After a bit more than one year of Android tablet market disruption, Google has released its new Nexus 7 2013 tablet. Official names is still Nexus 7, although you may hear of it as Nexus 7 2 or Nexus 7 2013. In any case, the update was much anticipated, and overall it has pleased the crowd. In this review, we will look at what’s new in this Nexus 7 tablet, how it compares to the previous one and how the real-world user experience is. Are you ready? Here comes the new Nexus 7:
Nexus 7 2: Specifications
|Nexus 7 II||Nexus 7||iPad mini|
|Rear camera (MP)||5||N/A||5|
|Front camera (MP)||1.2||1.2||1.2|
|OS||Android 4.3||Android 4.2.2||iOS 6|
|Processor||S4 Pro 1.5GHz||Tegra 3||Apple A5|
|GPU||Adreno 320, 400MHz||Tegra 3 GPU||SGX543MP2|
|Cellular||LTE (optional)||HSPA+ (optional)||LTE (optional)|
Before we head into the review, let’s take a good look at the specifications since it will shed some light on the user experience and the relative positioning of the Nexus 7 relative to other devices in the same category, if not against smartphones as well.
As you can see above, the second Nexus 7 does bring considerable improvements in terms of display and industrial design. It is significantly slimmer than the original one, and is more compact than the iPad mini, except for the 1.45mm of thickness that separates them (the mini is noticeably thinner when you hold it). The Nexus 7 2 does not “feel” lighter than the iPad mini, but according to the specs, it is a little lighter. It may be a mass-distribution thing, but you may want to try for yourself. For my part, I found them to be comparable enough that this would not be a sway factor at all. The rest of the user experience will matter much more.
What’s in the box?
Nexus 7 2: Industrial Design
The first contact with the new Nexus 7 is the improved industrial design. The first thing that I’ve noticed is that the Nexus 7 2013 is much thinner than its 2012 counterpart. That immediately makes it look and feel more “premium” and nicer to manipulate in general. The previous one was a bit on the thick side, but we easily forgave it since the cost was so low ($199).
The general proportions are comparable, but the new Nexus 7 is a bit narrower and longer. If this was a more expensive tablet, there would be room to improve the thickness of the bezel at the top and bottom, but overall the Nexus 7 looks nice and clean.
ASUS has also dropped the metal contour, which in my opinion makes it more classy-looking. When the tablet is OFF, the display contours remain very low-key, which is nice, especially if you leave the tablet on a coffee table or something like that. Sony has successfully done something similar with their XPERIA Z series as of late.
Nexus 7 2: Display (excellent)
The IPS display of the Nexus 7 2 is beautiful. The colors are brilliant and not over-saturated, while the blacks are very good, even if not AMOLED-like. This is a very impressive level of quality for a 7” tablet which is priced at $229, and so far that’s one of the best price/quality ratio that we have seen. Looking at photos or watching movies is a great experience, and this pretty guarantees a great multimedia experience since we know that the S4 Pro processor is capable of handling movies just fine.
the Nexus 7 2 can connect to a TV via HDMI, thanks to a microUSB extension. Although Google only mentions the HDMI output, it may handle VGA and DVI as well with the proper adapters, but we were not able to test for ourselves. If there is a demand for that, we could do further testing while we have a unit on hand. Let us know in the comments. This is the same USB to HDMI capability that is in the Nexus 4 smartphone.
Nexus 7 2: LTE Connectivity
"T-MOBILE, AT&AMP;T AND VERIZON LTE NETWORKS IN A SINGLE DEVICE" There is also a Nexus 7 2013 LTE that is available for those who require an Internet connection at all times. This is particularly handy if you are a heavy user because believe me – there is never a WiFi connection when you really need one, and creating a mobile hotspot may be a good substitute, but we found that they are never as reliable as a built-in broadband connection.
Interestingly, Google has managed to support T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon LTE networks in a single device, which is quite remarkable. Since it is network-unlocked, it is possible to go from one carrier to the other over the lifetime of your tablet. This is a great approach and we can only hope that other manufacturers will follow this example.
If your carrier allows turning the new Nexus 7 in a LTE hotspot, this could be a formidable asset since the battery is so big. Frankly, if the price is comparable, it’s probably better to buy a Nexus 7 2 than most 4G WiFi “Hotspot” devices.
