To begin with, Google is serious about tablets and their latest tablet offer shows this. Most Android tablets that you can buy right now just aren’t that compelling. They suffer from UI lag and poor hardware among other things. As the iPad’s market share continues to explode, drastic measures became necessary for Google.
In a move that could have vast implications on the entire tablet market, Google has partnered with Asus to release an über-affordable but yet powerful tablet, the Nexus 7.
Like all Nexus devices, the 7 comes preloaded with a new version of Android called JellyBean. To begin with, I thought I would list the specs of the Google Nexus 7 tablet as this seemed like a great place to start my review:
The tablet features a blazing fast 1.3ghz Quad-core Tegra 3 processor with a 7 inch IPS display that has a resolution of 1280×800 and a pixel density of 214ppi. For comparison, the Kindle Fire has a 169ppi and the new ipad has a pixel density of 264. The tablet also has 1gb of ram for true multitasking and comes with a full array of radios and sensors on board — 802.11 b/g/n Wifi, Bluetooth, NFC, accelerometer, GPS, magnetometer, and a gyroscope.
The N7 also has a 1.2 megapixel front facing camera and a 4,235 Milliamps Hour removeable battery with about 9 hours of projected battery life. Although, I am getting closer to 24 hours with moderate use so it is impressive to say the least.
The dimensions of the tablet are 7.8 by 4.72 by 0.41 inches and weighs in at a light 12 ounces. You also have a choice of either 8GB or 16GB of onboard storage space. The 8gb model has around 6gb free and the 16gb model has about 14gb free OOTB. I ended up getting the 8gb model as I do not store very much on my other tablet anyway. The Nexus 7 does not come with a microsd slot although there is a way to load external usb storage device. I will be discussing how to do that later in this review.
I enjoyed watching all the unboxing videos where people really struggled to get the Nexus 7 out of the box. I have a small blade to use for opening boxes so it really wasn’t as difficult as it was made out to be. Inside the box you will find the Nexus 7, a USB charger, and a USB cable along with warranty and a Getting started guide. At first glance, I noticed that the power and volume buttons are found along the upper right side with nothing on the top and left side of the device. There is a 3.5mm headset jack and the microUSB port that are found on the bottom of the tablet. The back is covered in a non-slip material with a leather feel and indentations all over it. It feels great in your hand and is quite thin at less than half an inch thick. I am very impressed with the hardware design and find it much more comfortable to hold and use than my Hp Touchpad.
When I first booted the device I noticed the familiar nexus logo glowing and was amazed that it booted in less that 20 seconds. The device already had a fully charged battery, so it was simply a matter of pressing the power button to switch the device on. As soon as the boot was completed, I was presented with a welcome screen that already contained my email address. I only had to provide my google password, the password of my Asus router and then the device started syncing my account. The setup was extrememly fast and took no more than 30 seconds to do. In the meantime Google sent a few automated emails to say the device had been activated and my complimentary $25 credit for the Google Play store was ready.
After the setup was completed, I found myself at the familiar android homescreen with virtual capacitive buttons for back, Home, and task switcher on the bottom of the screen. I planned on rooting and unlocking the device right away like I do all of my android devices but I had previously read that there would be an update right away so I held off on rooting the device. I decided to play around while waiting for the update notification to appear.
The Nexus 7 is the first tablet to launch with Android Jelly Bean that includes several new features like Google Now, enhanced notifications, and Project Butter improvements. Google uses a dynamic home page where the most recently opened/used content appears so you can quickly jump back into it. You have five display to use for placing shortcuts. You can tap and drag shortcuts onto each other to easily create folders of apps and then rename them, such as for Games or Reading. In terms of the OS, it doesn’t get much better on Android. You will not find any extra manufacturer or carrier bloatware on the Nexus 7 as this is a pure Google experience. Several Google apps are loaded into the ROM and cannot be removed. These include Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Talk, Gallery, Play Movies, Play Books, Play Magazines, Play Store, Play Music, Google Currents, Google+, Google Wallet, and YouTube. I was very pleased to see that Chrome was loaded by default as the web browser. Jelly Bean is like Ice cream sandwich but with all the features we wanted Ice Cream Sandwich to come with. It’s fast and smooth, like butter, full of the latest and greatest APIs for developers to do their magic with, and there’s a high level of polish we have all been waiting for.
First I decided to take a look at the system settings. Straight away in the settings you can see all sorts of advanced options like different ways to unlock the device from sleep, how apps get downloaded and installed, various Sounds options, Bluetooth/GPS/wifi, and other various Developer options like controlling Animations, etc. If you have used an Android device running Ice Cream Sandwhich before, most of the Setting will seem quite familiar to you.
Next I decided to check out the default browser, Google Chome. Scrolling and pinch to zoom was very smooth with Zero lag and everything seems to work as it should. While browsing various sites, I received the notification that Android 4.1.1 was available so I clicked update. The device downloaded the update and then rebooted automatically. I was then presented with a picture of the Android robot with a spinning star on his chest. After about 1 minute, the device rebooted and I was fully updated.
Being the power user that I am, my next step was to root the device. Rooting an android device is not the same as jail-breaking an IoS device. Rooting an android devices basically gives you elevated user privileges, allows you the ability to load custom software including ROMs, install custom themes, increase performance and increase battery life among other things. You also have access to alter any system files, use themes, change boot images and delete annoying stock apps. Rooting also allows you to backup and restore your default system image. When you root a device, you are effectively telling Android to treat you like a grown-up. Suddenly, apps you install on your phone can do things like backup and freeze system software, keep your phone from ringing when someone annoying calls, lets you overclock or underclock the processor, etc.
