Undoubtedly tired of the struggle against the iPad, Google announced its own branded 7-inch tablet: the Google Nexus 7 by Asus, complete with stellar specs and a rock-bottom price.
We’ve now been given a new and upgraded 32GB option (available with or without 3G) to join the 16GB Wi-Fi only offering, with the price not raised above £239, which is hugely impressive for a quad-core, Tegra 3-endowed tablet with 3G onboard.
Like other Nexus-branded devices, the Google Nexus 7 tablet isn’t actually hardware manufactured by Google (as you may have noticed, thanks to the suffix).
As the Mountain View company has done with Samsung, HTC and Motorola in the past, Google paired with Asus to design and manufacture this slender tablet.
It’s a smart move: among Android tablets, Asus makes some of the best around, but matching the rock-bottom £129 price of Amazon’s Kindle Fire while exceeding its meagre specs would be a challenge for any manufacturer.
And make no mistake: the Nexus 7 by Asus is more of an effort to stomp out Amazon’s unwelcome (and forked) version of Android, although now it’s having to fight the battle against the iPad mini as well.
That thrown-down gauntlet has been picked up by the Amazonians already though, thanks to the emergence of the Kindle Fire HD, which offered more storage and similar specs for the same price.
In turn Google has now dropped the price of the 16GB Nexus 7 to £159, ditched the 8GB model altogether and released a new model with a Kindle Fire HD-matching 32GB of storage, for £199, along with a 3G-laden 32GB model for £239.
The good news is that very little has been sacrificed along the way, unlike with Amazon’s initial offering.
According to Android boss Andy Rubin, Google’s profit margin bears the brunt of any sacrifices made, selling the hardware at cost to get customers to pay for content from the Play Store.
And that’s ensured the tablet is selling in droves – millions of the things have shifted, and even months after it launched, sales are still going strong. You can even get an official dock from Asus, which debuted at CES 2013, although it’s got a rather limited microUSB port and audio line out as it’s main points of sale.
But enough about why and how Google and Asus have released the Nexus 7: is it even worth £159-239 (depending on the model) of your hard-earned cash?
Features and design
Being a Nexus device, you’re getting pure Google with the Nexus 7, which is the stock version of Android; in this case Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
We’ll talk more about that later, but suffice to say it’s absolutely a selling point, and being a Google-branded device running a stock version of the OS, it’s also going to get updated to newer builds a lot faster than most other Android tablets, as was the case recently when the new version of Jelly Bean dropped.
On paper, the specs for the Nexus 7 are quite impressive.
Powered by a quad-core 1.3GHz Tegra 3 processor with 1GB RAM and either 16GB (priced at £159) or 32GB (£199) of onboard storage, this tablet runs circles around the original Kindle Fire and easily matches the Kindle Fire HD and iPad mini.
In fact, it rivals many competing Android tablets at twice the price (or more). Google’s 3G/HSPA+ version, which can only be had with 32GB of storage, comes in at £239.
The Nexus 7 is starting to show its age a little as quad-core becomes the norm and devices like the Sony Xperia Tablet Z have double the RAM (2GB) and faster 1.5 GHz processors, but it’s still undeniably impressive for the price.
In grand Nexus tradition there’s no microSD card slot, a decision that we still can’t quite get our heads around.
That means you’re stuck with either 16GB or 32GB of storage, but its nearest competition doesn’t have microSD card slots either, so while it’s certainly disappointing, it doesn’t hamper the Nexus 7 as much as it could have.
The 7-inch 1200 x 800 HD backlit IPS display packs a respectable 216 pixels per inch onto the screen.
Sure, it’s not quite as impressive as a fourth-generation Retina Display iPad at 264ppi, or the Google Nexus 10 with its 300ppi display, but, given the price, you will have little to complain about from the display.
It roughly matches the Kindle Fire HD for resolution, and easily trumps the display on the competing iPad Mini, which packs a meagre 1024 x 768 163ppi screen.
It can be pumped up to a decent level of brightness, and there’s an automatic option which will brighten and dim it depending on the environment (which is a good way to get the best display possible without draining your battery more than necessary with a blindingly bright screen).
That said, much like the Google Nexus 10, the contrast seems slightly muted and you might find yourself longing for the deeper, richer colours available on the Kindle Fire HD and the iPad.
The front of the Google Nexus 7 by Asus is devoid of hardware-based buttons, but a 1.2MP front-facing camera rests at the top of the tablet front, which is covered entirely by Corning glass, which has added toughness over its original Gorilla Glass.
