Nexus 7 review

Price when reviewed

UPDATE: Our Nexus 7 review has been updated with information about the Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) update. Scroll to the end of the review to read more.

After several years watching manufacturers achieve mixed results with Android tablets, Google has finally had enough. Much like Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface tablets, the Nexus 7 is an attempt to marry the company’s popular OS with the quality of hardware it deserves – and at the right price.

It isn’t technically a Google tablet. In fact, you won’t find the company’s name anywhere on the device. Instead, Google pounced on an Asus tablet first shown at CES in January, and the pair reworked the exterior and came up with something they were happy with, which is why there’s a discreet Asus logo at the foot of the rear panel.

Whoever takes the credit, the Nexus 7 has certainly attracted plenty of attention with its mouth-watering sub-£200 price tag. For that money, you get a narrow device with a 7in widescreen display, a first look at Android’s 4.1 Jelly Bean update, and even a £15 Google Play voucher to start you off.

Nexus 7 logo

Little wonder

It’s immediately obvious that the Nexus 7 is a cut above most budget tablets. It’s just the right size and weight (340g) to fit in the hand, and its mottled rear panel feels soft on the palm. A speaker grille sits just below the Asus logo, with power and volume controls on the right edge and headphone and micro-USB sockets on the bottom edge. It’s sparse, but its gentle curves mean that it feels far from cheap.

UK user?

Find out how to get the US-only Google Music on your Nexus 7

The screen is a 1,280 x 800 IPS panel, making for a pixel density of 216ppi – not up with the iPad but higher than any smaller tablet we’ve seen. It’s pretty sharp and readable, and the wide aspect makes movie watching a treat. We measured the maximum brightness at 330cd/m[sup]2[/sup] and contrast at 1,100:1, and our only complaint is that colours lack punch, with a washed-out look that’s noticeable next to dearer tablet screens. The speaker on the rear is listenable but not particularly loud or full-sounding, so you’ll want to keep headphones to hand.

Inside, Asus has installed one of the latest quad-core 1.3GHz Tegra 3 chips and 1GB of RAM, so this is a blisteringly fast device. The Nexus 7 scored 3,687 in the Quadrant benchmark and took 1,799ms to complete the SunSpider JavaScript test – both as fast as tablets at twice the price – and stayed relatively cool while doing so: even after a stress test the highest temperature we measured on the back was 42°C. It effortlessly ran every app we threw at it, including the intensive Shadowgun and the oddly demanding Angry Birds Space, and everything about the main OS feels smooth and responsive in a way Android just hasn’t been until now – Jelly Bean’s Project Butter advancements have clearly smoothed many things out.

Nexus 7

With all that power crammed into such a small device, the battery life is hugely important. Asus has squeezed in a non-removable 4,325mAh battery, and the Nexus 7 ran dry after 8hrs 48mins running a video on loop at half brightness with Wi-Fi disabled. That isn’t anywhere near the best in its field, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a travelling device.

There are only three places the budget obviously shows. First, there’s no camera on the rear, leaving you with only a pretty middling 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. Second, although it’s advanced enough to include NFC, there’s understandably no 3G option. Finally, there’s the issue of storage: the Nexus 7 comes in 16GB (£199) and 8GB (£159) flavours, with no card slots to add to that. Even at its remarkably modest price we’d be reluctant to buy the cheaper model – with the focus on content consumption you’d fill that 8GB in no time at all.

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