Google Nexus 7 (2013) review
UPDATE - IS THE NEXUS 7 STILL THE SMALL TABLET TO BUY?
The 'New' Nexus 7 has now been out for eight months, but is still the best small Android to buy? We're still at least four months away from an annual replacement, and in teh past Google has not been quick to replace devices on such a regular basis - we're still waiting for another Nexus 10 for example. Things are moving quickly in the tablet market too, so what are the Nexus 7's main strengths and who is the new opposition?
The strongest and most recent competitors is undoubtedly the Asus Memo Pad 8. Like the Nexus 7, this excellent little tablet is made by Asus, but with the Nexus 7 largely sticking to its original £199 selling price, the Memo Pad 8 is a little cheaper at £180.
It's bigger too, in a good way, with an 8in display, though that screen only has a 1,280x800 resolution, compared to the Full HD one on the Nexus 7. On the plus side, it has a better battery life, a micro SD card slot for expanding the memory and an HDMI output for connecting to a TV. In short it's better equipped for watching videos on, but the screen isn't as sharp.
If you're looking to spend less then try out the Advent Vega Tegra Note. This 7in tablet is available for as little as £130, but you get the latest Nvidia Tegra 4 chipset, which is far faster than the aging Nexus 7's SnapDragon S4 Pro. Again the screen has a lower resolution, but it's better equipped, and has a better battery life.
In short, no one has successfully taken on Google directly with another 7in Full HD tablet, instead opting to make interesting alternatives to that device. For the time being then, if you want a great, pin-sharp screen on a small tablet, the Google Nexus 7 is still the one to buy.
When Google launched the first Nexus 7 in 2012, it completely changed what users expected from inexpensive Android tablets. Being able to get a great screen, a powerful chipset and the very latest version of Android for £159 was a revelation. Nothing could beat it in terms of value, but the march of progress has been rapid in twelve months. Google has paid attention to its competitors and worked closely with manufacturing partner Asus to improve the Nexus 7 in almost every way for the 2013 model.
Although you could never call the original Nexus 7 ugly, the silver plastic edging around the screen bezel and dimpled rubberised chassis certainly made it feel a little toy-like. The same certainly can't be said of the slick new version, which has slimmed down to a mere 8.7mm thick. It's also lost weight, dropping from 340g to 290g. Combined with a thinner screen bezel (around 6mm from either side) you really notice the difference when holding the tablet one-handed – smaller hands will be able to hold it comfortably and it won't give you wrist ache after a train journey spent leafing through eBooks.
The top and bottom bezels are still as thick as they were before, but arguably you need this much room to stop your thumbs from obscuring the screen. The tablet even looks a little asymmetric with the black Android interface bar at the bottom, but this is just an optical illusion and one that disappears when watching videos in landscape mode.
The screen is, without a doubt, the new Nexus 7's crowning feature. The 7in, 16:10 IPS panel has fantastic viewing angles and colour accuracy is superb, even beating the iPad Mini in our tests by covering 100% of the sRGB colour gamut. It's incredibly bright, reaching a peak 526.22cd/m2 at its maximum setting, meaning you'll be able to take it outside on a bright day and still be able to see everything onscreen. Reflections from bright lights were minimal too.
Photos and videos look vibrant without becoming oversaturated and black response is excellent for an LED-backlit display. At 1,920x1,200, Google says the Nexus 7 is the sharpest 7in tablet ever, and we're inclined to agree – text looks gorgeous at virtually any size, high resolution images have incredible definition and 1080p video loses nothing in translation to the small screen.
There's even a competent set of speakers to match the stunning visuals. It's a tough call whether to place speakers on the front for clearer, more direct audio, or on the rear for a cleaner looking device, we narrowly prefer the front but Google have opted for the rear. The stereo speakers are placed at the far left and right ends of the tablet, when held in landscape mode to watch video. They're loud enough that you won't need to reach for a pair of headphones every time you load up Netflix and the stereo sound is a big step up over the mono speakers found on the old model, or even the iPad Mini's closely-spaced pair.
Although the soft-touch rubber makes a reappearance on the rear of the tablet, there's less of it than there was on the original Nexus 7 and the dimples are gone. Although this arguably makes the new model a little slipperier to hold, it still has more grip than the glossy plastic backs found on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab or Asus MemoPad HD 7. The power and volume buttons are ever so slightly hidden beneath the lip of the screen bezel so it took us a while to find them without looking every time, but they are sensibly placed for both left-and right handed users. Apart from the 3.5mm audio jack at the top and micro USB port on the bottom, there are no other physical connections (no HDMI most notably), although there are plenty of wireless connections.
Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, wireless display and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi are all on-board, as is Qi wireless charging. That last feature could come in handy, as although a battery score of just over eight hours in our light use test is above average, it's not quite the ten hours we saw from the original Nexus 7. The battery is slightly smaller in the new model, but has the advantage that it doesn't drain quite so quickly in standby mode. During real everyday use, you should still get more use out of this new model between charges, even if it doesn't look like it on paper.
HARDWARE AND BENCHMARKS
This is partly because Google has switched from Nvidia to Qualcomm internals, opting for a previous generation Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset rather than a newer Snapdragon 800. This was likely due to cost concerns, and although it's still a quad-core chip running at 1.5GHz, it will be interesting to see how well it performs in twelve months' time. After all, the original Nexus 7 felt fast last year, but is rather sluggish today by comparison to the latest devices.
The Adreno graphics chip is also well equipped for playing 3D games. Scoring 11793 and 7154 respectively in the Ice Storm and Ice Storm Extreme 3DMark benchmarks, it outpaced almost every other tablet we've reviewed. Games such as Real Racing 3 were incredibly smooth, showing no signs of dipping frame rates. It might not have Nvidia's Tegra-specific graphics effects in certain games any more, but you'll be able to play pretty much anything smoothly for the foreseeable future.
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