The camera placement shows that Google and Asus intended the Nexus 7 to primarily be viewed in portrait. In fact, initially it was released locked to portrait orientation, but it has since been updated to support landscape.
Unlike the Kindle Fire with its one lone button, Google has wisely opted for three basic hardware controls.
On the right side is a power/sleep button with a two-stage volume rocker just below; the rest is done using Android’s on-screen software buttons for back, home and recent navigation, including rotation lock, which can be accessed via the notifications menu.
The few physical buttons are all conveniently sized and positioned, so they’re always easy to find, but never get in the way.
At the bottom of the unit is a micro USB port for charging the tablet or connecting it to a PC or other USB device.
Next to that there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, while a thin speaker port is the only feature of note on the otherwise rubberised back, aside from Nexus and Asus branding.
The top of the unit is devoid of ports entirely, although a small pinhole can be found here for the included microphone.
While the Google Nexus 7 is primarily made of plastic and glass, it certainly doesn’t feel cheap. On the contrary, it feels almost as ‘premium’ as one of Apple’s tablets, with little flex or other clues that Asus might have cut some corners in manufacturing.
Inside, the Nexus 7 packs the usual assortment of features, including an accelerometer, magnetometer and yes, even a gyroscope and GPS chip, nicely timed to take advantage of Google Maps’ offline mode for navigating when Wi-Fi isn’t available. Not to mention NFC – a necessity for Android Beam.
It’s almost hard to comprehend how small the Nexus 7 is until you hold its diminutive box in your hand.
At a mere 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm and weighing 340 grams, once out of the box, you can almost stack two Nexus 7 tablets side-by-side on one iPad, which is just one millimetre thinner.
As slim and light as the Nexus 7 is, it’s still heavier and thicker than the almost impossibly sleek 7.2mm thick 308g iPad mini.
Despite being so petite, Google and Asus managed to find space for a nice bezel around the screen itself (roughly 20mm top and bottom, 14mm on each side), making it plenty comfortable to hold without your fingers or thumbs getting in the way of the screen.
The back of the Google Nexus 7 is sealed on, so there’s no getting to the 4325 mAh battery, which is a bit of a shame as it’s always re-assuring to know that you can replace the battery if it ever wears out.
The pockmarked back recalls the same vibe as slipping on a pair of premium driving gloves, and this look and feel makes it quite nice to hold.
Combined with the overall lightness of the device, it makes it very comfortable to hold with either one or both hands, and you could happily use it for hours without it becoming uncomfortable.
It’s one of the best plastic backs we’ve come across and is substantially better than the back Samsung used for the Google Nexus 10, though the metal back of the iPad mini trumps it, and in phone land it’s been shown up by the gorgeous HTC One.
While our review unit arrived with a white back (similar to the ones gifted to developers at I/O this year), Google is only offering the black model to consumers.
Speaking of which, the Nexus 7 is available direct from the Google Play store, but the company has also rolled the tablet out at retail.
Interface and performance
While Google and Asus have checked all the right boxes on the Nexus 7′s HD IPS display and it is indeed bright and rich in colour, we were disappointed to discover the overall contrast was somewhat muted on our review unit. (It’s particularly noticeable on the home screens).
Maybe the iPador even Asus’s own Transformer has spoiled us, but the Google Nexus 7 seems to lack the kind of deep, rich black levels you might find on something like the Samsung Galaxy S4 (which admittedly uses a more saturated, contrast-rich Super AMOLED display instead).
Its resolution has also been shown up somewhat since launch, particularly in comparison to recent smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, as well as the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z. It’s still one of the higher resolution tablets, but the 300 ppi Google Nexus 10 positively blows it away.
These quibbles aside, viewing photos or other content on the Nexus 7 is quite enjoyable, with overall contrast faring much better while displaying such media.
Which brings us to the other star of the show: Android Jelly Bean.
The Nexus 7 launched with this, and at the time it was the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system and was making its debut on the Nexus 7.
Since then we’ve seen it on several other devices, and Google has even gone one better and launched Android 4.2 on the Nexus. But Android 4.2 is a fairly minor update; so minor, in fact, that it’s still called Jelly Bean.
This brings a few updates: namely support for multiple users, gesture typing, ‘Daydream’ mode, the ability to hold it in landscape mode on the home screen and pull down from the top-left or top-right to access notifications and settings respectively. We’ll go into more detail on those first few things later.
Android Jelly Bean is a pretty big deal and it’s one of the most important updates the OS has seen.
