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Asus Nexus 7 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Sharp display

The Bad

  • Outdoor viewing isn't great

The Nexus 7 by Asus is one of those devices that you just need to use for 10 seconds to know you’re going to like it. Why? Because, a £159 tablet shouldn’t feel this good. It shouldn’t look this refined and it shouldn’t run Nova 3 this smoothly. So why does the Nexus 7 do all these things? A 1.3GHz quad-core processor, IPS display and an updated version of Android, also known as Jelly Bean all have something to do with it. But does meet Google’s intention? Is the Nexus 7 the first Android tablet for the masses or simply another early adopter focused Nexus devices?

Nexus 7 by Asus: Design

Google Nexus 7 by Asus design image - front, Google Nexus 7 by Asus design image - textured backing, Google Nexus 7 by Asus front and back

Google Nexus 7 by Asus - screen close-up of Google Play Widget, Google Nexus 7 by Asus screen close up of Google Now, Google Nexus 7 by Asus screen close-up of home screen dock

£159 will buy you a tablet that feels solid, is well weighted but looks markedly non-descript, at least head on. Don’t get us wrong, the buttonless fascia is cohesive with Android 4.1, but the silver trim, curved corners and lack of risk makes the Nexus 7 initially look like just another tablet. Turn it over and you’re treated to something a little richer. The pillowy backing offers grippy tactility verging on a faux leather feel. Despite being all plastic, Asus have therefore done a good job of making the Nexus 7 feel more expensive than it is.

Google Nexus 7 by Asus side buttons highlighted, Google Nexus 7 by Asus textured back highlighted, Google Nexus 7 by Asus profile

When it comes to ergonomics, Google’s first Nexus tablet has been thoroughly thought through. The headphone jack is located at the base along with a micro USB Port. This works well in either portrait or landscape. As for the power button and volume rocker, these are located on the right hand side, are easy to locate and easy to press. All in all, the Nexus 7 by Asus and its design cleverly emulates the physical imposition of a paper back book, a bag filler very few have any objection to carrying around. So while not the thinnest tablet out there, it could be hardier and more rife with personality, it looks inoffensive, is physically accessible and feels good in the hand. 

Nexus 7 by Asus: Screen

Google Nexus 7 by Asus WXGA display, Google Nexus 7 by Asus WXGA display zoomed in, Google Nexus 7 by Asus WXGA display zoomed in even further revealing pixels

The 1280×800 resolution of the Nexus 7’s IPS display offers the same number of pixels as that found on most 10-inch Android tablets out right now. With the Nexus 7 being 7-inches, the smaller screen results in a sharper picture. The IPS panel makes for great viewing angles and a fantastic indoor experience. It isn’t as bright as the Super IPS+ display of the Asus Transformer Prime and Transformer Pad Infinity and therefore struggles a bit in bright sunlight. The screen is also slightly more washed out than other high end LCDs and AMOLEDs. Having said that, for the price you won’t do any better.

Nexus 7 by Asus: User Interface

Moving onto Jelly Bean and the operating system update brings with it some real gems. These are showcased beautifully on the Nexus 7, the first mid-sized tablet device to offer an entirely convincing end user experience. In terms of interface refinements, Google have updated their notifications bar, tweaked the widget handling and enriched the entire interface with a smoother frame-rate.

Taking it to an even more grass-roots level and the Android operating system on the Nexus 7 by Asus packs five home screens which can be populated by app shortcuts and widgets. There’s a fixed dock at the bottom of the home screen which can house up to six shortcuts and a centralised apps menu button.

The pull down notification bar delivers a full preview of your notifications, displaying multiple emails and offering a full bleed image when appropriate, which can be shared directly from the notification. These can be minimised and expanded with a two finger slide up and down and offers support for third party app notifications such as Appy Geek. Widgets are also smarter – should you wish to deploy your widget on a homescreen already loaded with others, they will move around to accommodate your selection. 

Google Nexus 7 by Asus screenshot - Google Play Widget, Google Nexus 7 by Asus screenshot - Jelly Bean notification bar, Google Nexus 7 by Asus apps meny, Google Nexus 7 by Asus task manager

With a great keyboard offering Swiftkey-esque predictive text input, text entry is a breeze. It might be a bit cumbersome for anyone with small hands, but we found typing very comfortable after a few minutes in portrait. In landscape, things are altogether a bit more challenging unless the tablet is resting on a surface.

There are a lot of apps that look great on the Nexus 7, though the fact is, with 7-inches being such a new standard, many are either too fit for phone or fit for 10.1-inch tab. Facebook is still a miss, Flipboard is a big hit and reading apps such as Kindle tend to be look great on the whole, at least once you wade through the UI and get to your ebook.

