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Android tablets have been around for quite some time now, but with the iPad stealing the show, few people have been persuaded that there's a must-have dessert-themed slate. One of the only exceptions to the rule was the Amazon Kindle Fire -- a 7-inch device with stripped back power, screen and storage for a bargain basement price. It took the US by storm but it .
The huge sales showed Android tablet makers that the way to tackle the all-consuming iPad wasn't by trying to better its specs, but by offering something usable and affordable. This ethos is evidently shared by Google, which has -- in collaboration with tech manufacturer Asus -- launched the Nexus 7 tablet.
Like the Kindle Fire, it's a 7-inch device, the cheapest version of which starts with only 8GB of internal storage. Unlike the Fire, it's packing extremely powerful components and a high-definition screen, making it useful not only as a full-featured ebook reader, but also as a tablet in its own right.
As Google's own design, it's the first device running the latest version of its Android operating system, known as Jelly Bean. This brings various interface updates and the handy personal information service, Google Now.
Best of all though, the Nexus 7 starts at a mere £160 for the 8GB model or £200 for the 16GB version and can be ordered from Google's store.
While it's easy to argue that the Nexus 7 isn't a rival to the iPad and they therefore shouldn't be compared directly, it will naturally be lumped into the same category by the average punter on the street looking to buy "any tablet". It's therefore important to weigh it up against all the competition -- not just the cheaper Kindle Fire.
You can also read the full review of the latest.
Should I buy the Google Nexus 7?
In a word, yes. The Nexus 7 has elite features that make it not only great for its price, but superb even when compared with the very best tablets.
It's running the latest version of Android known as Jelly Bean, which offers a clean and simple interface that's ideal for Android beginners and hardcore 'droiders alike. It brings a bunch of updates including improved notifications, better voice search and smoother, more buttery transitions.
It also offers a new service called Google Now, which aims to provide live, local information based on your position and your habits. It 'learns' what you do and what you search for, with the aim of providing information such as traffic updates or your football team's scores. In its current state, it might not be the most impressive service, but it's off to a good start and Google is working on giving it a lot more features.
The Nexus 7 is not just about the software though. This 7-inch tablet packs a high-definition screen, which makes even small text and icons look crisp and clear. If you hope to get through your favourite ebooks on it, rest assured you'll be able to read for hours without feeling the strain. It's bright and colourful too, making it great for renting movies from the Google Play store or simply watching YouTube clips.
Under the hood is a quad-core processor that gives the Nexus 7 some serious power. My benchmark tests put the Nexus' performance alongside the powerhouse Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 by a country mile. With such a huge serving of power, it's easily capable of tackling most tasks you can throw at it., which costs a whole lot more. It also beat the pricier 7-inch
Best of all though, it comes with a bargain basement price tag of only £160. Most decent Android slates start at around the £350 mark, with the top players charging upwards of £500 or more. Even with the best technology on board, the Nexus 7 still manages to carry a price that's low enough to tempt doubters and iPad fans into the Android tablet world.
Design and build quality
Compared to its 10-inch cousins, the 7-inch Nexus 7 is aimed at being much more portable. At 120mm wide, it sits very comfortably in one hand, giving the impression that you're holding a paperback book. It's a shade under 200mm long so it will easily drop into a small bag or even squeeze into your pockets if they're particularly capacious.
Its size means typing in portrait mode is comfortable as you can wrap your hands around -- your thumbs reach every letter on the keyboard without difficulty. That's less easy in landscape mode -- unless you have giant hands -- so you'll probably find it easier to lie it in your lap and simply jab at it instead.
With a thickness of 10.45mm, it's not as slim as other tablets on the market -- the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition is a svelte 8.9mm -- but its extra girth makes it feel a little more sturdy in your hand. It weighs 340g, which is about what I'd expect for a tablet of this size. That's not so heavy that you'd feel weighed down by it. I found I could easily hold it up while reading or browsing the web for at least a couple of hours at a time.
The whole front of the tablet is dominated by a sheet of glass that runs unbroken from edge to edge, meaning there's no unsightly plastic bezel -- although the bezel beneath the glass is rather too chunky, in my opinion. The screen sports the Corning Gorilla Glass we've come to know and love on devices like the iPhone 4S. It's designed to be stronger and more scratch resistant than your run-of-the-mill glass, which is handy if you're prone to idly chucking your keys at the screen.
You'll also notice there's no physical home button on the front. Those of you who are used to prodding the home button on the iPad might find the touch-sensitive buttons in its place a little unusual at first. You'll quickly get used to them. They bring up menus and one benefit is they rotate with the screen depending on how you're holding it, unlike the iPad's button, which does, of course, remain resolutely static.
