Google has launched the Nexus 7 tablet, and it's a quad-core super-portable slate designed for gaming, movies and ereading. Built by Asus for the big G, it’s the first tablet to run the new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, powered by a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU and a 12-core GPU – all the better for rendering that high-def action.
The Nexus 7 sports a seven-inch, high-definition screen at 1280x800 pixels, with a sturdy plastic chassis that feels light but hardy in the hand. It’s 10.5mm thick and clocks in at 340g, easily used with just one hand.
Though an accelerometer will flip movies into landscape if you hold it thus, the tablet is built to be used in portrait orientation. The dotted pattern on the back gives it extra tactility.
Interestingly, the tablet is bereft of branding by the big G, its back cover brandishing the Nexus logo and a smaller Asus mark only.
There’s a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera for video calls and two mics, one on either side, so no matter which hand you hold the Nexus 7 in you won’t obscure sound. A 3.5mm audio jack sits at the base of the tablet.
The screen itself features a OGS (One Glass Solution) panel that comprises just one layer, bringing the width of the display from 1.2mm to 0.7mm. The panel also uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass for scratch resistance.
Under the hood, there’s that quad-core chip, 8GB or 16GB of on-board memory, plus Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC support. A large 4,325mAh battery ponies up to nine hours of HD video playback and an impressive 300 hours on standby. Notably missing are an SIM slot for 3G connection, rear camera and expandable memory slot. No doubt this helps keep the cost down to an impressive £159 for the 8GB version and £199 for the 16GB.
Android Jelly Bean is fast and smooth, with neat transitions and quick load times. The HD display shows off the clean lines of Jelly Bean widgets and icons, and the spacious design of the interface.
Along the base of the screen is a customisable shortcut bar – preloaded is Chrome, Reading, Movies, Music and Google Play, indicating the central purpose of the tablet: consuming media.
We tested out a movie and an ebook indoors but under a spotlight, and the IPS display was still highly visible. IPS displays have 178-degree viewing angles, which is ideal for sharing a movie, and the 400-nit brightness of this screen improves visibility in direct sunlight.
Transformers in HD looked great, while a randomly chosen book from Google Play’s bookshelf was clear and pleasant to the eye. Downloads from Google Play show up in a My Library tab with nicely sized covers.
Voice recognition has been beefed up in Jelly Bean, with improved dictation in messages and voice search. We tried asking the meaning of life, and got a taster of the revamped search display as well as a clinical voice explaining this organic function.
Dictation in an email was less accurate – but that’s common for our non-Queen-approved English. The email app itself is efficiently laid out – as always, if you use Gmail as your main email, you’re perfectly catered for on Android as your labels, inbox and drafts are all synched immediately.
Google and Asus are collaborating closely on the tablet and it’s the first device where Google will manage the firmware updates directly – which means future Android upgrades should be available for the Nexus 7 first.
The Nexus 7 does an impressive balancing act of packing in future-friendly features like NFC and the quad-core chip, and eschewing ones you’d expect but probably won’t miss – extra memory and a rear camera. It’s well designed for portability, with a durable casing that can be tossed in a bag and a screen that should work well outdoors, though on that front the lack of 3G connection is therefore a surprise. But at £159-£199, the Nexus 7 is more than half the price of the market dominating iPad. Considering the dearth of budget tablets that are also usable, the Nexus 7 is probably going to start (and own) something new.
The Nexus 7 by Asus is available in 8GB or 16GB versions from Google Play, and in 16GB from high street retailers.