So I finally managed to get my hands on a Google Nexus 7 last night. I’ve been playing around with a device for a couple hours now and I have to say I am for the most part blown away. It’s been a while since I played the original prototype, the MeMo 370T back at CES in January. It’s no secret that the Nexus 7 is based on that device. The story goesthat Google approached Asus shortly after CES to work together on the first Nexus tablet after seeing how well the MeMo went over, it won several best of CES awards. Let’s take a look at the original first.
Now the tablet has changed a lot since it’s debut but there is no doubt that they share similar ancestry, in fact while I was digging around in the ‘About Tablet’ section in the settings I even came up with the model number “ME370T”
So let’s get to it, what do I think about the tablet? No denying I was very excited about the original back at CES as you can see in the video, and I can still say that I love this tablet! This thing flies, I haven’t been able to trip it up yet and I’ve been known to be pretty demanding of my devices. Straight out of the box I was up and running in less than five minutes, I immediately began installing my necessary apps on it. I installed something like 40 apps without the thing so much as skipping a beat…and did I mention I was also streaming music from TuneIn radio, syncing Facebook contacts, browsing Twitter, and messing around with Google Play Magazines at the same time? The Quad-Core Tegra 3 is no slouch, but it can’t take all the credit; I suspect that Android 4.1 Jellybean has a great deal do with it. I will be continuing to put the device through it’s paces and I’ll report back after more grueling tests.
Around the body you won’t find much in the way of port or buttons. You have a MicroUSB port for charging, data transfer, and now audio over USB on the bottom, to the right of that along the bottom edge you’ll find a 3.5mm audio in/out jack. If you’ve used another Nexus device before the bottom of the left edge will have your familiar pogo pins for a future desk dock (and maybe car dock?). On the front of the device you have a 1.2MP VGA front-facing camera for video calls and a few other apps that have been updated to support it. For audio you have a small microphone hole at the top left of the backing and a long speaker grill along the bottom of the back. Finally on the upper right side you have your screen lock/power button and a volume rocker beneath that. Those last two items are the only ones I have some issue with, the buttons are a little too flat and difficult to feel out with your fingers without looking (at least at first); I imagine it’ll take some getting used to. The overall effect of all of this is a very clean and slick look/feel to the device.
I’m inclined to agree with what Google has said about the ergonomics of the device, the 7″ form factor feels great in the hand and is comfortable for extended one-handed use. One of the significant changes from the CES model is the backing, it went from a thinner plastic backing with a concentric design to something that feels a lot more like a mix between leather and soft touch plastic. The result is really very good, I’m not quite sure why I’ve seen a few complaints about it. It has a very premium feel to it and because it’s not glossy like some other tablets you don’t have to worry nearly as much about smudging or scratching.
I would consider myself to be a slight audiophile and while the speakers aren’t going to be winning any awards anytime soon I was more than comfortable sitting on the couch and listening to some music from my Google Music library while browsing Reddit and my Twitter feed. I was actually surprised by the frequency reproduction on the tablet, I found it actually tended to lean towards lower sounds though. Volume is pretty good in a calm environment but it definitely won’t be enough for watching a movie on a long car trip even at full volume.
The speaker grill being at the bottom gave me some mixed results. When holding the device in portrait mode my hands actually cupped over it nicely which amplified the sound, however in landscape I found more often than not I would end up covering the speakers and muffling the sound which is really a shame because that would prove to be a problem when watching movies.
I haven’t used the device long enough to make a definitive statement but so far battery life is looking very strong, I could definitely see it lasting all day for all but the heaviest usage cases.
What’s Not So Cool
Now I’ve had a lot of good things to say about this tablet but I do have a few gripes with it. First off the lack of expandability, one of the changes that was made from the MeMo was that the MicroSD slot was removed, most argue that it’s Google’s push towards cloud storage. For someone like me with a music library approaching 20GB and photos probably pretty close to 10GB, a maximum of 16GB of storage (~13.24GB usable) doesn’t quite cut it. To add insult to injury Google did not enable USB mass storage over the device’s USB host, keyboards and mice work just fine but if you want to plug in a flash drive out of the box you’re out of luck. There has been a workaround using Chainfire’s Stickmount root app but it’s less than straightforward for an average user (to be fair the functionality may not even occur to the average user).
I’ve had a few issues with the UI on certain apps, the 7″ form factor being lightly tread territory some apps just use the phone UI while others revert to tablet mode. Some apps look great and others end up looking ridiculous but I think as more Nexus 7’s get out there this issue will start to disappear because developers will be optimizing their apps for the new design guidelines presented at Google I/O this year.
The front-facing camera is pretty poor quality, it’ll do alright for video calls but forget about taking self portraits. Google doesn’t even have a camera launcher for you to start using the camera. Paul O’Brien of MoDaCo has put out a camera launcher app but the results are not pretty.
There are a few other gripes here and there but I think I’ve already gone on too long with these first impressions and I had better stop before I end up doing the whole review right now. First impressions though, this thing is great, albeit with a few to-be-expected compromises when it comes in at a price point starting at $200.
More to come soon!