Google Nexus 7
Definitely an Amazon Kindle Fire killer;
but definitely not an Apple iPad killer
A high resolution very
clear 7" diagonal color screen is the most visible attribute
of Google's new Nexus 7 tablet.
It is responsive in use,
but it is also, well, only 7" in size, a handicap in many
Both Google and Microsoft have
a surprisingly uneven record when they stray away from their core
software/service competencies and start dabbling in hardware.
The Nexus 7 is, for sure, a
great device, although Google's marketing and launch of it has
been clumsy and amateurish. The unit performs as promised,
and has more than enough processing power to drive its high
resolution screen, even in demanding game applications.
In every measurable respect, it
is way superior to Amazon's Kindle Fire - a device which only six
months ago seemed state of the art, but which now seems lackluster
But this marketplace lead is
unlikely to last for long. Maybe you should wait to see what
the new generation Kindle Fire will offer, and what the exact
substance of a rumored competing Apple device may be, before
choosing the Nexus 7.
The Google Nexus 7 - What You
The Nexus 7 comes in a
colorful box, and interestingly, the company and contact
information printed on it is exclusively for Asus (the actual
manufacturer of the unit), not for Google.
Puzzlingly, although my
unit was supposedly shipped direct from the factory, and was
supposed to be brand new, it had been earlier opened and resealed.
Inside is the unit itself,
protectively enclosed inside clear plastic wrap, and inside an
inner box is a wall charger, a USB cable to connect between the
Nexus 7 and the charger (or a computer), a folded piece of paper
with warranty details and another sheet as a quick start guide.
The wall charger has its
specifications printed on it in tiny brown/grey type on a black
background, and so is close to completely obscure. However,
looking at it through a jeweler's loupe reveals it to be a multi
voltage unit that delivers 2 amps at 5V.
The connector cable is 36"
long. It seems a little short, but is adequate for most
I needed the jeweler's loupe
again to read the warranty sheet, which was printed in an
insultingly tiny type size.
Interestingly, the warranty is
not offered by Google, but rather by Asus, and is for 12 months.
The quick start guide was in
black and white only, and mercifully in larger type than the
Using the Nexus 7
The unit is easy to turn on in
theory - there is a button on the side to be momentarily
depressed. But somehow, its low profile position on the side
proved hard for me to locate, especially when holding the unit at
the same time. The iPad's button is on the top, and the
Kindle's button is on the bottom -both seem easier to access.
The unit does have a lovely
bright and clear screen, and the ease of reading small characters
is tangibly better than on the Amazon Kindle Fire. The two
units have the same sized screens, but the Kindle has a resolution
of only 1024x600 pixels, compared to 1280x800 on the Nexus.
That is two thirds more pixels on the Nexus 7, making smaller
characters better formed.
All those extra pixels require
more computing power to drive them, and the Nexus 7 is generally a
very smooth performer when it comes to showing video and making
screen transitions, and seems improved over the Kindle Fire.
Not all apps displayed
correctly on the Nexus 7, with some subtle text overflow type
issues. Perhaps the 'automatic resolution
conversion' routines aren't yet optimized for the new screen
resolution of the Nexus 7?
It was frustrating to
see valuable screen real estate being wasted by the control bar
at the bottom. The Kindle has a clever way of causing that
to disappear when not needed that frees up more screen - an
essential feature on these small 7" screens.
We also noticed that sometimes
the touch screen didn't react to our touch. We're not sure
what the cause of that is - maybe some programs have not
accurately remapped the touch sensitive areas of the screen?
The Nexus has rounded edges
which makes it feel smaller than the Kindle with its square edges,
and it does fit into pockets slightly more readily. The
specs say the Nexus is slightly thinner, but this is an
imperceptible difference. Its slightly greater length is
ever so slightly noticeable, however.
It was nice to see the unit
has a separate volume control. The Kindle doesn't, and it is
never intuitive to work out how to access the software controlled
The new Jelly Bean version of
Android (4.1) has some slight reworking to the Android interface,
and some new features too, including more voice recognition
It was our not very scientific
sense that the Wi-Fi in the Nexus 7 is a bit less sensitive than
the Wi-Fi receivers in our iPad, iPhone and Kindle Fire.
When using the same Wi-Fi strength measuring app on both the Nexus
and Kindle, there did seem to be a varying but at times 5dB
difference in received signal strength, confirming our vague sense of this.
At times the Nexus would struggle to keep connected to our home
Wi-Fi service, although the other devices never have similar
problems in the same places.
Should You Choose the 8GB or 16GB
Unfortunately, the Nexus 7
does not have an SD type slot to allow for additional external
memory cards to be plugged in and swapped over. Its capacity
is limited to only that available within the unit, which is either
8GB or 16GB.
The 16GB is $50 more than the
8GB unit ($249 rather than $199), adding considerably to Google's
profitability (it is estimated that Google's cost goes up by a
when it adds the extra 8GB of storage).
In contrast, the iPad offers
three capacities - 16GB, 32GB or 64GB.
There is doubtless a
deliberate reason for this willful limitation on storage - to
encourage/force you to use Google's cloud storage services, which
in turn, forces you into their entire 'ecosystem' of buying their
digital products from them in the first place.
We roundly reject the concept
of cloud based storage, particularly for mobile devices such as a
tablet. There's no guarantee that you'll always be connected
to a high speed internet line, and Murphy's Law pretty much
guarantees that the times when you most need to access data stored
in the cloud will be the times when you're unavoidably off-line.
When we first received our
Nexus 7, we noted that its 16GB capacity already had 3.34GB used
by system files and pre-loaded software. If we had chosen
the 8GB version, this would have mean almost half the 8GB was
already used up.
