Google's second-generation Nexus 7 tablet has a brilliant screen and is excellent for reading, watching video and playing games. But its suitability for business is more of a mixed bag. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)
As before, the Nexus 7 is priced aggressively: the 16GB model is $229 and the 32GB is $269. Google also announced an LTE-enabled model available in “coming weeks” that will work with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. It will have 32GB of storage and cost $349.
The signature feature is the screen: the 1920 x 1200 resolution with 323 pixels per inch (ppi) is the best available on any small tablet. Coming in a distant second is the Nook HD with 243 ppi while the iPad mini has the lowest pixel density of any of the seven- to eight-inch tablets with 163 ppi.
The Nexus 7 build quality is very good, even though the taller bezels at the top and bottom give the tablet a slightly awkward look. However, after spending some time with the device, it is easy to like the excellent screen and rapid performance. I was able to quickly move from one app to another and perform resource-intensive tasks without any hit to the responsiveness.
The Nexus 7 will be primarily competing against the iPad mini for the attention of business users looking to buy a smaller tablet. The high screen resolution is a great trump card and ideal for anyone who needs to show a schematic or real estate portfolio to a client.
The Nexus 7 still trails the iPad for apps
Yet a tablet isn’t just about the hardware - you are buying into an ecosystem. That presents a mixed bag for anyone considering the Nexus 7 as a business tool. While the Android tablet app situation is vastly improved from where it was a year ago when Google launched the original Nexus 7, it still trails Apple’s App Store.
Many of the staple productivity apps that have reigned on iOS now have tablet-optimized Android versions: Google Drive, Evernote, Catch, Adobe Photoshop, Square Register, and Quickoffice have solid offerings. However, with the exception of Google Drive, most apps get more frequent updates and have a more complete feature set on iOS.
Also, some of the more popular productivity tools remain only on iOS.
Apps like the note-taking tools Paper and Penultimate as well as accounting software Kashoo are only on the iPad. Also, many up-and-coming productivity tools like the task management app 30/30, email app MailBox and project management tools reside only in Apple’s storefront.
The App Store also offers a greater diversity of email, calendar, writing, accounting, and other business-friendly apps that vastly outweigh what is currently available on Android. Even a Google representative said at the Nexus 7 rollout that Android is not where it needs to be yet in terms of its tablet app ecosystem.
Another achilles heel to Nexus 7 productivity is using landscape mode. The stock Android keyboard combined with the navigation bar leave only about one-third of the screen real estate to view content. Entering text is best done through thumb typing in portrait mode.
You can gain back some of that space by using a third-party keyboard such as SwiftKey, which takes up less screen real estate and offers a split configuration for easier typing.
If you rely on an external keyboard, you may have to wait a while for third-party hardware makers to create one that connects with the current Nexus 7. The best choice would be a Bluetooth-powered keyboard designed for any seven-inch tablet.
This year's model also includes a 5-megapixel, rear-facing camera. The quality isn't great, but it could be useful enough for taking pictures of documents and expenses, and then sending them to a service like Evernote.
The Nexus 7 does offer an advantage for a company using Google Apps: deep integration with Gmail, Google Drive, Calendar, etc. Any employee can just type in their account credentials and they are instantly connected with company data. For a business that collaborates frequently over Google docs or spreadsheets, staying in sync would be rather easy.
The Nexus 7 ships with Android 4.3, which offers another business-friendly feature in its account profiles. A company could use a Nexus 7 at a kiosk, creating a restricted profile. A group of Android tablets for sales people could be loaded with brochures, product demonstrations, or other related apps with limitations to what else could be added.
Mass distribution of a Nexus 7 may appeal to some businesses. However, warranty support will likely require contacting Google, which can mean a several-day delay in getting a new device if one falters. If you are in a city with an Apple Store, access to in-person device support might make the iPad more appealing.
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Final thoughts: Great for consumers, so-so for business folk
The Nexus 7 is a great device, and if the performance at launch stays consistent during the tablet’s lifetime (my 2012 model experienced significant slowdown and lag after about 8 months) there are many reasons to consider one.
Still it is primarily built for play rather than work. Anyone who is looking for a tablet that excels at reading, watching video or playing games will have a great choice with the Nexus 7. Yet business users who require specific productivity tools or are looking for a wider company rollout may be more comfortable with an iPad.