you to determine what information to present to you.
While it may seem a bit creepy at first, Google Now is incredibly useful. Immediately after activating it, there were cards for my local weather, and an excellent listing of nearby transit stops, complete with routes and arrival times. As you continue to use your device, Google Now learns more about you, offering up nearby shops and restaurants you might like, as well as traffic conditions, sports scores, and flight information. Having that kind of near-ambient info just a swipe away can be amazingly useful, especially for frequent travelers.
If you're in the market for a seven-inch tablet, Google has raised the bar with the Nexus 7. The screen is just big enough for reading, browsing the web, and watching video, but the package is svelte enough to easily slide into a coat pocket.
The Nexus 7 is missing some niceties like a rear camera, and a card slot for expanding storage, but at this price, finding a better tablet experience is a challenge.