With Jelly Bean, Google has finally sanded down the rough spots in all the right places.
Despite the modest point version increase from Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android Jelly Bean introduces under-the-hood improvements such as ‘Project Butter’, the company’s new initiative to streamline the lag and general unresponsiveness Android has been notorious for in the past.
The main star of the Jelly Bean show is Google Now, a card-based information service that uses GPS in an effort to become one step ahead of the user.
You can launch it by swiping upwards on the lock screen, or swiping upwards from the home button on any other screen.
Essentially, it acts like a sort of personal assistant, but unlike Siri and the other voice-based ones floating around on phones and tablets, Google Now is primarily image and text based.
It displays cards for all sorts of things from the weather forecast to traffic conditions on your route to work.
The idea is that it learns as you use it, and predicts what information you’ll need and when.
It does a pretty good job of it too, though of course you can also manually tweak certain parameters that dictate which cards appear and when.
On top of that there is also a voice search option which can look for things on your tablet, and the internet and will often speak back to you.
For example, if you ask it the weather it will both show a weather forecast and summarise it vocally in a posh English accent.
Google Now launched with a rather restrictively small number of tiles, but Google apparently realised this and has rolled out a bunch more, making it substantially more useful. For example you can now get booking confirmations for restaurants and hotels, flight information, real time public transport information and more.
Plus you can set reminders that will go off either at a certain time or a certain place, so for example you can ask it to remind you to book an eye test next time you pass your opticians or buy milk next time you’re in the supermarket. You don’t need to type these out either – you can just speak them.
The only real problem it still has is more localised to tablets, because Google Now is at its most useful when you’re out and about, but a tablet is both less likely to be out with you than a phone.
And, depending on which model you buy, it may well not have 3G.
And as Google Now relies on an internet connection it could spend a lot of the time being about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
That said, you can now get the Nexus 7 with 3G, so if this sounds like a feature that you’d want to make use of and you can afford the slight boost in price, then it would be well worth investing in the 3G version.
Other than Google Now, the lockscreen isn’t much different than it ever was.
You’ve got the time and date at the top and swiping downwards will unlock the tablet.
Coupled with the Tegra 3 processor and additional headroom afforded by 1GB of RAM, the Google Nexus 7 made a great initial showcase for Jelly Bean.
It’s not the fastest at booting up; taking around 28 seconds to reach the lockscreen, but it’s not slow enough to be a problem.
Once you do get up and running, swiping around is generally very fast and responsive – even on apps that haven’t yet been updated for Jelly Bean – while flipping through visually-rich magazines available on Zinio is seamless.
Ridiculous name aside, Project Butter more or less delivers the goods.
Unfortunately, there are still occasions of slight slow down or judder when scrolling; they were rare and minor, but still present.
For what it’s worth this might be more down to the hardware, as the Google Nexus 4 and the Google Nexus 10 never missed a beat, though with a quad-core processor you wouldn’t think the hardware would be lacking.
You get five home screens on the Nexus 7 and they can be flipped between with a swipe.
Five isn’t many really. If you’re conservative with the number of apps you download, or if you put them all in folders, then it should be plenty, but there is always the possible temptation to go a bit mad with widgets, and doing that will quickly eat up all your space.
Then again, if you do find it restrictive there are loads of other launchers available to download from Google Play and some of them have a lot more than five home screens.
The bottom of each screen houses a black bar with home, back and multitask software buttons.
These are visible most of the time and they’re all pretty self explanatory. The home button takes you to your home screens, the back button cycles back to the previous screen and the multitask button lets you switch between any open apps.
Even with loads of things open all at once we didn’t experience any noticeable dips in performance – other than the occasional judder when scrolling.
Just above those buttons there’s the dock, which houses a link to the app drawer in the centre, and then to either side it’s got links to Google Play, Google Chrome, Play Music, Play Movies and Play Books, along with a folder full of other Google goodies.
Other than the app drawer all of these things can be removed from the dock if you’d prefer.
At the top of each home screen there’s another black bar, displaying the time, battery level, any active connections and any un-cleared notifications.
Swipe it down to bring up the notifications screen where you can see your notifications (emails, calendar, events, and so on) in more detail and open them or clear them. The update to Android 4.2 also enables you to action notifications direct from this screen, so for example if you get a calendar reminder you can snooze it, or if you’ve missed a call you can return it – all with a tap.
There’s also a link to the settings screen from here.
Just below that black bar there’s a Google search bar. It’s the same search feature as you’ll find in Google Now; you can type or speak your query and it will search both the device and the internet for an answer.
