Google has made it official: the search giant launched the Nexus 7, a powerful and affordable 7-inch tablet running the new Android Jelly Bean 4.1 operating system, powered by NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC (system-on-chip) and made by ASUS.
The highly rumored device lived up to our expectations, for a starting price of $199 (8 GB version) the quality is awesome. The 1280×800 IPS display enhanced by the new ASUS TruVivid engine delivers a great viewing experience, with well contrasted colors. Additionally, the quad-core 1.3 GHz Tegra 3 processor with a 12-core GPU brings serious power to the mix, enabling an enjoyable entertainment experience.
To keep the price down, the elegant device has been stripped from anything unnecessary, connectivity-wise, you’ll get only a Micro USB port and an audio jack, it seems that 3G will not be supported and there is no rear camera.
The 8GB version will be priced at $199 while the 16GB model will cost $249, both devices
come with preloaded entertainment such as the Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon movie and the Bourne Dominion book. Lucky Nexus 7 owners will also get $25 credit to spend in Google Play. It is available for pre-order via play.google.com and is expected to begin shipping in mid-July.
We got a unit on the first day of Google I/O and we spend the next day to test it for you.
If you want to take a quick look what’s in the box of the Nexus 7, you can take a look at the photo gallery. The tablet comes with a a charger and a cable.
We all perceive the gadget’s usefulness differently depending on our lifestyle, so let me tell you where I come from. Most of my (computing) time is spent using a powerful desktop computer (a PC) with two large displays. If I need to get some real work done outside of the office, I use a laptop (Macbook Air 11” + Windows 7). On the go, I keep track of emails with a smartphone, but I tend to reply only moderately from it because typing long emails is a bit painful on a touchscreen. With the tablet, I check news websites and social networks a lot, and I often use a laptop or tablet on my couch.
Because tablets have such a long battery life, I have been searching for ways to use them as laptop replacement in some situations like trade shows and meetings where I don’t do anything drastic like design or video-editing.
At first glance, the Nexus 7 looks great for a $200 tablet, the display quality was especially surprising knowing the price point.
The chassis offers a good build quality and the textured backside provides a good grip with one hand, a Google representative told me that the manufacturer moved around the internal components so the tablet feels well balanced when resting in the palm.
At 340 grams (0.7lbs), the Nexus 7 feels very light and is comfortable to hold in one hand.
The ports are limited to the micro USB and the audio jack at the bottom, probably to maintain the manufacturing costs low.
A key component of a tablet is the display, and when manufacturers take the affordable route, usually they have a hard time to provide a decent display. The Nexus 7 features a 1280×800 IPS display covered with scratch-resistant Corning FIT Glass.
I played the same video both on the iPad and the Nexus 7 and the image quality was similar. See the display comparison in the photo above (iPad latest edition on the right).
Jelly Bean 4.1, the new Android OS update build on top of Ice Cream Sandwich, was introduced on the first day of Google I/O. It mainly brings a faster and a more fluid interface with an improved search and voice search experience. In the picture you can see how the home screen looks like.
To address this, Google has introduced well-known techniques such as VSync (vertical sync) and Triple buffering. Without entering into much details, Vsync basically synchronizes any screen modifications with the LCD screen refresh. Vsync is a fundamental piece in any kind of screen-related work, and I’m surprised to see this as a “feature”. Pretty much anything with a decent screen should use Vsync.
Triple-buffering is an extension of the double-buffering technique (duh). The concept is simple: what you are looking at on your screen is a piece of computer memory called the “front buffer”. When things change, they are typically drawn pixel by pixel by the graphics hardware. We don’t want users to “see” all these minute modifications, so we want to present the new screen only when it’s done drawing. To do that, the new screen is built in a “back buffer”, which is hidden until it is ready to show, ideally, every 1/60th of a second. The back buffer and front buffer are the reversed.
Unfortunately, it may happen that something interrupts/slows down the composition of the “back buffer”, so when the time comes to refresh the screen, the “back buffer” isn’t ready and we have to wait until the next screen refresh cycle: that’s how choppiness is born.
With triple buffering, there is always one buffer ready when the screen refresh happens, so things are smoother. This is a long paragraph to explain it, but we’re glad that Google finally decided to grab the bull by the horns.
