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About a year has passed since the first Nexus 7 hit market; Google’s bargain option is getting a little long in the tooth. Despite taking our top marks in 2012, that tablet’s processor performance has been routinely outpaced by competing products in the last eight or nine months. At this point, a refresh is long overdue.
Enter the next generation of Nexus 7 ($229 MSRP).
Hold onto your seat, because this one is set to kick those of other tablets quite forcefully. Not only is this new unit a powerhouse, but it's also still one of the most affordable slates out there.
It may not look at that different from the first generation model, but a close inspection reveals that the new Nexus 7 has some interesting design attributes. Namely: It’s meant to be held at a landscape orientation, which is a big departure from the first gen model. Everything from the speaker placement to the etching of the logo just screams it. This makes for a much more natural feeling when you’re holding it (and soothes my irrational hatred of the original’s portrait permanence).
Ensconced in a case of material very similar to that wrapping the Nexus 10, the new Nexus 7 has a bafflingly large bezel. To be honest, I'm okay with that—thin bezels are fairly stupid when you think about it, as accidental touches on the screen are going to make using a tablet with little space to hold it super-annoying. If the shape of the new tablet is good, the extremely low weight and thin profile are just gravy. You wont have any fatigue or storage problems with this one. I would recommend a case to protect the screen, however.
If I had to pick a major gripe with the radical re-design, it'd be the speaker. While it does lend itself well to faux-amplification via a cupped hand, it’s an enormous pain in the rear. A cramped wrist or a muffled speaker is a real rock-and-a-hard-place choice. My suggestion to get around this is a pair of low-impedance headphones—they're going to sound better for the most part anyway.
While it's not included in the packaging, the new tablet can be charged wirelessly with an inductive Qi charging pad. Sure, this is kinda gimmicky, but look at the upside: No more fumbling around in the dark to find the bloody microUSB cable to charge your tablet when you're ready to sleep. Instead, you just plop it on the charging pad and forget about it. Like the old version of the slate, NFC, bluetooth, and GPS are included to allow power users and novices alike to experiment with their tablets.
At the end of the year, this may not be the best tablet on the market, and it may not even be good compared to what will be available. However, because this is among the first releases in the 2013 cycle that reflect the newest generation of tablets, it's important to get a really good picture of what this thing is capable of. For the next year, most tablets are going to be compared to the latest Nexus device in order to gauge their performance, and it's for good reason—this thing is absolutely loaded with great specs for now, and it even out-muscles the Nexus 10 in many ways.
Referencing specs and parroting a laundry-list of numbers is enough to make all but the most hardcore enthusiasts lose interest, so I'll put it another way: the new hardware isn't some minor upgrade to keep the tablet competitive from year to year. This thing is out for the blood of all other bargain tablets. How? By offering premium, top-shelf components. The Nexus 7’s processor is miles ahead of other tablets; futher, its ample RAM and dumbfoundingly good screen set the bargain bar quite high.
But tablets age quickly—when the last Nexus 7 was launched, it was roughly competitive, but used its price to undercut competition. The Nexus 7 may still be under $250, but this time, it has the hardware under the hood to make it last more than just a year. It will be interesting to see what technologic arms race this triggers, or how others respond in the coming months.
Okay, that's a lot of words to say "this is an awesome tablet." But what it is like to use? Well, all those words of effusive praise should have given you a word tapestry to wrap your brain with—the Nexus 7 has one of the most efficacious tablet screens, outside and in. Its hardware is insanely effective: Specs-wise, it can handle just about anything you throw at it (not literally, of course). Finally, the whole package is extremely portable.
However, there's another part to the story: The software. While Android had a very rocky start in its earliest iterations, the latest version is not only feature-laden, but mostly polished. Chances are good that you have an Android smartphone—if statistics are to be believed—you'll notice a very similar experience (sans most hardware hiccups). There are still some scrolling issues, and many apps are playing catchup with the hardware, but for the most part the user experience is probably the best you can find.
Google loves to tell Apple "anything you can do I can do better" with their Nexus tablet releases, and this time, they've really gone out of their way to blow raspberries at the Cupertino computer company. Not only does the Nexus 7's refresh do just about everything the iPad mini can, it can do more things at once. If you like to use your tablet for gaming, the Nexus 7 is the clear winner here, as it handles high framerate games and 3D renders like you wouldn’t believe. At the same time, the iPad mini is showing its age, and isn't equipped to keep up—not to mention that it falls far short in terms of performance as well.
Despite the fact that the battery is smaller, Google's svelte new tablet makes the most of 3,950mAh. Able to read an eBook at full brightness for over 8 hours makes it ideal for a trans-continental flight, though the slate can only handle just under 7 hours of video playback. If you do manage to sap the battery dry, take heart—it doesn't take more than a couple hours to fully charge, less for a "good enough" charge.
It's safe to assume that in the coming months other tablets will leapfrog this unit as is common in the tablet arena, but for now the Nexus 7 has a lot of superlatives. Best screen resolution, best processor (by far), most RAM, best array of wireless options, and newest Android operating system. It may not have the lowest price, but the nearest competitor only offers ~$70 in savings for one hell of a lot less.
Sure, some of those selling points are purely iterative upgrades at best, not-that-amazing at worst, but the real story here is the processor. Ditching that dated Tegra 3 for a Qualcomm Snapdragon, the new Nexus 7 is an absolute animal when it comes to data handling. For comparison, it nabs marks higher than the Nexus 10, which had the most powerful processor to date. If this is what's to be expected with the next round of budget slates, we may see the end of the gap between tablets and laptops in a generation or so.
Twisting the knife a little bit on Apple's failure to deliver a small high-res tablet, the new Nexus 7 has an enormously bright screen that is close to the most pixel-dense ever on a mobile device. Cramming in 320 pixels per inch, you will never ever notice pixel lines on the new Nexus unless you press your eyes up against the screen (and have perfect vision). Unlike other high-res tablets in the Android universe, our intrepid protagonist also has a near-perfect color gamut, so you can expect something special when it comes to displaying photos and video content. Among small tablets, the screen used by the new Nexus 7 is the undisputed king.
As it is whenever there's a Nexus release, the refresh of the 7 is something spectacular. While it's very true that the tablet market moves quickly, leading to high turnover for market leaders, this particular model should hold its own for at least a year.
Google didn't try anything crazy with this tiny slate outside of stuffing it with a hilariously overpowered... everything. It may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but Google built on their successes, and if you've ever used an Android device, you'll love this tablet. With features geared to experts and novice alike, it's hard to find an argument against buying the Nexus 7, especially given its starting price of $229: You can buy two of these and have money left over for apps for the cost of one iPad.
However, a 7-inch size isn't for everyone, so as much as it's a drag to wait on buying the latest and currently greatest, see if you can try one out at the store if you've never owned a tablet before. If you're cool with a 7-inch tablet, there is none better.
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