The bulk of each home screen is taken up with apps, widgets and folders.
You’re free to move things around as much as you want, put apps in folders and create widgets for a startling number of things.
It even comes with a few to start you off, though they’re not very interesting, as two of them are just recommendations of things on Google Play, and the other displays some of your media library.
To create new widgets you simply need to visit the app drawer, where you’ll find a list of all the available widgets, each accompanied by a picture giving you an idea of what they’ll look like when placed.
Then you just long-press one and place it wherever you want on your home screen.
As the name suggests, all of your apps can be found in the app drawer too and they’re placed in much the same way.
Both your home screens and the lockscreen can be further customised by changing the wallpaper to whatever your heart desires.
There’s even a range of live wallpapers available for download if you really want to add ‘wallpaper’ to the list of things that drains your tablets battery.
The whole thing is very simple to navigate.
Being stock Android it’s pretty bare bones, which makes it a lot less cluttered and intimidating for new users than some other Android devices, but a quick trip to Google Play will still give advanced users all the customisation options you want.
Messaging and settings
As with everything else on the Google Nexus 7, the keyboard is the stock Android one.
We found the keys to be more or less exactly the right size – a perfect balance between making it fast and accurate while not obscuring too much of the screen.
It worked equally well in both portrait and landscape, though in landscape it’s a two-hand job really, while portrait typing can be done either one handed or with your two thumbs.
It does a decent job of predicting what word you’re typing and auto-correcting any mistakes, while a pleasing sound accompanies each tap.
However, it doesn’t feature any sort of haptic feedback, which many other devices do, including its big brother the Google Nexus 10.
One new update in Android 4.2 is Gesture Typing for the keyboard. It works in a similar vein to Swype, enabling you to slide your finger across letters to create words rather than tapping them.
It’s hugely accurate, though, and most of the main competitors, such as SwiftKey, have also brought out their own versions.
Lack of haptic feedback aside, it’s a great keyboard and we can’t imagine many people taking issue with it, but if you do there are always plenty of alternatives available on Google Play.
The settings screen can be accessed either from the notifications bar or from an icon that you’ll initially find tucked away in the app drawer, but which can be placed on the dock or any of the home screens for easy access.
This is the standard Android settings screen through and through. Even skinned versions of Android more or less use the standard settings screen, so if you’ve had an Android device before this will be instantly familiar.
Even if you’re new to Android it’s all very straightforward, with a large number of clearly-labelled options and settings, from Wi-Fi to screen brightness, security to battery information, and a whole lot more besides.
Essentially, just about all the background stuff is controlled from here.
It’s a menu that you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time in, especially when you first get the tablet and are setting it up to your liking.
Plus you can now simply pull down from the top of the screen and adjust things like brightness and flip on and off the GPS / Wi-Fi without issue.
Another new feature, and one that will infuriate the user who bought the tablet, is the ability to have multiple user profiles in Android 4.2. This means that everyone in the family can have their own suite of apps and games, complete with their own save progress and media.
However, it means you’ll be hearing ‘Mum / Dad, can I play with the tablet please please please?’. Damn those pesky meddling kids.
Internet and connectivity
As you would expect from a Google tablet, the browsing experience is largely excellent, with the 7-inch screen feeling adequate for most sites.
The resolution means that zooming remains necessary at times thanks to text being too small, but double tapping is an effective way of avoiding the constant need to pinch.
And the speedy processing power of the Google Nexus 7 means that the page renders smartly.
There are the usual problems that you get with most tablet browsing.
When a page is still loading (nearly always an advert, of course) zooming can be inaccurate or laggy and there remains a slight delay in sharpness as the GPU re-renders what you are seeing.
If the page design includes a popover dialogue box, there are times when you simply can’t hit the link that you need to – although this is more a failing of the Chrome browser than the tablet itself.
With many sites offering up mobile and desktop versions, the Nexus 7 is happy to serve up the former, but there is an option to ‘request desktop version’ that, in our tests, worked well for the majority of sites.
For people used to the frustrations of hitting the wrong link, the Nexus 7 has a familiar, but still nifty, trick up its tiny sleeve.
If it is unsure if your sausage fingers meant to press a link that is next to another it will give a pop-up zoom-in window of the section of the screen to clarify what you meant to press.
It’s an elegant solution, especially if you are browsing something with lots of linked text close together, such as a forum or tags on a news page.
Chrome is a relatively new addition to Android devices, replacing the previous stock browser.
