Tom's Takes Two Weeks With The Nexus 7
Despite the flurry of recent Google-branded device launches, I believe the company will have a hard time shaking the perception that it's primarily a software company, much like Amazon is a commerce company with a tablet device that makes it easier to spend money on Amazon. But what's Google's play in its Nexus 7?
Up until now, Google's many hardware partners have been the ones actually doing battle with Apple for market supremacy. This works out well for Google, though, freeing the company to focus on a more robust software ecosystem (fragmented as it might be) as its partners throw themselves at innovating on the hardware side.
As a result, what we have now is a remarkably diverse landscape of Android-based devices appealing to almost every need.
A perfect tablet, if there is such a thing, requires hardware and software that serve to complement each other. For example, Sony’s Tablet S is a multimedia buff’s dream because it includes so many home theater-inspired design cues. The Tablet S has a great audio setup, it's ergonomic, and it includes a built-in TV remote. Likewise, the Kindle Fire is perfect for Amazon addicts because its Android ecosystem is specifically modified to support all things Amazon. Hardware and software that appears to have been designed in concert creates a magic far greater than the individual pieces on their own.
And that's why Apple's tablets succeed. Apple is obsessed with controlling both sides of the design and manufacturing process. Could that have been Google's impetus for working more closely with a hardware partner on its own branded tablet?
Needless to say, the company's dramatic Nexus 7 unveiling at its I/O 2012 event came as no surprise. The Nexus 7 is Google's first official tablet offering. But it's the product of many lessons learned from a number of hardware partners, so we expect it to hit the ground running, without the teething pains observed from a number of other first-gen Android-based designs.
|Tablet||Operating System||Screen Size||Resolution||Price|
|Nexus 7 (8 GB)||Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)||7"||1280x800||$199|
|Nexus 7 (16 GB)||Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)||7"||1280x800||$249|
|Kindle Fire (8 GB)||Customized Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)||7"||1024x600||$199|
We think that the Nexus 7 is a very sexy-looking tablet. Its svelte design turns heads, as does its list of features, respectable 8 GB of storage capacity on the base model, and $199 price tag. It also appears as direct competition for Amazon's popular Kindle Fire. The main differentiator is that Google's Nexus 7 runs a completely unaltered version of Android 4.1, code-named Jelly Bean, giving it access to Google Play, a feature sorely lacking on the Kindle Fire.
Under the hood, Nexus 7 offers brawn to match its beauty, employing Nvidia's powerful Tegra 3 SoC. As we noted in Asus Transformer Prime TF201: A Tablet With A Higher Calling, Tegra 3 doesn't actually offer the best GPU performance, despite the chip's pedigree. However, Nvidia argues that the currently-available benchmarks aren't able to tap into the platform's potential. And it's telling to us that many of the more graphically-intensive games for Android are either optimized for or outright require Nvidia's hardware.
|Specifications||Length||Width||Height||Screen Size||Resolution||Aspect Ratio||Weight|
|Google Nexus 7||7.8”||4.7”||0.41”||7”||1280x800||16:10||0.75 lb.|
|Amazon Kindle Fire||7.5"||4.7"||0.45"||7"||1024x600||16:10||0.89 lb.|
|Apple iPad 2 (3G)||9.5"||7.31"||.34"||9.7"||1024x768||4:3||1.33 lb.|
|Apple iPad 3 (3G)||9.5"||7.31"||.37"||9.7"||2048x1536||4:3||1.46 lb.|
|Motorola Xoom||9.8||6.6"||.5"||10.1"||1280x800||16:10||1.5 lb.|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||10.1"||6.9"||0.34"||10.1"||1280x800||16:10||1.3 lb.|
More than anything else, we're impressed with the Nexus 7’s physical design. It was easy to fall in love with the Fire's 7" screen, and we immediately started eschewing the tablets sporting larger screens. They simply felt too cumbersome to carry around. But, like the Fire, Google's Nexus 7 makes it more mobile.
Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire are roughly the same size as a typical e-book reader. Amazon's Fire is a beefcake at 0.89 lb and 0.45” (11.4 mm) thick, though, whereas the Nexus 7 only weighs 0.75 lb. and measures 0.41” (10.45 mm) thick. The difference in weight doesn't appear so distinct, but it also doesn't convey how much more comfortable the Nexus 7 is to hold and use. The Kindle Fire's frame is squared-off and blocky, which frankly feels a little awkward. The Nexus 7 employs tapered and angular edges, with a textured rubber back cover.
Many folks find fault with the fact that Google's Nexus 7 lacks a rear-facing camera, but I think that's a completely unnecessary feature on a tablet. If I need to take a snapshot, I reach for a smartphone. The folks I've seen taking pictures in public places using tablets look ridiculous. Now, a front-facing camera is more important, since it can conceivably be used for videoconferencing. And the Nexus 7 includes a 1.2 MP sensor with a built-in microphone expressly for that purpose. The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, does not have a front-facing camera. Advantage, Google.
The development history behind the Nexus 7 is shrouded in some mystery. It was originally known as Asus’ Eee Pad MeMo 370T, and if you flip the Nexus 7 over you'll find a label with the 370T model number. Google's Eric Schmidt stated the company would unveil a tablet back in December of 2011, and a year later, at CES 2012, Asus announced that it would sell its MeMo 370T for $249. Oddly, the MeMo 370T disappeared from view shortly after, and Asus acted as if its CES announcement never happened.
In retrospect, Google may have been impressed enough with the MeMo 370T that it contracted with Asus to produce the Nexus 7. Some have pointed out that Asus is an odd partner choice after Google acquired Motorola Mobility, but that merger was not completed until May 2012. The Nexus 7 would have had to be in development already.