Google also talked about Touch Responsiveness. This refers to the fact that when we touch a physical object, the reaction is immediate. When we do it on a touchscreen display, we expect an immediate reaction. This was not always the case with Android, and again both iOS and Windows Phone were better. The Nexus 7 basically uses what NVIDIA had shown at CES six months ago: a combination of hardware and software improvements that reduces the touch display latency. The result: faster response time.
We did not take the time to test both user interface side by side. However, on the Nexus 7, the interface across the operating system and the apps is super fast and fluid. We saw the side by side demo from Google on stage at Google I/O – picture below.
Widgets automatic resizing
During the keynote we got a demo of the automatic resizing capability of the widgets when they are moved on a different screen with less real estate. Additionally, icons move around to make room for the new widget, it worked well when I tried the last feature, I have to admit this is very practical and improved the fluidity of the user experience. In the picture above you can see how you can re-size the widget manually.
Google announced today that it improved the predictive keyboard in Jelly Bean. I tested it against the one in ICS and I could not really see a difference. Overall the keyboard force feedback feels very comfortable and the responsiveness is super fast.
Voice Typing is one of the coolest features that was just introduced. If you are an Android user, you should be familiar with the voice recognition from Google. Basically, you speak and the phone sends the phrase to a Google server, which interprets it and sends text back. It is often faster than tapping on the screen. The downside is that it requires an active data connection, and even when that’s available, there is a “lag” before getting a response from the server.
Voice Typing builds on the same idea, but is better. The most important feature is that it does not need the server to do the voice processing. Your phone does it. This obviously means that no data connection is required, so this works all the time. The lag time between request and response should also be faster, which leads to better productivity. What’s not to like?
It is fair to say that Google’s voice recognition is far better than Apple’s Siri (which is based on Dragon Dictate technology). Google can pick up details like punctuation, and recognize much longer phrases during dictation. Last but certainly not least, Google’s voice recognition works great, even if you have a foreign accent like I do – and Google just made the best, better.
New Camera Application
The Nexus 7 does not have a rear camera so we cannot try the new navigation between the gallery and the camera application. From the presentation we saw on stage, we know that it is now possible to review your photos while shooting, directly from the camera application, simply by swiping with your finger to the right. Previously, you had to switch to the photo gallery to view the previous shots. It is also easier to get rid of a picture: just swipe it away to delete it. I wonder if you get a confirmation request before total deletion. I compared the photo gallery navigation with an ICS device, and the transition animation between photos has been changed, in Jelly Bean you get a nicer animation with the previous picture fading away instead of just sliding horizontally.
Android Beam enhancement
NFC is becoming trendy, and Google announced that today, more than one million NFC enabled Android devices are shipping every week. Two more NFC features were introduced with Jelly Bean: the ability to pair the phone with a bluetooth headset or to transfer pictures just by tapping the devices. I have not tried it.
The notifications have been improved, now you can start to read your email directly in the notification panel (see picture). Notifications expand on their own as they bubble up to the top. You can also opt to expand or collapse it at your will with a simple 2-finger gesture.
It is now possible to email or call directly from notifications when you are late to a meeting. I have not tried that yet, I am sure it is convenient though.
Search – New User Interface
Google Search in Jelly Bean displays search results in “cards”. This concept is not new, Palm was the first to bring cards to the mobile user experience with the Palm Pre.
I like the design of the new home screen of the Google Search application, the drawings change randomly, it looks like they are location based (did not check for sure). Please note that you can start searching directly from the tablet home screen without launching the Google app.
Improved Voice Search
As we saw it in the demo on stage, Voice Search on Jelly Bean is faster, better, understands natural language better, and speaks the answer back to you.
One of the major update of Jelly Bean is Google Now. Google Now gives you the information you need at the time you need it, automatically. By monitoring your search history, location history and calendar, it will be able to figure out what you might need, and when. Additionally, the more you use it, the more it learns and the smarter it gets.
Google Now is accessible from the Google Search app, here you have a nicely designed screen with a preloaded card with the weather at your location, from this screen you can search the tablet and the internet, using voice or typing.
I performed several restaurants search and I have to admit it works well and fast: you get a card with the restaurant name and a small map, then you can click on the card and it will direct you to the map application where you will see the location and a box with the restaurant information including reviews and photos accessible in one click.