That said, the process could not be any simpler on the Nexus 7. Nexus devices are developer friendly and do not make you jump through hoops to obtain root access. For this process, I used a method called Root Toolkit. Of course Windows was required for the process, so I booted up Win 7 using VirtualBox. Then I extracted the files and folders which included a folder for the drivers. Next I had to double-click the driver available in the “drivers” folder for my specific architecture. After installing the drivers, all I had to do was click root.exe. Then a terminal opened and displayed some nice Ascii graphics. Once the animations stopped, it showed a screen that said “press any key to continue”. Next it displays a warning telling you to make sure you have installed the correct drivers and then “press any key to continue”. Next it tells you to make sure to enable USB debugging. This is easily done by clicking the Settings icon on your Nexus menu. Then scroll to the bottom where you will see a Header called System. Under System, you will see an entry called Developer Options. Open that and check the box next to the option called USB debugging. You will then get a popup asking if you want to “Allow USB debugging”. Just click yes. The next screen tells you to connect the tablet to your computer via the usb cable and “Press any key to continue”. It also warns you to not unplug the tablet until the process has finished.
The next screen asks you if your bootloader is locked or unlocked. Since we have not unlocked the bootloader yet, choose the first option, Locked. Next it will ask you to choose between installing ‘super user’ or ‘SuperSU’. I personally chose SuperSU although this part does not really matter in the long run as you can install either one once you are rooted. After choosing one of the options, windows will make a noise indictating that the device has been identified and it will autmatically reboot the N7 into recovery mode. Do not worry about the output in the termianl window complaining about missing files as this is normal. After about 15 seconds, the device will reboot showing Google with an unlocked icon and then it will proceed to boot. Congratulations, your Nexus 7 has now been rooted.
Google was nice enough to provide the default system images for you to restore your device or fix your tablet if you messed anything up. With these files available, there is not much of a risk to mess up your device as you can easily restore it to the out of box experience. One thing to note though, when you root your device, it resets everything to default so you will lose any data or apps you loaded before rooting the device. This is not a big deal for me as Android restores all of your apps automatically after signing into the device.
Next, I want to discuss some of the software provided by Jelly Bean:
Google Now is one of the big features of Jelly Ben. You can either get to it from the lock screen, or by swiping up from the home button, and once it’s open you have a whole world of information at your fingertips or voice for that matter. Google Now is a powerful tool that uses the data Google collects from you to know what you want to see before you ask to see it. It’s location-aware via the internal GPS, so it can do things like tell you about a traffic jam that’s on your route. Or let you know when your bus is coming if you’re at the bus stop. This is very useful but at the same time, it does track where you are and what you search for. I personally turn this feature off unless I want to use it.
Any search results you can get from the Google search box on Google.com, can be answered by Google Now with added information. It uses the Google search engine, and is great for things like conversions, world weather and events, or just general information. Google Now can also do things like send emails, set alarms, give directionsl, etc. It’s really cool and it has no issues understanding my southern accent and speech recognition is excellent. Here are a few clips of me asking it various things:
Ok, now on to the usb storage capabilites….
OTG (on the go storage) for storage media does not fully work out of the box. However it does work out of the box for certain peripherals, such as keyboard, mice, etc.
While external storage does not work out of the box, the support is integrated into the kernel. What’s missing is the software to mount the device. That’s where StickMount (free on
Play store) comes in, as it’s basically a USB device mounter. If you’ve used Linux before, you might have noticed that in order to mount a device at a specific location, you need to be root
to mount the drive. So of course you need your N7 rooted as StickMount needs root access in order to complete this task. Note that some devices (like bigger external hard drives) tend to be more power hungry, and may not be able to obtain full power from the USB port on the Nexus 7. So a flash drive will work just fine but you may not be able to use your external hard drive if it does not have another power source such as an ac plug. You can find the OTG cables on Amazon for around 2 dollars. I only paid $1.09 for my cable so you can find them cheaper.
After rooting your Nexus 7, installing stickmount and getting the correct OTG cable; you can easily mount usb drives for added storage. After setting up stickmount and such, I decided to try out some other usb devices. Well I plugged my usb Xbox controller into the otg cable and what do you know, I can use my xbox controller to play games on the tablet. I know it does not sound that amazing but I was thrilled to see that it actually worked OOTB.
Even though I only got the 8gb model, I do not think I will have an issue with storage space. After installing around 200 apps and storing a couple of wallpapers, I only used about 1.6gb of the available 6gb.
The Nexus 7′s screen looks great and feels responsive; the tablet feels well-built and does a good job of demonstrating its power in games and movie performance. Some feel that the lack of a sdcard slot or a back camera is a bummer, but it’s understandable since the tablet is so cheap: $200 for an 8gb model and $250 for the 16GB model. I personally do not not see either one as a Con since you can easily expand the storage using an OTG cable with a usb drive. As far as the back camera, it does not bother me either since I do not plan on taking pictures with a tablet anyway. I have an 8mp camera on my cellphone for taking pictures.
All in all, I think the Nexus 7 is an excellent device with a really great price point….
4 Responses to “Nexus 7 Review”
V. T. Eric Layton Says:
August 24th, 2012 at 11:30 pm
Dude! Published this excellent article and I missed it. I’m almost a month late to read it. Shame on me.
August 25th, 2012 at 9:19 am
Eh its ok, it happens. Thanks for the compliment!!
October 25th, 2012 at 6:20 pm
Great article. I rooted nexus 7 and installed stickmount and it worked great. But after a couple of days when I plug in a memory stick, stickmount recognizes it but I can’t see the contents of the drive. Any ideas on why it is doing that?
October 29th, 2012 at 10:12 pm
Sorry I am not really for sure Richard.
Thanks for reading and commenting!!
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