It’s a definite improvement though and can be synced with the desktop version of Chrome.
It doesn’t look all that different from the desktop version either, with tabs running along the top of the screen and access to bookmarks and settings handled by a little button at the top right.
Bookmarks are split into categories for desktop, mobile and other devices – but they’re all accessible.
They’re displayed as thumbnails of the site, or its logo and a quick tap will take you straight to the site in question.
The browser settings screen, meanwhile, has a fairly comprehensive set of options, from text scaling to auto-filling-in-forms, and more.
As with so many other things on Android the browser can be switched for a different one if you’d prefer.
Though it launched as a Wi-Fi only device, there is now an option to get it with 3G, making it as useful on the go as an iPad as well (arguably more so, given its size).
That said, even if you’ve plumped for a Wi-Fi version (or bought it before there was the option to get one with 3G), Wi-Fi isn’t exactly hard to come by these days, and the Nexus 7 is ready to take on almost any wireless network you want to throw at it, even if it’s being tethered from a mobile hotspot.
The tablet comes as standard with 802.11b/g/n, although regrettably it’s only of the 2.4GHz variety, rather than the superfast 5GHz band.
No matter, it’s plenty fast enough for modern broadband speeds (and then some).
Bluetooth is also on hand, although Google doesn’t reveal which version. Regardless, it’s a nice feature to have.
Of course, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have become standard features these days, and the Google Nexus 7 goes one step beyond by including a near-field communication (NFC) chip, supporting both Android Beam for pushing files between compatible devices, as well as Google Wallet for contactless payment.
We didn’t have much luck using Android Beam to transfer a photo between the Nexus 7 and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0.4 – the tablet just threw up an error claiming the smartphone doesn’t support ‘large file transfers’.
Switching over to a Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.1, however, got things working just as magically as Google claims. Wireless connectivity otherwise worked exactly as you’d expect.
Camera and gallery
With the Nexus 7, Google and Asus have abandoned the notion of offering a rear-facing camera on an Android tablet. It’s probably a smart move – after all, how many of us have actually used the generally crummy cameras on our tablets anyway?
Oddly, Samsung reinstated it for the even less portable Google Nexus 10, but it’s certainly not missed here.
Instead, the Nexus 7 features a more practical 1.2MP front-facing camera, although Google chose to eliminate the dedicated Camera app from the device itself.
It’s understandable, especially with so many third-party candidates available from Google Play, but it does make the camera somewhat worthless for those just taking it out of the box. (Google Talk does come pre-installed, and a third-party Camera Launcher app is already available for restoring the Camera app).
Obviously, since there’s no camera app on board there’s also no specific settings to tweak when shooting – if you do get any settings they’ll be whatever’s built into the app you’re using.
To test drive the camera, we installed the free Skype and Instagram apps from Google Play.
They both worked perfectly, with no lag during video calls and no issues taking photos with the camera, though at only 1.2 megapixels, images were quite grainy.
As it’s a front-facing camera it’s not really designed for images anyway, with webcam and video calls being the clear intent.
It’s pretty grainy for that too, but that’s less of an issue in our opinion, particularly when most other tablets have similarly low-resolution, front-facing cameras.
The stock Android Gallery app looks quite nice on Android Jelly Bean, with large, gap-less tiles of images that can be viewed as a slideshow with just a tap.
Images load quickly and the Nexus 7 displays them in all their vivid, rich colour and detail.
The Gallery app also offers a wide range of editing and crop tools to enhance photos before sharing them, which includes the aforementioned Android Beam for tapping two devices together to make the transfer, no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth required.
The editing options take the form of everything from straightening and sharpening an image, to removing red eye and adding effects such as sepia and fisheye.
There’s also now the chance to apply filters to the photos you’ve got on the device, in a nod to Instagram.
Given the inherent limitations of the camera, the editing tools might go unused.
But, the gallery also syncs to your Google account, allowing you to access images taken on other Android devices or uploaded to Google +, and since these are likely to be higher-quality photos, it’s here that those editing tools might become more useful.
Last but not least, the Nexus 7 makes life easy on developers, tech journalists and even support folks by enabling screenshots to be taken simply by holding down the power/lock and volume down buttons at the same time.
By now you might be thinking a tablet this thin and light with a gorgeous display and high-powered, quad-core processor must have an Achilles’ heel – and it’s probably poor battery life, right?
Such an assumption would be wrong.
Google and Asus packed a generous 4325mAh battery into the Nexus 7, which promises up to eight hours of ‘active use’. Not terribly scientific, we know, but anyway, eight hours for something this small and thin is quite impressive.
