Nexus 7 Review

Bottom Line: great little tablet with unnecessarily bright screen that causes it to fail as a reading device.

The Google Nexus 7 is manufactured by Asus and is my first experience with Android Tablet. The device feels very solid and is its screen is made of Corning glass. The back of the device has a dimpled soft-touch material on it to make it easier to hold. It has a front-facing camera but no rear-facing camera. The device is very responsive and there is no perceptible interface lag like with previous versions of Android. Runs "the fastest and smoothest version of Android yet" (Android Operating System versions are given names such as "jelly bean" or "ice cream sandwich" - a marked contrast to Apple's iOS5, iOS6, etc.)

The on-screen software layout is very similar to iOS, including "Dock icons" at the bottom. You can make a grid of apps on mulitple pages to launch them, like iOS. However, you can specifically position each icon on the page (unlike iOS which moves the first icon to the upper left). Android has added widgets to the launcher screens, and you can place widgets from Google's own apps and select third-party apps.

The Nexus 7 uses your Google account to access all of the devices features (like iOS uses your iCloud account). There is support for an undefined backup of select apps and services (specifics apps and date are not definable as they are in iOS). There are no hardware buttons on front of device. Power button is located just above the volume buttons on the right side of the device and has the same texture, making it very easy to lock the device instead of adjusting the volume. With no buttons on the front, you can only turn on device with your right hand unless you reach your left hand all the way around the back. Android uses "soft" buttons (software controlled) at the base of the screen which can be used with either hand, but the device has to be powered on.

The device is branded with Asus, even though it is a Google device. There is a clear adhesive FCC sticker on the rear bottom device, which is over the dimpled soft material and does not look very attractive (a design detail that Apple would never overlook).

The back of the Nexus 7. Note the Nexus and Asus branding.

Crappy sticker. Apple would not approve.

The Nexus 7 uses the readily available micro USB port for charging and syncing. The Mac, as of 10.8, does not support the USB protocol used. In order to be mounted as a USB drive on a Macintosh, specific software has to be installed on the Mac. I guess Apple is no hurry to support it and Google has no reason to use a Mac-compatible protocol. Still it is the first time that I can remember in years that I had to install a program to mount a USB device on any computer. 

No evidence of uniform application design guidelines are present, although there are some common buttons. Google has set up its own "Google Play" store with which the user can buy Apps, movies, books, and music. But these only play on devices that can access Google Play. There is no way to install or access or play iTunes music or movies (Apple has not created an iTunes client for this device). Likewise, there is no way to access Apple iCloud data (contacts, calendar, notes). Google has positioned itself as a cross-platform data provider. For example, pretty much any modern device can access Google mail, contacts, and calendar, including Apple devices. 

So now there are at least 4 different music/movies/content stores that are more-or-less incompatible with each other.

Play Music - iTunes - Amazon - Barnes & Noble

Play Movies & TV - iTunes - Amazon - Barnes & Noble

Play Magainzes - Nook - Third Party

Play Books - iBooks - Kindle - Nook

Play Store - iTunes Store - Amazon App Store - Barnes & Noble App Store

It's a little more complicated than that, though. Amazon makes an iOS client to watch amazon movies, and the Kindle is available to read Amazon books. Likewise, the Nook software is available on all platforms to read Nook Books. Apple movies, tv, music, iBooks, etc. are not available to view on any non-Apple device, because Apple has not made the software available - remember, Apple makes iTunes for Windows, so Windows users can access the files.

Nexus 7 can play movie non-DRM movie files, music files, etc. The Nexus 7 implementation of Android allows file-level access to pretty much all of the device. It is also possible to allow other App Stores (such as Amazon) access to the device, and to install and run Apps from other providers. To do this requires the user to check the option to "allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store" under Security/Device Administration/Unknown Sources. This is similar to sandboxing on 10.8, but it is unclear what this is doing to the Tablet, and what kind of risks I am opening up to, so I left it unchecked.

Also the Nexus 7 can be fully encrypted (and can never be decrypted). It is unclear what level of security exists without encryption turned on. I believe iOS is always encrypted.

Overall the device seems like a great experience if you are bought into the Google Play or the Amazon audio/video/books ecosystem. There is limited, if any compatibility with Apple ecosystem, which is annoying. I would even settle for access to iCloud contacts/calendar/etc., but Apple has not made these services available to other devices, and probably never will.

Size comparison between Nexus 7 screen and iPad 9.7" screen

Interface element size comparison between Nexus 7 and iPad 9.7". Note how big the iPad icons appear.

I saved talking about the screen for last. The 7 inch screen of the Nexus 7 is 216 dpi, vs. the 9.7" iPad Retina resolution of 265 dpi. Thus the Nexus 7 appears "almost Retina". Pixels are not discernible, although the text is not as smooth as on a higher resolution display. The most interesting part of the Nexus 7 is that the icons and text are so much smaller than on the 9.7" iPad. The 9.7" iPad feels giant after using the Nexus 7. I imagine that the iPad mini feels the same way. The smaller text on the Nexus sometimes makes tapping the correct part of the screen more difficult, but I did not find this to be a serious issue. Think of the 7 inch tablet as a larger phone rather than a scaled down 10" tablet.

I also noted something that ruins the Nexus 7 as a reading device for me. Its minimum brightness is much brighter than the iPad 3's minimum brightness. This makes reading in a dim or dark room much less comfortable.

In summary. The Nexus 7 manages to "feel" like a a quality tablet. It is of minimalist, seamless design, very well constructed with a lot of attention to detail. The interface and user experience is fast a responsive and the animations are smooth. What it does not have is a tap into the Apple ecosystem of iCloud and iTunes. And it does not have the App catalog that Apple has. Thus for me, this device would be more like a fancy eReader than an iPad-like tablet. And that is not a bad thing. So next I need to see how it compares to the lighter, higher resolution, and slower Nook HD as a reading tablet.

Update: I did return the Nexus 7 due to the minimum brightness issue. I currently am using the new Nook HD, which is much more limited than the Nexus 7 in some ways (Apps and open-access to software) and much better in other ways (screen, ergonomics). I will write about the Nook HD at a later date.

Minimum brightness settings of iPad 9.7" and Nexus 7 both running Nook App

Nexus 7 and iPad 9.7" show similar build quality. Both are really nice devices.