The back of the Nexus has been coated in a rubberised material that's been given a dotted pattern that's quite pleasing to hold. The texture, along with its relative chunkiness, makes it pretty easy to keep hold of, reducing the chances of you accidentally hurling it to the ground every time you take it out of your bag.
It's really not pushing any boundaries in terms of aesthetic design -- the look is one that leans much more towards 'functional' than it does 'beautiful'. Still, you can't expect too much by way of design flair for a device of this size and it gets the job done. I just can't imagine anyone falling in love with its looks.
Mercifully though, it seems well built. There's very little flex in the back casing when you give it a squeeze and there's no loose flaps or dodgy casing peeling away. I'm very confident it can survive a life of being pulled in and out of bags and being casually plonked down on coffee shop tables.
Around the edges you'll find a power button and volume rocker -- they're pretty easy to press, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port. What you don't get is a SIM card slot for 3G data, so you'll have to rely on Wi-Fi connections at home or an open connection in your favourite bar.
There's also no HDMI port, so don't plan on hooking it up to a massive telly for big-screen app action.
Also conspicuous by its absence is a microSD card slot. Having that would have allowed you to expand the internal storage of the tablet to hold more videos and music. As it is, you'll have to make do with the rather meagre 8GB or opt for a more capacious 16GB model for £200. If you go for the 8GB model, you'll really have to keep an eye on what you're putting on there as you'll quickly run out of room if you keep transferring over your favourite films.
It's important to think carefully about exactly what you'll be using your slate for. If you plan on dumping a lot of your media on it to watch on the plane, you'll almost certainly want the 16GB model. If, on the other hand, your main needs are sofa web browsing and you rely mostly on streaming -- not downloading -- your content, 8GB will be fine.
Another omission from the outside of the tablet is a camera on the back. Nearly all tablets these days pack a snapper for those quick shots you just can't wait to tell Twitter about. But the Nexus 7 evidently doesn't want to follow the photography crowd.
That's most likely a cost-cutting measure and it's one I can forgive -- after all, taking photos on a tablet isn't that enjoyable and people look pretty stupid holding up their iPad at a concert. I'm personally happy to see the camera ommitted in favour of the extra cash in my pocket.
There's a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front though, so it's not totally without lenses. Oddly, there's no dedicated camera app on the Nexus, indicating that this snapper is only for video calling using Google Hangouts or Skype. Bad news if you were hoping to take some Myspace-style self-portraits.
The 7-inch screen comes with a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. The technologically-minded among you will notice that this falls far short of the whopping 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution of the iPad's 'retina' display. But with a much lower price tag, we really have to forgive it.
It's still high though, especially when you factor in the price. It not only beats the resolution of Amazon's Kindle Fire, but also that of the iPad 2. Given the its smaller size, this results in a much higher pixel density on the Nexus 7's screen.
Small icons and text look particularly sharp and clear. App icons appear very crisp, even when viewed up close, and tiny writing in web pages looks mostly very readable. That's great news if you hope to use it as your ebook reader because the text will be displayed with enough clarity to make reading comfortable for long periods of time.
It's not as easy to read as a regularscreen though as it's not E-ink. E-ink isn't like regular LCD displays -- it uses a different method of displaying text and isn't backlit, resulting in extremely sharp words that look like they've been printed on the screen. E-ink's suited to displaying only black and white words and basic pictures though, so if you want to do anything with your tablet other than reading books, a normal LCD screen is the way to go.
Not only is it nice and sharp, it's also rather bright. This helps make it a tad easier to see when viewed in direct sunlight or under harsh office lighting. The glossy screen is quite reflective though, so you'll still want to wrap your hand around it in a vain attempt at shading it.
It's not the boldest screen I've ever laid my eyes on -- especially when you compare it side by side with the AMOLED screens on Samsung's tablets, or indeed Apple's iPad. But it does the job perfectly well for movies, apps and web browsing. Just don't expect it to knock your socks off with vivid colour.
Android Jelly Bean
The Nexus 7 tablet is the first device you can buy that comes loaded up with the latest version of Google's Android operating system, known as. Like version before it, this new update seeks to provide a unified experience across smart phones and tablets. It also sports subtle tweaks that should help novice tech users get to grips with it.
Like the Nexus devices before it, the Nexus 7 is a reference design for the new software, meaning it hasn't been skinned with extra software like Samsung's TouchWiz interface or HTC's Sense. What you get is a pure, untouched Android experience.