Hot on the heels of Microsoft's Surface, Google on Wednesday unveiled its first branded tablet, the Nexus 7 at the I/O developer conference.
With a powerful quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU, a bright 1,280 x 800 screen and the brand new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS on board, this is one slick slate.
We had the chance go hands-on with the tablet at a Google demo station and then unbox a review unit we received and use it from first power-on.
At just 0.7 pounds, the Nexus 7 feels pretty light in the hand, but still has a very solid base with a little heft. With its rubberized back, which appeared dark gray in a demo unit on the show floor but white in our review unit, the tablet is really pleasant to hold in the hand.
As you might expect from a tablet this size, the device doesn't have much in the way of ports as there's only a single 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro USB charging port. However, we really appreciate the choice of standard micro USB for charging. That means you don't need proprietary cables; any standard USB cable and AC adapter will do fine. The right side of the device houses a volume rocker and the power button and the left side has a four pin gold contact area that could be used for docking in the future.
As with most tablets, the screen is incredibly glossy and reflects overhead light back you. When filming videos of the tablet, it was hard to avoid reflections. The display is also a fingerprint magnet, prominently showing smudges. Above the screen sits the front-facing 1,280 x 960 resolution camera; there's no back facer so forget about shooting photos or videos. This device only takes pictures for chat.
When turned all the way up, the screen appears colorful and vibrant. However, we haven't had the chance to put it next to competing devices like the Toshiba Excite or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 to see how it compares.
Operating System and Software
There's a reason why Google assigned Android version 4.1 to its new Jelly Bean OS, rather than going all the way to version 5.0. The new UI looks nearly identical to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, with only a few subtle changes here and there. As with Ice Cream Sandwich, the bottom of the screen has three software menu buttons for back, home and recent apps.
On the home screens, there's a nav bar with 7 icons, the first of which is a configurable folder that opens to reveal several apps including YouTube. Other default icons along the bottom include Google Books, Google Magazines, the apps menu button, Google Movies, Google Music and the Play Store. You can remove or change any of these but the Apps menu button.
The Nexus 7 comes with all the basic apps, but nothing extra. These include the calculator, calendar, clock, Google Earth, Email, Gmail, Gallery, Google+, Maps, Messenger, Play Magazines, Play Movies, and Search. In a brief look through these apps, most looked the same as their Ice Cream Sandwich counterparts, but we did notice a couple of differences off the bat. The YouTube app has a left pane that helps you find new channels and the Google Search app now takes voice commands.
On the floor demo unit, we were able to get a Google Now button by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. However, it only took us into the search app, not any kind of special Google Now Area. The review unit did not the Google Now functionality enabled.
We haven't had a chance try out all of Jelly Bean's new features yet, but our favorite so far is the enhanced notification drawer. When we received an email in our Gmail account, the notification bar showed the first few words of our message. However, when we dragged the notification down, we were able to read several sentences of the messages,without leaving the drawer.
Inside the Box
The Nexus 7 comes in a thick black cardboard box with a colorful sleeve over it. Inside, you'll find the tablet itself, along with a small box that contains a micro USB cable and an AC adapter. There's also a tiny Quick Start guide.
When we first powered on the device, it took less than 30 seconds to power on and bring us to a welcome screen. After that, we had to pick a wireless network, log in to our Google account and decide whether we wanted to back up the device to the cloud. Within a couple of minutes we were at the desktop and had a free $25 Play store credit to boot.
The five desktops contain a lot of entertainment widgets. The furthest right desktop is filled with music recommendations. The second from the right has the My Movies widget which has a free copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon while the center screen has the My Library widget, complete with a few free magazines including Popular Science, Shape and Esquire. The second to the left desktop has more My Books and My Magazines widgets and the far left desktop has the recommended apps widget. It's clear that Google wants to push its Play store pretty hard.