To get there, the companies had to seal the battery – so you won’t be popping the back off to slap in another one when that last bit of juice is gone, but since few tablets offer swappable batteries to begin with, we’re OK with this.
In our time with the tablet Google’s claims have held up, as the battery seems to last the best part of a day when being ‘actively used’.
As usual the screen is the biggest drain – so you’ll get much more out of it listening to music than you will watching a film, but even then it put in a very solid performance.
We ran our standard battery test on the Nexus 7 – we turned Wi-Fi on, put all emails and social networks on to push notifications, turned the brightness up to full, charged it and then ran a 90-minute video.
At the end it was down to 85%, which is pretty good.
Essentially, that’s a 5% drain every thirty minutes, which might not sound great but with a blindingly-bright screen and notifications regularly being pushed to the device, it’s certainly better than we expected, particularly when you consider that in the same test the Google Nexus 10 dropped to 71% battery.
Other than manually turning the screen brightness down or turning off data connections, there aren’t any battery-saving options built in to the Google Nexus 7, but on this evidence we didn’t really feel the need for them, and as ever there are always tools that you can download from Google Play to help manage and conserve its battery life.
There is an issue out there though in the shape of the device not turning back on again if you accidentally drain the battery completely dry or leave it for long periods from the Android 4.2.1 update – this is concerning to some users, but we didn’t see any evidence of it during our tests.
It’s not clear yet whether the latest update to Android 4.2.2 fixed this problem, but if not there are apparently ways around it.
You can see how well the Nexus 7’s battery did against the iPad 3 too, by checking out the video below:
Movies, music and books
As an eBook reader the Nexus 7 is surprisingly useful, although for those with a Kindle or similar, there are inherent advantages to the e-ink technology.
Using the Kindle app or Google’s Play Books app means that you can download and sync your books quickly and efficiently and the text is nicely displayed.
Its diminutive size means that holding it in one hand is practical, and that makes it an effective option for those looking to carry lots of books around with them.
Obviously the fact that it’s backlit means that you don’t need a separate light or light case to read in the dark, though it also means you’ll suffer from screen glare.
Page turning is done with a swipe or tap on either side of the screen, and through the Play Books app this is niftily animated.
The Kindle app offers a more clunky sliding solution, but it doesn’t really detract from the reading experience.
When you’re reading, the familiar Android home, back and multitask buttons shrink to dots, giving you more space to see the all-important words.
Having access to most of the major ereaders and eBook stores all under one roof is a huge advantage over, say, a Kindle or other dedicated ereader, as it gives you instant access to an enormous range of content.
But the far more limited battery life and screen glare inherent in a tablet, mean we’re still not sure it’s really got enough to sway people from a dedicated Kindle.
As well as books there is also a selection of magazines available through apps such as Zinio.
Many of the big high street names can be found; you can download individual issues or take out a subscription and the prices are generally cheaper than print.
But while the Nexus 7 is the perfect size for reading a book it tends to feel just a little bit cramped for magazines.
Watching movies on the Google Nexus 7 is a breeze thanks to the bundled Play Movies app.
You can buy or rent films and TV shows from Google Play for generally quite reasonable prices.
They can then be streamed or downloaded to your tablet and viewed through the Play Movies app.
It’s a fairly basic player in terms of options but it does the important stuff: it plays your videos.
We tried a variety of different file types on it and they all played without a hitch, but if you do run into trouble there are alternative players available on Google Play and some of them have even more comprehensive support.
Though it’s not one of the best screens we’ve come across in tablet land (that honour either goes to the new iPad 4 or the Google Nexus 10, depending on whether you value resolution or contrast more), it’s plenty good enough to watch things on and easily competes with other 7-inch tablets.
Those seven inches are a sticking point too, as it makes for a noticeably less immersive viewing experience than a 10-inch tablet.
Then again, the Nexus 7 is also much more portable and more comfortable to hold for long periods, so it’s a sacrifice we can live with.
On the music front the Nexus 7 comes with Play Music, which is rather more full featured than Play Movies.
You can make playlists, sort music by artists, albums, songs, genres and recently played, and tweak settings with a built-in equaliser.
It’s also got quite an attractive layout jam packed full of artist and album artwork
Best of all, though, The Google Nexus 7 also features cloud music storage. With support for the uploading and streaming of up to 20,000 of your favourite songs all for the low, low price of free, it’s a service that’s definitely worth making use of.