Google’s apps are also laid on thick. Aside from all your standards such as organiser tools, Google Maps and Google Plus, Google pre-install Google Music, Google Play Movies and Google Currents. And what’s Google’s secret weapon? A £15 Google Play voucher, the perfect gateway for first time Android users to spend money in the big G’s ecosystem. This means that Android tablets have indeed finally become accessible. Cost-effective meets quality UI, the Nexus 7 is a masterfully move from a company with sufficient resources and a manufacturer with a firm handle on the tablet space.

Nexus 7 by Asus: Multimedia

There is no rear facing camera on the Nexus 7 by Asus, so it’s exclusively a content consumption device. Multimedia comes to life as soon as you take it out of the box and connect it to a Wi-Fi connection though. With Google Play Movies and Books, you can immediately watch and read. There are also hundreds of video apps that are perfect for the Nexus 7 in Google’s Play Store. Our favourite  Netflix for movies, Pocket Casts for video and podcasts and TED for the occasion bout of inspiration. 

Google Nexus 7 by Asus Play movies screenshot, Google Nexus 7 by Asus screenshot - Batman rental page, Google Nexus 7 by Asus - Google Play Books screenshot, Google Nexus 7 by Asus - Google Play Books reading interface screenshot,

Even better than the movie experience however is gaming. Thanks to the size, it makes for a much more manageable joypad than a 10.1-inch tablet, but at the same time still delivers pin sharp graphics and the quad-core performance required to run games like Modern Combat 3, Nova 3 and the Batman Dark Knight Rises.

When it comes to complaints about the Nexus 7’s media capabilities, we have a couple. First off, no HDMI out means unless you’re DLNA ready, content you get on the device stays on the device. The lack or rear camera is also something we also touched on, and finally, a poor loud speaker doesn’t to the tablet justice with audio levels being low and unclear. 

Nexus 7 by Asus: Connectivity and Storage

A tablet with a micro USB port – that’s what we’re talking about. Chances are for all non-iPhone users the Nexus 7 will charge using the same micro USB cable as your phone. The Nexus 7 also has NFC, a GPS, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct in the form of Android Beam and a front facing camera for video calls. As mentioned earlier, there’s no HDMI out, and there’s also no 3G option available either.

What is great however is the fact that Google Chrome web browser resides on the Nexus 7 out of the box. This is optimised for the 7-inch display with tabbed view and well formatted web pages, not to mention your standard bookmarks. There’s no native Flash on board, but most streamers should be well served with apps like Netflix and HTML 5 which Chrome does support. For all you hard core Flash fans, there are ways and means of getting Adobe’s tech working if you’re prepared to dig and tinker.

Google Nexus 7 by Asus - Chrome web browser

There are two versions of the Nexus 7 by Asus, the 8GB version available for £159 and the 16GB version costing £199. Neither are expandable, so we’re going to from the offset suggest users opt for the 16GB version. Sure, there’s Google Drive, Dropbox and a host of video streaming services allowing you to keep your tablet free of local content, but the real killer of storage capacity is games. Nova 3 is a 1.7GB game for example, as is the latest Batman. Two or three titles like these and you’re talking limit reached for all you 8GB Nexus owners.

Nexus 7 by Asus: Performance and Battery

The UI is buttery, gaming is sensational, the user experience feels premium and as far as overall quality goes, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this does not feel like a £159 tablet. The 1.3Ghz Tegra 3 processor is mind boggling for the price point making the Nexus 7 arguably the most copelling gaming device around when accounting for everything else it can do, let alone tablet.

The 4326 mAh battery also lasts for days with light usage. More intensive hammering and you’re likely to get around 1 ½ days out of it, with a reported 9 ½ hours of constant use. This tallied with what we experienced, however the fact that the Nexus 7 makes you want to use it so much would suggest if you’re anything like us, you’ll be charging yours nightly. 

Nexus 7 by Asus: Conclusion

Google Nexus 7 by Asus profile

All in all, the Nexus 7 innovates in one area above all others – value. A quad-core processor coupled with a great IPS screen and an impressive update to the Android OS come together fantastically. We’ve seen a 1.3GHz quad-core on the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 (£329). We’ve seen WXGA displays on similar sized tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 (£379). We’ve also seen Jelly Bean on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (£328), but we haven’t see any of these elements available for as little as £159, or all in the same device. This price makes it very easy to overlook the lack of rear facing camera, connectivity options and expandable storage and makes the Nexus 7 by Asus the easiest Android tablet, and dare we say tablet to recommend would be buyers right now.