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Google Nexus 7 (summer 2013) review: The best Android tablet gets even better

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The Good The Nexus 7’s razor-sharp full-HD screen, silky smooth performance, long battery life, meager weight, and affordable price make it the best tablet value on the market.

The Bad The back is missing the soft grippy texture of the original, screen colors lack accuracy, and there's no microSD support. Android 4.3 has few useful interface improvements.

The Bottom Line Thanks to its stellar performance and affordable price, the Nexus 7 is the Android tablet to get.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9

Pound for pound, the Nexus 7 is the best small tablet you can buy. It houses a ridiculously sharp, bright screen, its gaming performance is second only to the fourth-generation iPad, and as a Google-branded tablet it will always see the latest version of Android before any other tablet brand.

Also, at $230 (for 16GB), it's still an affordable tablet with one of the highest values in the market, despite a $30 price hike over the previous generation. The $270 32GB Wi-Fi model and $350 4G LTE version are even better values, especially compared with similar configurations of the iPad Mini.

Yes, it's not as cheap as some of the top small tablets from 2012, its screen isn't as big as the iPad Mini's, and Android 4.3 lacks a few useful UI features Samsung plugged into its Galaxy Tab 3. However, those are only nitpicks considering the Nexus 7's sharp-as-nails screen and blazingly fast performance. Despite its imperfections, it's the first small tablet I'd recommend and is the current best tablet value around.

Editors' note: Although CNET's test unit proved free of major issues, some Nexus 7 owners have experienced a few technical snafus with their devices. For more on these issues, check here.

At 0.64 pound, the Nexus 7 is the lightest tablet yet, and with a 4.5-inch width when held in portrait orientation, it's probably the easiest to fit in one hand. It's an extremely simple design, black in color, and it honestly lacks much in the way of panache. It's a harsher tablet compared with the original, and I miss the 2012 Nexus 7's soft, much more inviting feel.

The smooth matte finish of the tablet's back isn't as comfortable or as grippy as the soft leathery back of the 2012 Nexus 7. Also, the new tablet's corners aren't as pleasantly rounded and the Micro-USB port on the bottom edge sticks out just enough to be distracting when held in landscape mode.

This hopefully gives you an idea of the texture difference between the old and new Nexus 7. Josh Miller/CNET

The top and bottom bezels span about an inch in length each, and the side bezels are even more compressed than the original's; however, despite their more slender turn, errant screen taps don't appear to be a problem.

Tested spec Google Nexus 7 Google Nexus 7 (2012) Apple iPad Mini Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (8-inch) Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Weight in pounds 0.66 0.74 0.68 0.7 0.76
Width in inches (landscape) 7.8 7.8 7.9 8.2 8.2
Height in inches 4.5 4.7 5.3 4.8 5.3
Depth in inches 0.34 0.41 0.28 0.27 0.31
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 1.0 0.8 0.81 0.75 0.7

Along the right edge are an easy-to-find power/sleep button and volume rocker, and there's a headphone jack on the top edge. A front-facing camera sits on the top bezel toward the right corner, and the rear camera rests behind on the backside, nestled deep in the left corner. Also on the back are two sets of speaker grilles, one near the top and another on the bottom, next to the Micro-USB port.

Software features
The Nexus 7 ships with the very latest version of Android (4.3), and to be quite honest, the OS isn't much different from the previous incarnation (4.2.2). At least not obviously so. For a detailed look at the updated OS' features, check out our Android 4.3 review.

One of the few notable Android 4.3 additions is the Multi-User Restricted Profiles feature, which allows you to set up accounts with extremely limited access. Josh Miller/CNET

The notable new features are Multi-User Restricted Profiles, OpenGL ES 3.0 support, and Bluetooth Smart. User profiles were introduced with Android 4.2, and the latest version allows you to add a kid-friendly profile that the primary profile controls. The restricted profile will only have access to apps deemed acceptable and will have no access to the Play store. It's an ideal solution for families wanting to share a single tablet; however, Google leaves the decision of implementing it up to the developer.

OpenGL ES 3.0 improves polygonal graphics performance and allows the tablet to better handles effects like lens flares, shadows, and other shader effects. With Bluetooth Smart, the Nexus 7 can connect to a newer generation of Bluetooth devices as well as transmit metadata like song titles.

I'm a huge fan of close-up pics of tablet buttons. Actually, I'm not, but I liked this particular pic so much, I married it. That's also not true. Josh Miller/CNET

The other 4.3 changes are minor or so deep into the back end that most people will never notice the difference. It's certainly not as satisfying a leap as 4.1 to 4.2 was, and we'll likely have to wait until Android 5.0 to get some really meaty and truly exciting software upgrades.

Hardware features
The 7-inch Nexus 7 houses a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro system on chip with a quad-core Krait CPU and a single-core Adreno 320 GPU. It has 2GB of RAM and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (including Bluetooth Smart support), and a GPS. Additionally, a gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass are included as well.

The Micro-USB port doubles as an HDMI port, as long as you have the required (costs about $30) adapter. Josh Miller/CNET

The tablet supports SlimPort, which allows you to use the Micro-USB port as an HDMI port via a $30 adapter, but there is no physical HDMI port on the Nexus 7.

NFC support returns, and we also get wireless charging, which according to Google will allow any Qi-compatible charger to fill the Nexus 7's battery. And that does indeed appear to be the case, as the Nokia Lumia DT-900 wireless charger worked without issue; however, the actual charging speed was painfully slow compared to a wired charge.

First things first, the Nexus 7's screen is incredibly sharp and text is particularly fine and easy to read. You may not fully appreciate its high pixel density immediately, but when looking at it next to almost any other tablet screen, the Nexus 7 clearly comes out on top. It's also one of the brightest tablet displays I've ever seen. Colors are more accurate and fuller compared with the 2012 Nexus 7 and the contrast ratio is noticeably higher. Viewing angles are wide and images appear to have a fuller, more corporeal integrity.

Behold the beauty of the Nexus 7's razor-sharp screen. Josh Miller/CNET

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