Plus in a recent update, Instant Mixes were added, which create a playlist on the fly based around a song or artist of your choosing, so you can quickly and easily make a playlist around a particular style of music or mood.
The results aren’t always amazing, since the songs it chooses for the playlist are sometimes a bit questionable, but it’s still a great way to create a playlist in no time at all.
As with video there are plenty of third-party players available from Google Play, so if you don’t get on with Play Music or find an unsupported file type, there’s bound to be a competing player out there that’s got you covered.
It’s not all good news though.
The internal speakers in the Nexus 7 aren’t up to much; they’re loud enough to watch and listen to things in an otherwise quiet environment, but you still might find yourself wishing for more volume, so plugging it into headphones or external speakers is recommended wherever possible.
Google Play is well stocked with media and is pretty easy to navigate, but it still can’t quite compete with Apple’s App Store and iTunes services.
But with the Nexus 7 you’re not limited to just Google Play.
As well as getting media direct from Google’s store, you can also plug the Nexus 7 into the USB port of a PC and get content on or off it that way.
It’s about as straightforward as it gets; the Nexus 7 just mounts itself as a storage device and you can drag and drop to your heart’s content.
Besides the speakers, the other disappointment with the Nexus 7 from a media perspective is the lack of a microSD card slot.
No Nexus devices come with one and it’s frankly baffling for what are essentially Google’s flagship Android products.
Google has gone some way to remedying the problem by bulking the included storage up to 32GB and offering its music-streaming service for free.
But we still feel that adding a microSD card slot would turn this from a great tablet to easily the best 7-inch on the market, even if it meant paying a couple more notes for the privilege.
Apps and games
The Nexus 7 certainly has no problem with content, as Google itself offers a generous selection from its Play store, absolutely free after activating your Nexus 7 with a Google account.
Most key Google apps come pre-installed, but others such as Reader or even Google Voice can be installed from Play with ease.
Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon is also included to celebrate Google’s newfound ability to purchase film and TV content rather than renting it.
All-in-all it makes the £159 Nexus 7 (or even the £199 32GB model or £239 3G model) one of the best value tablets on the market, competed with only by the Kindle Fire HD in value terms (the iPad mini is a tasty proposition too, but is rather more of a strain on the wallet) .
Savvy users can even keep the free stuff coming by side-loading the competing Amazon Appstore and taking advantage of its Free App of the Day offering.
For the most part, apps work as expected on the Nexus 7.
The newly tablet-ised Google+ app actually makes us want to use that social desert more now, while Google Maps – complete with its excellent (and free) Navigation – looks quite slick on the larger display, and is actually quite usable in the car for turn-by-turn directions, assuming you either have the 3G version of the Nexus 7 or save maps for the areas you’re travelling in before leaving home first.
Google responded to being dropped from iOS devices by updating its maps (although it probably would have done so anyway) – and the latest version works beautifully with the rather large proviso that not all versions of the Nexus 7 have 3G, and thus are only useful if you plan ahead and download a selection of maps.
In fact, time with Apple’s Maps highlights just how good Google Maps is; you certainly won’t be looking enviously over an iPad user’s shoulder (unless it’s to ask if they can set up a Wi-Fi hotspot).
While most apps adapt well to the 7-inch screen, others suffer from being chained to the smartphone.
For example, SpeedTest.net appears as a small, phone-sized block in the centre of the screen, surrounded by black (think of iPhone apps viewed on the iPad without 2x mode).
There are a lot of apps to choose from, though, even if they’re not all well optimized for a larger display.
Google recently matched Apple’s 700,000 available apps and it’s still going strong, with loads more added every day.
These range from the borderline essential to the downright useless, and cover everything from train times and travel information, to productivity apps, cook books, social networks and office suites.
Plus, there are an almost overwhelming number of customisation apps, from new keyboards to lockscreen widgets, altered notifications screens to whole new launchers; there’s the flexibility to get your Nexus 7 looking and operating exactly to your liking.
There are also a decent number of games available on Google Play and the Nexus 7 is a great device to experience them on, especially thanks to the Nvidia Tegra 3 powering the heart of the tablet.
It’s big and powerful enough to get the most out of them, while still being small and light enough to comfortably play on.
Although we came across the occasional hiccup when scrolling around home screens, curiously we never once hit a snag when playing a game, even with pretty demanding ones such as Horn.
The one caveat to it being a good gaming device is that, while the selection is good, it’s still pretty small compared to what you’ll find on Apple’s App Store, while the overall quality of games is often lower as well.