I also tried the voice search for several high profile politicians, including the demo that google showed on stage “who is the Japanese Prime Minister” that returned a card with his photo and Nexus 7 spoke his name. Not all the politicians get their cards, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton does not have one for example, the results for her are displayed in a regular Google page (photo above, right). President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff get their own card though (photo above, left), when you scroll down you will additional results displayed as a regular Google page and if you click on the card it will direct you to their Wikipedia page. I wonder why some cards are missing, since they are build from Wikipedia pages.
As I mentioned in the Voice Typing paragraph, despite my foreign accent, Google Voice Search recognised every sentence I said. This is impressive, other voice recognition applications we have tried are usually unable to deal with our accents in English.
Keyboard (very good): Google introduced a new improved predictive keyboard, claiming that now it features a faster responsiveness and better predictive typing technology. When I tested it on a 10-inch tablet with ICS, I could not really tell the difference on the predictive typing side. The keyboard is surely very responsive, additionally the 7 inch display form factor is perfect for a great typing experience.
Skype video call (good):
I tried Skype video call over WiFi with a friend located in Florida and it worked very well. The incoming video quality is great (see picture) the audio quality was good. She told me that the image quality on her Apple laptop was good as well. However when I tried with Hubert, the image on his computer was slightly blurry.
Skype chat during video call (could be better): I wish the Skype interface would be better designed for tablets. Unlike on the desktop, when I tried to chat with my friend during the video call, the app switched screen where only the text messages were displayed, and I had to continue the conversation on audio only. The tablet size is large enough to allow to display video and chat in the same screen, I hope the feature will be provided in the next Skype update.
Office docs (regular): The tablet offers a basic viewer to open and view your Microsoft Office documents but it is read only. I downloaded the free trial for the OfficeSuite Pro 6 ($0.99), and I could edit a Word document, a PowerPoint presentation and an Excel Sheet easily, the flexibility of the app is certainly not on par with the Microsoft Desktop Suite but it gets the job done when you need to edit existing documents. It can read PDFs as well.
There are other good alternatives to this app such as Quick Office Pro which costs $15. Remember, when it comes to editing Office documents on tablets there is no silver bullet.
Web browsing – Chrome (excellent):
The page loading time is fast and the interface is snappy. The Chrome interface looks very similar to previous versions of the default browser in Android devices, personally, I like it a lot.
Facebook (slow): The current version of Facebook for Android tablets is not impressive, it does not take advantage of the larger display at all. For example, the background image in my profile page wouldn’t display, and more importantly, the app was quite slow…. the iOS app doesn’t have the same “features” yet, in the iPhone we can see the profile background image but not on Android.
Google Play now includes magazines: Google announced the addition of magazines to its Google Play offering with partners including Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith. You can see Google’s own demo of the new feature here. The Google Play Magazine viewer is neat, just like the news widget and the Play music app, you can flick through the magazine covers in 3D.
Once inside a magazine, as any other reader, swiping the screen horizontally will switch pages and all the pages are directly accessible from the strip of thumbnails displayed at the bottom of the screen. The stripe will appear when hovering over the area with the finger (see picture)
The Google Play magazines are accessible from the home by pressing on the purple magazine icon (see home screen picture at the top)
Movies and TV Shows in Google Play:Google Play now provides TV Shows and the ability to purchase movies in addition to renting them. According to the company, “thousands of episodes of broadcast and cable TV shows, like “Revenge,” “Parks & Recreation” and “Breaking Bad,” from some of the top studios, like ABC Studios, NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures” will be available in Google Play.
Google Currents application with translation:
Google Currents is the news application that Google unveiled in Q4 2011. From there you can access various news source avaialble on the web including Fast Company, the Daily Beast, . Google Currents basically takes the news feed and display them in beautiful interactive magazines, one for each media outlet. Ubergizmo was selected one of the few publishers to be included in the app at launch time (see picture above).
Translation: At Google I/O, the ability to translate any magazine within Google Currents was demonstrated on stage, I tried it and it works pretty well. The translation is not as good as a human-made translation, but it is sufficient to understand the general meaning of an article ( I checked it in the other language I can read). The translation is very fast, to access it you need to go to the app settings accessible from the icon located at the right of the top navigation bar, then select “Translation”, the select one of the 38 languages available. When you go back to the magazine, you have to select the language displayed in the drop down menu accessible from the top right icon, then you get the message displayed in the photo above and you can start the translation.
Books: There is a broad choice of eBook apps and services available from the Google Play store. You can easily buy books from Google Play store and read them using the pre-installed Google Play Book reader. I personally like Amazon’s Kindle as it is neutral in the operating system war raging in the mobile world.
