This is Part 2 of my ongoing Nexus 7 and Android/Jelly Bean review. Here’s the introduction, with links to all the parts.
The Nexus 7 feels great in the hand. Its size is shockingly smaller than the iPad I’m used to, but its weight is seriously nice. The back is made of a rubbery-plastic that’s covered in dimples, kind of like a golf ball. It feels premium even though it’s plastic and provides a nice grippy surface. That’s important, since this device seems to want to be held in one hand.
The only buttons are on the right-hand side. There’s a rocker to control the volume, and a too-hard-to-find power button to bring the thing to life. Gone are the hardware buttons of Android old, and that’s mostly a good thing. I do miss having an easy to press hardware button on the face, rather than having to hunt for the one on the side to turn the tablet on. The nice part about the main buttons be drawn on-screen is that they change orientation with the rest of the interface when you rotate the device from portrait to landscape and back. I’ll write more about Android’s default set of system buttons, which I found lacking in previous releases, later when I talk about the OS.
There’s a mini-USB port on the bottom for charging and data transfer with other devices, and it’s certainly nice that Google used a standard to support these functions, rather than a proprietary port like Apple did. The Nexus 7 also came with a charger.
The headphone port is on the bottom corner of the tablet, which I think is generally an improvement over having it on the top, where the headphone cable tends to run across the screen. It’s true that on devices like these the “top” can mean anything since they rotate the UIs easily enough. Still, it’s a good idea. The only small gripe I have is that it tends to put the port right in my palm when holding the tablet. No biggie. The sound is fine. The tinny speakers are nothing to write home about, although it sounded just fine through earbuds.
There are some dimples on the side that are probably for accessories, and I’ve heard a dock is coming. I don’t have any accessories.
The screen is something I was really worried about, coming from the Retina Display. Have no fear, this screen is good. It’s definitely not as good as the retina, but it’s close enough. The resolution is 720p on a small screen, so you generally don’t see pixels unless you’re trying to. Screen brightness is changeable, and I didn’t have any problem finding settings that pleased me in all lighting conditions. It’s not good outside in bright sunlight, but none of these kinds of devices are.
It’s a 16 x 9-ish (actually 16 x 10) screen, so it’s great for watching movies and using the entire screen. It’s not quite as great for books, but mostly because of the software, so I’ll write more about that later.
Two places the screen size and resolution do let the Nexus down is reading magazines and comic books. I found that small type on magazine pages is illegible and lacking detail. On the retina display, even if type is too small to read, you can tell that all the information is there. In a lot of cases, that’s not true on the Nexus. Comic books also want a bigger screen if you like to read them page-by-page like I do. Instead, I had to read them panel-by-panel for the most part in order to really feel comfortable and feel like I really got to appreciate the art.
The screen is surrounded by a black bezel that’s outside the touch sensitive area, where you can rest your fingers or gain purchase when gripping it. I found that there isn’t quite enough of this area, and I tended to squeeze the sides more than I do with the larger iPad. When I did allow my fingers to sit in this area I found that I triggered touch events fairly often. I think just a little more bezel would have been helpful.
There’s a front-facing camera just above the screen, if you care about that, which I don’t. I never use the one on my iPad, nor do I expect to use this one. I’ll try out a Google Hangout just to make sure it works. (I take it back: the one thing I use the camera for on my iPad is depositing checks with the wonderful USAA iPad app. There’s an Android equivalent, but it’s not yet compatible with the Nexus 7. Come on, USAA!)
The battery charges very quickly compared to my iPad–it took probably between two and three hours, but I didn’t time it. I used it frequently for two days before needed to recharge. The screen is by far the biggest draw on the battery, and your mileage will vary. Nothing but good things to say about the battery so far.
The Nexus 7 is (so far) a WiFi-only device. That’s a big bummer, because I want to use this thing everywhere, just like I do my iPad. No 4G means that Navigation, the new Google Now, Google Wallet and other on-the-go applications are a lot less useful. I’m sure there’ll eventually be one with a cell-based data connection.
The WiFi is good. At home, there’s a place where my MacBook Pro has terrible WiFi reception and the iPad is just passable. The Nexus 7 appears to have no trouble connecting, showing 3-out-of-4 bars there.
I mentioned Google Wallet a moment ago, and should mention that the Nexus 7 has NFC, so it should be a functional payment device using Google Wallet. I’ll probably try it someplace where I can also be on WiFi.
The Nexus 7 also has Bluetooth, but I haven’t yet hooked it to my portable Bluetooth keyboard. I’ll try that later and report back. I’m sure it works fine.
It’s got the now-normal battery of sensors, so it can tell quite a lot about its position and rotation. Works great.
The Nexus 7 hardware doesn’t disappoint. Asus did a great job in manufacturing it, and Google was very smart in its decisions about materials. It’s a surprisingly nice, complete package, especially when you consider the $199 price tag (I got the model with 8 GB of storage). There’s plenty here to impress and little to dissuade. The only question will be if one wants the 7-inch form factor in a tablet. My first impression is that the size is nice, and may even be better than the ~10-inch iPad for a lot of people. For me, I prefer the larger size, but like this form-factor a lot more than I thought I would now that I’ve lived with it awhile.