Review: Google Nexus 7 hits the 7-inch tablet sweet spot [Video]

The Nexus 7 isn’t the first tablet to try a 7-inch screen. It’s just the first one to get it right.

Google’s first tablet is a great portable device packed with power that’s perfect for media consumption and gaming. Starting at $200 and with a ton of bonus content tossed in, the Asus-manufactured Nexus 7 is an excellent purchase if you’ve been thinking of getting a high-quality tablet without the price of an iPad.

The Nexus 7, which will begin shipping to users and start selling at GameStop later this month, is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 1.2 Ghz quad-core processor and has a 12-core Nividia GPU. Put that together with its crisp 1,280-by-800 pixel resolution HD display and you have a tablet that was made for playing games and watching high-definition movies.

Google also fitted the Nexus 7 with Jelly Bean, its latest version of Android, making it the first device to run the new operating system, and it runs very smoothly. Jelly Bean includes Google’s improved Voice Search and the new Google Now cards. Voice Search works great — our videographer’s jaw dropped when I asked how the Dodgers were doing and it told me their last score and their next game — and toward the end of the day, Google Now showed me a card displaying about how long it would take me to get home from work, making the Nexus 7 a helpful assistant.

But besides the interior, the build of the device also adds to what makes it so nice. The Nexus 7 is thinner than the Kindle Fire, its biggest competitor in the 7-inch market, and is easy to hold. You can wrap your entire hand around it, and unlike the iPad, portrait-mode typing is doable and, in fact, helpful.

And though the Nexus 7 gives you a screen that lets you take in more than you can on a smartphone, it can actually also fit in both your front and back pockets without making you look like an idiot or nerd.

The back of the Nexus 7 is dark black with tiny indentations that add to its look and gives it a good grip, so it won’t be sliding around your table or slipping from your hands too easily.

The 7 has only two buttons: the power and volume control. This keeps the tablet nice and simple, and lets you really focus on whatever content you’re taking in.

And content is what the Nexus 7 is all about. Think of this as the Kindle Fire on steroids. The Google-Asus tablet pushes content to you from the get-go. Its main screen is your content library, which spotlights the last movies, books and magazines you opened, and its bottom row of apps consists of the Google Play store and all your media apps. When you buy the 7, Google will give you a $25 credit for its store, the movie “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” a couple of books and also some magazines.

It’s a nice starter, and the Nexus 7 is good for all of these kinds of entertainment. It’s the size of an e-reader, making it fine for reading books. The size of magazines don’t come close to filling the Nexus 7’s screen, but they still look good. Movies look good, and at 7 inches, gaming is just right — you get the mobility of a smartphone that the iPad doesn’t have, but you also get more to look at than a smartphone or hand-held consoles.

There weren’t many things wrong with the Nexus 7, but there were a few annoying problems.

The speaker is in a terrible location, on the back of the 7 parallel to the bottom edge of the screen. This makes all the sound go away from you when you’re holding the tablet in front of you, and when you put the tablet on a surface, the speaker gets covered up. As a result, it’s not much better than the iPhone’s speaker.

Though its front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera is great for what it’s for — Google Hangouts and Skype — there isn’t a back-facing camera to help you take better-quality pictures. This isn’t a big deal for me since I’ve always thought taking pictures with a tablet is ridiculous, but if you want a tablet made for shooting pictures, this one isn’t it.

Another knock on the Nexus 7 is that you’re stuck with Wi-Fi since it doesn’t have 3G or 4G connectivity. With only 8 GB for $199 and 16 GB for $249, a lot of the things you’re going to do will actually be streamed from the cloud rather than played natively, so if you venture anywhere beyond the connected world, this thing can quickly become useless.

The Nexus 7 also doesn’t have any ports besides its Micro USB connection for charging. Being an iPad user, this also didn’t bother me much, but if you want a tablet that will hook up to all sorts of things, the Nexus 7 isn’t it.

Also, because the Nexus 7 is just 7 inches, many of its apps are basically just stretched-out smartphone apps. This isn’t an issue as much as it is a waste of potential. All the apps I wanted to run satisfied me, but if developers start building specifically for the Nexus 7’s screen, it will make the tablet that much better.

The Nexus 7 isn’t a machine built for productivity, but it excels as consumption. If you want a device more portable than laptops and large tablets that’s good for watching Netflix, playing games or reading as you make your way throughout the day, the Nexus 7 will get the job done and won’t be a purchase you’ll regret.

It isn’t the best tablet available — that title still belongs to the iPad — but the Nexus 7 is the best 7-inch tablet you can get.


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