Android 4.3 Jelly Bean highlights
Android 4.3 was just officially released and has been rolling out to Nexus devices already. It brings practical changes to accommodate tablet usage, with a more comprehensive multi-user profile support, Bluetooth low-energy (4.0) and OpenGL ES 3.0 to match the advanced capabilities of the latest graphics processors (GPUs).
Android 4.3: Restricted User Profiles
Google had introduced user profiles in Android 4.2 and has now added more to it in Android 4.3. The original feature allowed several people (family members, co-workers…) to build profiles on a tablet with different sets of apps, account etc. What’s new with Android 4.3 are the restricted user profiles which gives the administrator more control over what users can do. Since there is an application programming interface (API), more apps should be updated to use this.
"PARENTS CAN FINALLY PUT A LID ON UNINTENTIONAL IN-APP PURCHASE BY KIDS" Restrictions can be applied in features such as “access to games”, “access to user-generated content”, “camera ON/OFF”, “web browser” etc… the obvious example is parental control, but there are many more situations where you need to tighten the control of a device like for in-store demos, or as a loaner device (hotels..).
The “access to games” lock can save you a great deal of trouble since there are many documented instances where kids have been able to go on a shopping spree on the app store. Since “all sales are final”, you can see how much of a hassle that could be. Now, you can disable the in-app-purchase (IAP) completely, which is still the best way to tackle the problem.
On top of that, there are smart filters that will prevent “mature” content from showing up, even if you have authorized web browsing. Restricted user profiles have been introduced on July 24th 2013 in a San Francisco event.
Bluetooth 4.0 LE (Low Energy)
While most people use Bluetooth to connect with headsets and speakers, there is also a growing universe of low-power, always-on devices that can be communicated with via Bluetooth. Biometric devices like heart monitors are part of a rising “wearable computing” trend (or hype) that is set to explode later this year and throughout the next couple of years.
To maintain constant communication without spending too much energy is exactly what Bluetooth 4.0 has been designed for. It’s the single most important improvement from Bluetooth 3.0. This pretty much means that leaving Bluetooth on at all times doesn’t require as much energy as before and that you can now use those always connected accessories without thinking about the impact on the battery life.
OpenGL ES 3.0
This is not really a “new” version of OpenGL, since GL ES 3.0 has been introduced in August 2012, but the support for it has been growing and apps using it are starting to appear. To put in a nutshell, OpenGL ES 3.0 is more or less equivalent to DirectX 9, brings four main improvements:
- Greater API compatibility
- Depth textures/shadow maps
- Better texture compression
- Occlusion Queries
By “API compatibility”, I really mean a “more restrictive” definition of the OpenGL specifications. You may think that specifications are pretty clear and tight, but in reality, they are subject to interpretation (like laws), and it may happen that graphics chip vendors implement those rules in slightly different ways, thus creating compatibility issues from one device to the next. The tighter specs should reduce the probability of that happening.
#2 and #3 are really about new graphics features. Shadow maps are a popular way to create shadows, including self-shadows (when an object casts a shadow onto itself). Better texture compression let developers use larger textures with more details, without requiring more texture memory. This is even more important since the display resolution has increased.
Finally, the Occlusion queries is nice but not really of importance. It is basically a feature that lets developers send geometry down the graphics pipeline, and the hardware tells them if the geometry was visible on screen or not (as tested against the Z-buffer). While the idea is great, in practice, this induces some latency in the overall game pipeline, and top developers have fallen back to low-resolution software rendering to perform similar tasks. Still, there are many ways to use them, and if you are curious, this GPU Gems chapter would shed some light. (Warning, highly geeky).
Nexus 7 2: Other Software Aspects
By now, you are probably well familiar with the clean design of the stock Android keyboard, but I was very agreeably surprised by the responsiveness of the virtual keyboard on this device. For some reason, it feels faster than my Galaxy S4 and even when compared to the S4 Google Edition that we have at the office. This makes it a great email device when held in vertical mode. If Google could make it just a little lighter in the future, that would be just perfect.
with a “beyond 1080p” resolution, this device is awesome for mapping. The maps and street names are crisp and the large screen ensures that you can see more information than you would on a phone. Technically, many phones have a 1080p screen too, but details would simply become too small to be useful, so you would have to zoom in.
Additionally, don’t forget that you can also download huge chunks of maps into the integrated storage. This reduces network traffic and latency, and lead to a better user-experience. I’ve never tried to use this in an area with no connectivity at all, but in theory, that should work.
