Google takes on iPad mini with new Nexus 7 tablet (August 16th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Google
Price: $229 as tested
- - High pixel density - Fast hardware - Inexpensive - Long battery life
- - Generic appearance - No microSD slot
Apple has continued to hold a dominant grip on the tablet market, but Google's refreshed Nexus 7 tablet aims to steal market share in the seven-inch category. The new Android tablet offers double pixel count of the iPad mini, along with a quad-core processor, all for $100 less. Is the entire Nexus 7 experience as good as it looks on paper? We explore this question in our full review.
Google has not adopted a radically different exterior designed compared to the first-generation Nexus 7. Both utilize a plastic housing with a grippy finish, though the new model is slightly thinner with an 8.65mm profile. Weight has been accordingly reduced down to just 290g for the Wi-Fi version, similar to the iPad mini and much lighter than competing Android tablets such as the Kindle Fire.
The iPad's aluminum shell gives it a premium look and feel that is difficult to match with a plastic housing. Despite the differences in appearance, however, the new Nexus 7 feels like a solid tablet that can stand up to a bit of abuse. We haven't tested durability or impact resistance, but many devices built from composite materials show less damage than aluminum-clad alternatives when dropped onto hard surfaces.
We would like to see more variation in Android tablet designs, which tend to follow the same basic principles, but we cannot fault Google for focusing on performance and other features that directly affect the user experience.
The original Nexus 7 integrates a 1280x800 display, typical for a seven-inch tablet. Google chose to jump to a 1920x1200 panel for the second-generation model, bringing the pixel density up to 323 ppi. In contrast, the Retina iPads are slightly lower at 264 ppi and the Mini is far behind with a 1024x768 display at 163 ppi.
The Nexus 7's display is perfect for display small text, watching HD videos or looking at high-resolution pictures. Aside from the pixel count, the IPS panel also provides extremely wide viewing angles and improvements to the contrast ratio and color representation.
With its 16:10 aspect ratio, the new tablet just 4.5 inches wide and easy to hold in one hand. Individual preferences will vary, but we prefer the widescreen layout over the iPad mini's 4:3 aspect ratio for a small tablet.
Apple's third-generation iPad was revolutionary in its transition to an extremely high pixel density that makes it difficult to discern individual pixels. Arriving early in 2012, the company established a significant lead over competing tablet platforms. Rumors suggest the company soon will bring the same technology to its iPad mini, however Google deserves credit as the first company to bring such technology to the seven-inch category.
Google's upgrades did not stop at the display, as the internal components have moved from a Tegra 3 chip to Qualcomm's 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro Krait processor and an Adreno 320 chip for graphics. RAM has also been doubled to 2GB, while the full complement of sensors remains unchanged from the original edition.
Benchmark tests show the Nexus 7 to be a strong performer. We were able to achieve Geekbench 2 tests above 2600, nearly doubling the score from the previous generation. The tablet is still outdone by a few flagship Android devices, such as the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, however the balance between price and performance is hard to beat.
Objective comparison is more difficult with the iPad mini, which integrates a 1 GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip. Apple is skilled and squeezing impressive real-world performance out of chips that appear to have slower specs, but the Mini is an aging device in the tablet market. Our subjective tests, ranging from gaming to web browsing, suggest the new Nexus 7 is a faster tablet than the Mini.
The Nexus 7 is the first device to arrive with Android 4.3, which may contribute to the strong performance via software optimizations. The latest release also brings OpenGL ES 3.0 support, improving graphics performance, though we will have to wait for developers to take full advantage of these capabilities in apps with 3D graphics.
Parents might appreciate v4.3's new multi-user restricted profiles. The options enable users to create profiles that can be enabled when kids use the device, preventing them from accessing certain apps chosen by the master profile.
Aside from the profiles options, under-the-hood tweaks, and Bluetooth Smart support, Android 4.3 does not bring any significant changes to the core experience. Buyers can appreciate that the tablet will get the same attention as other Nexus devices, likely to be the first to get Android 5.0 when it arrives.
We only noticed one hardware spec that seemed to be a step backwards from the first generation: battery capacity. Google switched from a 4325mAh battery to a 3950mAh pack, however the new hardware and software optimizations are claimed to increase battery life.
Our casual tests achieved more than 11 hours of battery life when playing movies, and more than the claimed nine hours when browsing the web and playing games.
Most of the small Android tablets we've tried have seemed to be missing something. Budget pricing typically equates to some sort of feature sacrifice, and costlier Android tablets have failed to compete with iPads. The new Nexus 7 may have the best chance to break this trend, pairing affordability with the best overall features of any seven-inch tablet.
Buyers can pick up the basic 16GB Nexus 7 for just $229, or step up to 32GB of integrated storage for $269. Google is also preparing to release a 32GB edition with LTE and HSPA+ support for $349, still a relative bargain compared to the $559 iPad mini with 32GB of storage and an LTE radio.