Video playback (very good):
The 1280×800 IPS panel is great for any kind of content consumption. I tried a few videos and movies streamed over WiFi, the experience was fluid and delivered a great image quality with deep contrasts.
I compared the movie playback with the iPad, by streaming the same video over Wifi, and both devices provided a similar image quality and fluidity.
Speaker (good): The audio quality is good as well with the same sound volume, although the iPad had a little more power, the audio quality was equivalent.
Video and audio playback via the Nexus Q and the cloud operated from the Nexus 7 (very good):
At Google I/O, I briefly played with the Nexus 7 connected to the Nexus Q to stream music on a HDTV, there were several Nexus 7 tablets connected to one Nexus Q and our songs or videos played alternatively on the HDTV. The Nexus Q streams audio and video from the cloud, it worked well with multiple devices requesting for content at once. I have not played with the review unit at the office yet. The Nexus Q will ship mid-July and will be available for purchase at $299.
As we can see in the Nenamark 2 benchmark, the Nexus 7 ranked #2 behind the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, that has a more powerful version of Tegra 3, clocked at 1.6 GHz (see performance paragraph below). This result means that graphics performance in 3D games are very good. I tried Riptide GP and image rendering was fluid and the game was very responsive.
The brand-new Horn and Dead Trigger shown during the keynote has been optimized for the Nexus 7 and other Tegra 3 devices, according to NVIDIA, more information about this game on Nvidia blogpost.
At $199, it is completely reasonable to wonder about the kind of system performance that these 7” tablet can provide. In the past, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 was considered to be fine, and the Kindle Fire to be at the low-end of tablet performance. However, the Nexus 7 redefines all that. As you’re going to see below, the Nexus 7 is particularly powerful for its size. Your perception of 7” tablet will be changed forever.
Nenamark 2 graphics test: Nenamark 2 basically shows that the Tegra 3 chip does provide a significant graphics advantage when compared to other players on the market. As expected, the Transformer Pad Infinity gets the best result with this benchmark. Interestingly Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 which performs very well in smartphone did not get a whole lot of design-wins in the tablet market.
The Nenamark 2 results are fascinating: if we were to compute the performance per dollar, the Nexus 7 tablet score would go right through the roof. Stii, in terms of absolute performance it bests the Transformer Prime and loses only to the Asus Transformer Infinity – very impressive for such a small tablet which is almost 3X faster than the Galaxy Tab 8.9.
According to Asus, the Nexus 7 gets a theoretical battery life of up 9.5 hours*, and according to NVIDIA it gets up to 8 hours of HD video playback , 10 hours book reading, 10 hours web browsing.
Battery life, moderate usage: When I opened the box, the device was fully charged, and I had to recharge it (3% left) 22h later after playing with it very moderately (email, checking various apps for short periods of time), I roughly played videos for 5 minutes, and WiFi was on almost all the time. The display was at 75% brightness when it was awake.
Battery life, reduced usage: Then I interacted with the tablet rarely, I used it mostly for checking an app here and there and for taking photos for the review, the battery lasted 41 hours.
We will update this review with the intense usage test.
Charging time: in three hours or less the Nexus 7 was fully charged, which is a good timing for a tablet, most 10-inch tablets we have tested take more than 3 hours to be fully charged.
*tested playing 720p video, brightness@100nits, external microphone, Wi-Fi turned on and logged in to Gmail – according to Asus
The Nexus 7 is the absolute best 7” tablet . With no questions it offers way more bang for the buck than the Kindle Fire.
Tablets are mostly used for entertainment, and Google pushed the envelope on that front like there is no tomorrow, making sacrifices in the right places, like going with only one front camera and providing only 2 ports.
Knowing how hard it is to manufacture a low-cost tablet with a great display, a decent build and battery life, the Nexus 7 is a “tour de force” in terms of product design, of course we do not know if Google makes any money out of it, the company is well known for throwing cash at any market it wants to take over (think YouTube) – but who cares?
The device is a killer for gaming and watching videos, we can just tell by looking at the graphic performance and TegraZone games. The IPS display is great to look at whether you browse the internet, read books, flick through your photos, or watch a movie.
Last but not least, the design is still quite elegant and the device gets a good quality build with a very light and well balanced body (only 340 grams – 0.4” thin)