A couple of years ago, Amazon changed the tablet market when it released the Kindle Fire, with its small screen and even smaller price tag. A few months later, Apple took our eyes to a luxurious spa when it launched the high-resolution iPad with Retina Display. But what we've been really waiting for is a tablet that combines that smaller price and form factor with a pixel-rich display. Well, that day has finally come, in the form of the second-generation Nexus 7. Is it really the best of both worlds? Read on, as Gizmag reviews the 2013 Nexus 7.
Let's not beat around the bush here: the 2013 Nexus 7 is very nice. Pick it up, and you'll feel a tablet so light and thin that you'll think there must be some serious compromises on the inside. On the contrary. Power it up, and you'll see the sharpest tablet screen you've ever laid your eyes on. Run a few apps, and you'll experience a screaming-fast device that gives any rival tablet a run for its money.
Yes, the new Nexus 7 is the real deal. Its combination of portability, display quality, horsepower, and pricing is unprecedented. Its peers live in the future, perhaps only a few months away, but in the future nonetheless. And though it has some compromises, it's probably the least compromised small tablet available today.
It has a small overall footprint, and is extremely easy for even medium-sized hands to grasp with one hand. Google and Asus chiseled down the bezels this time around, making it the narrowest tablet we've used.
The Nexus 7 is made of plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap. The matte backing feels solid and sturdy. The back corners are nicely sloped, and the tablet feels comfortable in hand. There are no corners jabbing into your hand, as with some rival tablets.
It's thin too. It isn't as thin as the iPad mini (it's actually 21 percent thicker), but there's nothing to worry about there. The Nexus 7 doesn't feel remotely beefy. In fact, it's 17 percent thinner than the 2012 Nexus 7. It isn't the thinnest tablet around, but it's still among the leaders in that category.
There are two cameras this time around (the 2012 model lacked a rear shooter). We're looking at a 5 MP camera on the rear and 1.2 MP on the front. Nothing mind-blowing here, but since we don't use tablets for anything bordering on serious photography, we didn't have any complaints.
The power/sleep button and volume buttons sit right next to each other, on the tablet's upper right side (when holding in portrait mode). They're close enough that you can easily put it to sleep when trying to raise the volume (or vice versa), so it would have been nice to see more spacing there.
The customary 3.5-mm headphone jack and a microUSB port for charging/syncing are the only ports on the Nexus 7.
As we already mentioned, the new Nexus 7 has a ridiculously sharp display. If you're counting pixels, we're looking at 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, spread out over seven inches (measured diagonally). Its 326 pixels per inch (PPI) display is much denser than the iPad's 264 PPI and the Nexus 10's 299 PPI.
Your eyes will appreciate those extra pixels. Text is where it stands out the most, as you can see in the image above. Fonts are razor sharp, and images and videos look great too. There's no reason to hesitate about display sharpness here. It's outstanding.
The iPad mini is one of the Nexus 7's chief rivals, and likely the hottest-selling tablet on the market right now. We can't stress enough how vastly superior the Nexus 7's display quality is. My eyes literally hurt after using the iPad mini's display for extended periods. No such problems with the Nexus 7.
Display size is more of a yellow flag. The Nexus' seven-inch screen with 16:10 aspect ratio isn't unfamiliar. But, like the original Nexus 7, you don't quite get to use that already-small screen's entire landscape. This is due to stock Android's persistent onscreen navigation buttons (back, home, recent apps). When you combine the small screen with those nav buttons, you have a screen with usable area that's much smaller than the iPad mini's, and also smaller than other 7-inch tablets that have physical buttons, like the Galaxy Tab 3.
Is it too small? Not for me, but it could be for some people. We think the iPad mini's 7.9-inch, 4:3 screen is an excellent size, balancing portability and uncompromised real estate. The new Nexus 7, like its predecessor, feels a little bit compromised in that area.
For what it's worth, you can root your Nexus 7 and tweak some settings to remove the navigation buttons and replace them with something like status bar controls or a gesture-based navigation wheel. But your typical, non-hacking customer won't be able to use the tablet's full display for apps, photos, or anything else. Display size is one of the few compromises here – at least for some potential customers.