Google has added a new feature called Explore, which is a touch-friendly way to search for interesting places around your current location. The design is extremely clean and Google’s goal was to provide the most relevant information, without the clutter.
New Google Drive app
this is not specific to the Nexus 7, but the latest update uses a tile-based directory view which lets you peek at the document without opening it. The Nexus 7 itself is much more convenient than smartphones when it comes to dealing with spreadsheets simply because its screen is so big.
Chrome (web browser)
not completely surprising, but the 1920×1200 screen makes web pages text very sharp and even small pieces of text can be read mostly without zooming. As a result, you don’t need to use the “mobile” version of the site.
This was demonstrated at the Google event, but has not made it to my unit yet: The Chrome URL bar now goes away as soon as you start scrolling down, which adds 15% more content to the screen. I’ve seen this before on select phones and am glad that Google is doing it too.
Google Hangouts Screen sharing
not to be released right away, Google has demonstrated how the Nexus 7 could run Hangouts with screen sharing. Basically it lets you join a video conference where at least one screen can be shared for collaborative work. Right now, it’s not clear if multiple users can share screen on a turn-by-turn basis, but the demo was pretty impressive and convenient. Given the relatively low quality and speed of existing solutions, this may be a hit when it becomes available to all.
Entertainment / Multimedia (very good)
Movie Playback (excellent)
As we always say, when it comes to movie playback, the screen quality and size pretty much dictate the user experience. Since the IPS display quality is excellent, this comes down to how much screen real-estate you want. This is obvious much better than it would be with most smartphones – although the occasional Mega 6.3 is pretty close, but at a much steeper price.
The headphones sound quality is excellent when using good hardware (I’ve tested with some Bose QC2) and the surround sound is impressive. There’s a surround sound demo in Google Play, but I have also played a few movies that we bought, like Transformers Dark of the Moon, and I was extremely pleased with the surround sound quality.
Google has recently introduced 5.1 surround audio into the Google Play store, and is in the process of re-encoding the movies there. Our Transformers 3 movie was a good demo of the sound feature that works best with the headphones. It’s pretty impressive, actually.
The movies use the HE-AAC audio CODEC and the Fraunhofer Institute implementation has been integrated into Jelly Bean (Android 4.1). It is an extremely efficient audio CODEC, even at relatively low bitrate. What’s new with the Nexus 7 (and Android 4.3) is the addition of Cingo which is a technology that provides surround sound (as a post-process) for mobile devices. This was confirmed to us by Jan Nordmann, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Fraunhofer USA.
There are two loud speakers, one on either side of the tablet (in landscape mode). They work best on a hard surface so that the sound can be reflected towards the user. In that configuration, the sound is nice, loud and has some “body” to it. If not, you lose some volume and the sound becomes more “shallow”. Conclusion: on a table, the sound would be “very good”, otherwise, it’s “good”.
Nexus 7 2: Camera (Average-)
"UNFORTUNATELY, IT PRODUCES AVERAGE-LOOKING IMAGES" It’s great that Google has now added a back camera to the Nexus 7 2013 (which was missing in the original N7), but unfortunately, it produces average-looking images that can’t compete with today’s smartphones. I’ve actually compared it with my Galaxy Note 2 that I have on hand, and this clearly show that the Note is head and shoulders above the imaging capabilities of the Nexus 7 2 which takes much noisier images in low light, and average looking photos in broad day light.
For web sharing and in good lighting conditions, things are going to be “OK”, but don’t expect grandiose performance from the rear camera. To put things in perspective, I suspect that the cost pressure was just too high to allow for a better camera module. Since the original nexus was a blockbuster, adding a camera that would just get the job done is the logical thing to do.
As you may expect, the video performance will simply exhibit the same properties, and you can expect it to be behind in terms of image quality when compared to modern smartphones. That said, within the $200 price range, the Nexus 7 is extremely competitive, since most other tablets will either have a so-so camera, or no camera at all.
Nexus 7 2: Speed & Benchmarks (excellent)
Since the Nexus 7 is a $229 tablet, you may assume that performance is proportionally as modest – well, you would be very wrong. The Nexus 7 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. It came out in 2012 in the LG Optimus G, and was subsequently used in the XPERIA Z and XPERIA Tablet Z. More recently, the Snapdragon 600 was derived and optimized from the same architecture, while the Snapdragon 800 is a more radical change.
