Look and feel
The Google Nexus 7 tablet is a compact tab that’s perfect for carrying around. It might not be the slimmest tab around, but it looks smart and the soft-touch rear feels good, although the glossy front is a magnet for scuff marks and dust
Ease of use
Android Jelly Bean is a beautifully smooth update to Ice Cream Sandwich. The Nexus 7’s screen is perfectly responsive, which makes it ideal for playing with apps and surfing the web
You might not get a rear-facing camera, but we’re not saddened at all by this omission. The Nexus 7’s front-facing camera means you get Skype with friends, and you get built-in GPS and NFC
With a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor on board, you’ll have no worries playing the latest power-hungry games for some time to come. We saw no glitches or stutters when messing around in apps or zipping through Jelly Bean’s menus
We got almost nine hours of movie streaming on a single charge, placing the Nexus 7 above most other Android tablets for battery life
Ever since we first heard whisperings of a Google-brand tablet, we’ve been cyber-stalking the search giants relentlessly, in hope of a teasing glimpse. After all, the creators of Android were bound to conjure up something special, after impressing the world with the excellent own-brand Nexus S smartphone. When you also consider that Asus helped produce the hardware – the same Asus that built the epic Transformer Prime tablet – it’s hard not to be thrilled.
It’s been a lengthy wait, but the Nexus 7 tablet is here and we’ve fallen in helpless, drooling love – and the moment we saw the price, we almost exploded with joy. Yep, this isn’t a typo: just £160 will bag you a quad-core tablet with a crisp and colourful screen, plus access to over half a million apps and games.
The two tablets
This has been a fantastic month for Android tablets, as we’ve been blessed with two excellent wallet-friendly seven-inch devices. First came Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 (seven-inch edition), boasting a sleek all-black look. The Google Nexus 7 has a similar design, with a thick black border surrounding the screen, giving you plenty of space to clutch it. At 340g it won’t ache your arms either, making it comfortable to wield. That glossy front might collect fingerprints like China collects gold medals, but flip the Nexus 7 over and you’ll find a textured rear that’s soft to the touch and easy to grip. It’s not a super-slender tab like the Toshiba AT200, but it’s not particularly chunky either.
While the Galaxy Tab 2 sported Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, the Nexus 7 comes with the very latest version of Google’s OS (nicknamed Android Jelly Bean 4.1). It’s the same slick interface, giving you five desktops to populate with your apps and widgets, plus a shortcut bar at the bottom for your favourite programs.
However, Jelly Bean has a number of tweaks that boost it over Ice Cream Sandwich. Most impressive is the smooth transitions between desktops and menus, which finally make Android feel as slick as iOS. Add in full customisation – you can personalise the Nexus 7 with whatever wallpaper, widgets and whatnot your heart desires – and this is the best mobile OS to date. We've already reviewed Google Android Jelly Bean, so check out our full Jelly Bean review for more info.
One of the major draws of Android tablets is the Google Play store, which currently packs over 600,000 apps and games, as well as a host of ebooks, mags and movies. The choice is overwhelming but you can browse charts of the most popular downloads, and Google is keen to start you off, handing you £15 credit (a limited time offer) and giving you some freebies to play with – although we’re not sure that a Jeffrey Archer ebook and the latest Transformers film will be to everyone’s tastes. Still, to get anything at all considering the low price of the tablet is commendable.
The seven-inch display is a great size if you plan on taking this tablet further afield than your couch. Don’t worry about the screen getting scratched up either, as it’s made from mega-tough Corning Gorilla Glass. We’ll happily watch entire movies on the Nexus 7, which look fantastically crisp thanks to the sharp 1280x800-pixel resolution. When the camera zooms into someone’s face, you can see every pore and blemish – truly terrifying during home movies.
Full HD video streams perfectly over a decent Wi-Fi network, but if you can’t find a hotspot you’ll have to stay offline, as there’s no 3G support. You can always carry films or TV shows on the 8GB built-in drive (boosted to 16GB in the £200 model) if you find yourself web-less, a generous amount of storage given the price although there’s no microSD card slot to upgrade it. Don’t worry about the battery dying mid-trip, as we managed to stream video for almost nine straight hours before the Nexus 7 died on us.
Unbelievably for the price, Google has crammed a quad-core Tegra 3 processor inside the Nexus 7. If you’re not familiar with mobile processors, this makes the Nexus 7 one of the most powerful tablets around, able to run all kinds of apps simultaneously without issue. We tested some of the latest 3D games and they played perfectly as expected, with silky smooth frame rates. Gamers get serious future-proofing, so should be able to play the most intensive titles for the foreseeable future.
Of course, all that power would be pointless if the touch-screen was unresponsive, as you’d end up being pummelled into mush in every game you played. Thankfully the display responds instantly to every swipe, which is especially noticeable during fast-paced games and when browsing through complex websites. Google’s own Chrome browser comes pre-installed and is a speedy way of surfing the web as you can open multiple tabs to do several things at once.
Google Chrome on the Nexus 7 isn’t perfect, however. Webpages take a moment to update when zooming in and out, and we couldn’t play videos over BBC iPlayer because of a lack of Flash support. More strange is the lack of landscape support – tilting the Nexus sideways doesn’t flip the screen, so you have to constantly hold the tablet in portrait mode. This can get annoying on some of the busier websites, where text appears alongside photos. That said, we still really enjoyed wasting the odd hour online, and other browsers are available if it bugs you.
Considering the puny price, you’d be smart for thinking that the Nexus 7 comes with barebones features. We can happily report that you’d also be wrong. Not only does Google’s tablet come with built-in GPS, which helps with localised searches and navigating in Google Maps, but it also has full NFC support. This is a future-proofing move, for when household devices such as TVs all support NFC – at which point you'll be able to share a video with your TV simply by tapping it with your tablet, for instance.
Google has cut a corner with the cameras, as you only get a front-facing lens for Skype calls – there’s no rear-facing camera for taking random snaps on the go. We’re not too sad at the omission, as wielding a tablet to take photos has always seemed strange to us. The front-facer is typically low resolution, but works fine for video chats with friends and family.
If you’re after an Android tablet, especially one that’s portable enough to carry around everywhere, there’s little reason to look elsewhere. Google’s Nexus 7 is a well-built seven-incher rocking a powerful quad-core processor and sharp, vibrant screen, and costs less than almost all of its rivals.
The Google Nexus 7 is available now from Carphone Warehouse, for just £199 for the 16GB model
The Google Nexus 7 is also up for 'tablet of the year' award in our Mobile Choice Awards 2012 - vote by clicking the banner below, and you could win one of the year's hottest phones!