The 2013 Nexus 7's performance, however, is uncompromised. It abandons the Nvidia Tegra 3 found in the original, in favor of Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, clocked at 1.5 GHz. It has 2 GB of RAM.
The Nexus 7 whirred through the benchmarks we threw at it, racking up 2701 in Geekbench (the iPad 4 only scored 1766), and 5546 in Quadrant (much lower than the Galaxy S4's 12066, but faster than most Android tablets).
In terms of experience, we found nothing to complain about with the Nexus 7's performance. Apps launched quickly, multitasking was a breeze, and every 3D-rendered game we threw at it played without any frame rate hiccups. Navigating around Android 4.3 is smooth. The days of Android devices' choppy, inconsistent performance are long gone ... or at least in devices like the Nexus 7, they are.
For our battery life test, we ran a Netflix video (connected to Wi-Fi, but with Bluetooth off) with the brightness set at 75 percent. In this test, the Nexus 7 lasted five hours and 33 minutes, from start to finish.
Google estimates nine hours with "standard use," and based on our test results, we'd say this claim is probably accurate. Remember, streaming videos with brightness jacked up to 75 percent isn't standard. With usage like web browsing, email and Facebook, running various apps, and only light or intermittent gaming or video watching, you should have no problems with battery life.
Could Google and Asus have stretched this out a bit farther? Sure. The iPad mini lasted eight hours and 20 minutes in the same test, so it can be done. But if we had to trade that gorgeous display or feathery light and thin build to get an extra two or three hours of battery life, we'd say no thank you.
The new Nexus 7 is the first device to ship with the brand new Android 4.3. As with every Nexus device, we're looking at "pure" Android, without any manufacturer UIs or carrier crapware drowning out Google's vision. The biggest changes to the latest version are under the hood. OpenGL ES 3.0 being the biggest, which adds a new high-powered tool for game developers to work with.
On the user end, the biggest change right now is support for multiple user accounts. If you're a family who shares a tablet, this is huge. In fact, it's almost mind-boggling that we haven't seen more of this (the Kindle Fire offers a similar child restriction user account feature). Desktop PCs have been supporting multiple user profiles for years. Why haven't tablets?
The logical answer is that most tablet manufacturers would much rather you buy a new tablet for each family member. While that may be the best solution for some people, it's refreshing to see more choices regarding user accounts.
The user profiles work just how you'd imagine. Scroll to the settings menu, and create a new user account. You can set up a standard account (a different home screen and app selections, but no restrictions), or a restricted account (you choose from a list of apps that you allow access to). You'll need to set up lockscreen security in order to create a restricted profile.
Kudos to Google for adding a customer-friendly feature like user profiles. We're guessing there are many families who will be happy to save some money by buying only one tablet.
If you had to pick a killer feature for the Nexus 7, it would probably be its unprecedented combination of portable build and high-resolution screen. But you could also take that a step further, and say that it's the combination of those two things plus its price.
Starting at just US$230, the new Nexus 7 is only $30 more than the 2012 Kindle Fire HD and Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0, despite providing much better hardware. It's $100 less than the iPad mini. And though Apple's mini-tablet has a more ideal screen size and longer battery life, its resolution isn't even in the same ballpark as the Nexus 7's stunning display.
If we were building the ideal mini-tablet, its screen would probably be a little bigger than the Nexus 7's. It would also pack in a few extra hours of battery life. But, taken as a whole, the 2013 edition of Google's tablet is currently the closest thing you can buy today to that ideal mini-slate. Amazing display, light and compact build, quad core performance, and the latest version of pure Android lead us to endorse the Nexus 7 as one of the best tablets – and the best tablet value – available right now.
The 2013 Nexus 7 officially released on Tuesday, July 30. It's available in 16GB (US$230) and 32 GB ($270) Wi-Fi only models. A 32 GB Wi-Fi + LTE model ($330) will be launching in the coming weeks.
Product page: Google Play