I was agreeably surprised to see the Nexus 7 show significant performance differences even compared to the XPERIA products. I was expecting comparable performance with minute variations, but at time, the differences were fairly crisp, like in the case of GLBenchmark 2.5.
Nexus 7 2013 vs. iPad mini
If you compare it with the iPad mini, the difference can be huge. In GLBenchmark 2.5, the Nexus 7 2013 is nearly 3X (2.85) times faster than the mini. In the math-oriented GeekBench 2 test, the Nexus 7 2013 is 3.7X faster than iPad mini.
I can hardly blame the mini which has been launched in November 2012, but the reality is that the iPad mini 2 may be 3-5 months away, depending on which rumor you believe. Unless you absolutely want to have iOS, in which case there’s only one choice, the Nexus 7 2013 should look extremely competitive in terms of performance/$ ratio. If we plot the performance-per-dollar we get something that looks like the graph below:
Nexus 7 2: Battery Life (very good+)
If you have paid attention to the specs above, you may have noticed that the Nexus 7 2 has about 8.7% less battery capacity than its predecessor. Interestingly enough, Google says that despite that, it still gets slightly better battery life, and can reach 9 hours of video playback and 10 hours of web browsing.
Using our standard battery tests, we have determined that Google’s claim of 9 hours of HD video is true, although it assumes that the video is downloaded on the tablet itself (which is normal for let say, a long flight). If you stream video over WiFi (with Google Play), this would go down to 7.14 hours.
Google says that this tablet would last for about 10 hours of web browsing, and your mileage may vary depending on which sites you go to. For example, a highly dynamic site like Facebook is much more resource intensive than a news site like Ubergizmo, so take this as a general number that can change a lot depending on your own usage. The bottom line is: you can browse a lot.
The Nexus 7 2 comes with Wireless charging by default, which is very rare, if not a first at the $200 level. I have not seen a specific Google accessory, but any Qi wireless charging station should just work. If you have never tried it, that’s great for the living room or for a bed table. In fact, I bet that some people will use the Nexus 7 2013 as a very fancy alarm clock.
Other considerations and questions.
No microSD storage
Some folks have been asking if it is possible to extend the storage with a microSD card, and the answer is no. I’ve heard complaints before, and well I can’t argue that it is not better “with” a MicroSD slot, but from what I understand from industry sources, it shaves $4 per unit and this is pretty much ASUS’ profit, so I can’t really blame them for wanting to earn some money for their hard work. Additionally, I’m not sure if there is a clear-cut better alternative to the N7 out there. Leave a comment if you have suggestions – competition is good.
Is the headphone compatible with headsets with a built-in microphones?
Excellent question asked by M. Andrews in the Ubergizmo comments. The answer is YES. I used a simple headset with microphone and I was able to use the voice search right away. I’m not sure if all apps support it, but the OS seems to and it seems to just take over the built-in microphone when connected.
Does it work with a USB OTG adapter?
Unfortunately, if you connect an OTG USB adapter, out of the box, I was not able to read files or even list a directory. The USB drive seems to be powered, but no other communications happens with the tablet. I’ve tried with Astro File Manager, OTG Disk Explorer Lite and USB Mass Storage Watcher. You may have to root (have “administrator” access) the device and install a patch to access this functionality. If there is another way to get OTG access without rooting, I’ll be glad to try while I have the unit.
More questions? Just leave a comment
Conclusion (excellent – recommended)
"THE NEW NEXUS 7 IS AN ABSOLUTE KILLER PRODUCT"
The new Nexus 7 2013 doesn’t disappoint. We knew that it was coming, and that a few things were going to get better (1080p+ display), but it has exceeded our expectations. Besides the screen, the industrial design improvements and the overall responsiveness of the tablet are the most important changes from the first iteration. For those who want LTE, the ability to use 3 of the major U.S carriers with a single device is also extremely useful.
Last year, the Nexus 7 was a great tablet because the experience was very good in relation with the price. The Nexus 7 2 has a very good user experience regardless of the price, and when you take the price into account, the new Nexus 7 is an absolute killer product. This is going to be a rough few months for the 7” competition because if you are ready to spend $229, the Nexus 7 2 is pretty much the only game in town at this quality/price level.