If you’re buying a tablet primarily to play games on, then for the moment Apple’s offerings are really the only choice.
But there’s enough available on Android that it’s still worth getting some games to round out the whole media experience, and as an all-round media and web browsing device the Nexus 7 offers certain things that an iPad can’t, such as multiple media players and comprehensive file support.
Overall, Android still has an app problem on tablets, with fewer games available than we’d like and many apps attempting to adapt to the tablet screen, rather than being expressly written for it.
Apple clearly has the upper hand here, but now that Google has gifted Nexus 7 tablets to 6,000 of its most adoring developers, not to mention its launch of a 10-inch tablet in the form of the Nexus 10, we’re hoping that situation will improve in the months ahead.
We’ve fondled our fair share of tablets since the iPad redefined the category back in 2010.
The Google Nexus 7 by Asus doesn’t quite stack up in terms of specs to Apple’s media darling – and nor should it, considering the iPad sells for at least twice the price.There’s also the issue of that annoying iPad mini floating around and luring customers away – and that’s a tricky proposition to deal with.
It’s most certainly one of the best tablets for the budget-conscious, and thanks to that it’s a match for the bigger Apple offering.
It remains to be seen who will come out on top in the fight between Apple and Google, but for our money the Google Nexus 7 is still better value, although not the best tablet out there when it’s all rounded up.
In fact, having spent months with the Google Nexus 7, we’re delighted to tell you that this is a tablet that just keeps giving.
Having the option of the Nexus 7 when out and about is a major boon.
At its price point, the Nexus 7 brings not only impressive specs, but also the knowledge that it is replaceable, making it a device you can throw in your bag without any major worries.
Google Now is much improved with travel and sports information now beginning to match the level on offer for the US – especially with travel time now firmly baked into the OS structure.
Even with some fairly casual treatment, our device is scratch-free and working as well as it did out of the box, and the 7-inch screen and low weight makes it a versatile media player, backup e-book reader and mini-gaming machine on the go.
Like many recent Asus tablet products, the build quality is almost on par with Apple.
Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is exactly the right step for Google at this stage, focusing on enhancing the existing user experience – especially given the low penetration of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich – instead of throwing cool new features against the wall to see what sticks. Although the few new features that have been added – multiple users, for example – are much appreciated.
The price is still fantastic; in fact with the 32GB version now retailing for what the 16GB cost just a few months ago, it’s better value than ever.
The battery life is good; it’s surprisingly slick and powerful for the price, and in general it’s just a well-packaged and impressively thought-out option in the tablet market.
With a 3G version now available, one of our original issues has been sorted and, as you’ll read below, there’s really not a whole lot to dislike about it.
Android is still playing catch up when it comes to tablet-friendly apps and games, but we’re hopeful those kinks will start to get ironed out now that consumers have begun to gravitate to the Nexus 7.
As ever, the lack of a microSD card slot is disappointing and it’s a slight shame too that the battery is sealed in. The design, while robust, has been eclipsed by the beautiful aluminium shell of the iPad mini, and a noticeable creak in some devices around the bezel ruins the effect somewhat.
Our only other real issue is the muted contrast of the otherwise stellar IPS display; while it’s far from being a deal breaker it does let the side down a little, particularly when compared to the likes of the Kindle Fire HD.
The 7-inch market has been criminally under-served since the launch of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab (Kindle Fire and Fire HD excepted), so being able to choose something that isn’t a a new iPad was warmly welcomed when it was announced – and it’s been so successful that Apple had to crank out its own version.
Yes, there will be plenty of average folks who can’t afford to drop a few hundred pounds for some casual tablet fun, favouring the less expensive Nexus 7 over the iPad – and Apple will have a little more fear over its commanding market share in the tablet space.
The Google Nexus 7 is a remarkably solid device all round; the specs and screen are both good, it’s got a premium build quality and a very low price tag.
Google and Asus have even gone some way towards quashing some of our initial concerns by releasing 32GB and 3G versions.
It’s still not as good as it could be; as ever with the Nexus line there’s no microSD card slot, the screen, while generally strong, could do with richer colours and for games Android just can’t compete with Apple, but for most users these will be irrelevant concerns, particularly given the price tag.
It may not tread a lot of new ground, but the Nexus 7 is a strong performer and easily the best tablet around for the thriftier buyer.
The Nexus 7 is astounding value for money. If you’re on a budget this is the tablet to buy and, even if you’re not, it’s well worth considering, as its specs and performance make it competitive with tablets twice the price.
By James Rogerson, TechRadar