Even the 12.66 GB free that
our 16GB unit started off with is a pathetically small amount.
A single movie can take up 2GB of space. An hour of music
can take up 100 MB of space. Books take up potentially as
much as 1MB or more, each (depends on if they are text only or if
they have pictures and other special formatting/features).
If you are going on a long
journey and wish to load half a dozen movies and a selection of
say 50 CDs worth of music onto your device, you'll not be able to
do this. This is an appalling limitation and not one shared by the
To measure the capacity
another way, we have 57GB of music files on our mail laptop and
would ideally like to be able to travel with most of them. We can
do that with an old iPod that we've had for many years, but not
with this latest and supposedly greatest Nexus 7.
We also have 44 GB of video
files. Same as with the music files, there's no way we could
get any significant amount of video onto the unit either.
Not only is the 8GB unit
farcically inadequate, but we wish Google would have emulated
Apple some more and added 32GB and 64GB versions.
The totally inadequate
capacity in the $199 8GB unit seems to be reflected by an apparent lack of sales of that unit. Google is currently showing
the 8GB unit to be in stock on its site, but the $249 unit with
the barely adequate 16GB of storage is showing a 3 - 4 week delay.
There is one additional need
for more storage on the unit, but it is a reason we don't begrudge
at all. Google Maps now allows you to download map regions
to the unit, so you can realistically use the program while
disconnected from the internet, for example when traveling.
Google adds a turn by turn
navigation overlay to the program as well which is surprisingly
unsophisticated. There's nothing new about navigation
programs, and we'd have expected to see some more features in
their version. But you can't argue with 'completely free' -
is that hammering sound we hear another nail being driven into the
coffin of the standalone GPS manufacturers?
Included - and Missing - Apps
An iPad comes preloaded with a
great collection of apps; the Nexus 7 doesn't seem to have as
many. For example, it has no news type apps, and no stock
market ticker/tracker. It doesn't even have a weather app.
It has a calculator app, but
it is probably the worst calculator app we've yet encountered. It
has no 'Clear All' key - to clear a number, you have to backspace
over each digit one at a time. It has no memory. And
while it has some trigonometric functions, the only way to input
values is in radians, not degrees. Maybe there's a way to
switch it over, but it is non-intuitive to say the least, and
regrettably there's no help file associated with it.
A Mysterious Camera
The unit has a camera that
faces towards you. It is a relatively low-resolution 1.2MP
unit, and is probably intended primarily for use when
It can also be used for a
'face recognition' form of locking/unlocking the unit, although
this is a fairly gimmicky process that doesn't reliably work all
the time (fortunately you have a backup ability to enter in a
password if your face isn't recognized - lighting conditions make
a big difference).
But how can you take a regular
photo with it? There's no app to allow you to use the
camera. Ooops. Someone forgot something important in
their rush to get the product to market, it seems!
As a reviewer, it is great to
be able to capture a screenshot to show one's readers. It
seems there is a way to do this with the Nexus 7, because we
accidentally somehow did it on one occasion, but we can't find out
or recreate what it was we did to trigger the screen shot event.
Searching through their manual
eBook for camera, screen shot, screen capture, and capture all
brought no results either.
A shame, as we'd loved to have
been able to show you the formatting problems in their eBooks.
Google offers its own music
player and - gack - content management system for music files.
Maybe it works for pop albums, but Google decides it knows best
when it comes to overriding our filing and naming conventions for
our classical music collection, destroying the essential sequence
and linkages between, for example, movements in a symphony, or
pieces of an opera/ballet that span two or three CDs.
Much to our dismay (although
the same as with Apple) there's no way to escape Google's tyranny
here. At least with our old iPod we were able to replace
Apple's dysfunctional system with a third party system that works
perfectly. We're unaware of any similar override option for
Android devices - although with such a limited amount of onboard
storage, the matter is rather moot to start with.
Screen Size - Is 7" Enough?
This is a key question with a
We discuss it in detail in this article
the best tablet screen size and further analyze it in this
article about the
implications of different tablet screen sizes.
The answer can't be boiled
down to a simple yes or no, as you'll see if you read the
other articles. But our preference - all other things being
equal - is definitely for a larger screen such as on the iPad.
Asus' Prominence Begs an
The box the Nexus 7 comes in
has an impressive five different bar codes for mysterious things
such as 'Check Number', CSSN, SSN, Customer P/N and P/N, and
identifies its contents as being made in China (no big surprise
there) by Asus, with the only contact information being for Asus,
The warranty slip also talks
exclusively about Asus, not Google.
We can understand that giving
Asus prominent branding is part of Google's way of trying to have
its cake and eat it too - of selling its own branded tablets in
competition with its Android supporter hardware partners, and it
is probably a better way of attempting this ambitious goal than
that adopted by Microsoft, which has sought to totally obscure who
makes their new tablet devices, preferring to keep prime and
exclusive branding for itself only.
But the really puzzling thing
is Motorola. Motorola, a year or so ago, made a
somewhat successful 7" tablet, and is a hardware manufacturing
company that seeks to continue making Android based tablets and
phones. More to the point though, Motorola is now owned,
100%, by Google.
It is a bit like keeping a dog
and barking yourself. In this case, Google owns a hardware
manufacturer, but spurns its own subsidiary, preferring to
contract its new Nexus 7 to Asus instead. That decision
doesn't bode well for Motorola's future as anything much more than
a passive repository of patents.
The Seductive Trap that Steals
Many of the clever things
offered by the Nexus 7 require you to sacrifice your personal
privacy and anonymity.
You need to allow the device
to turn on its GPS and other location determining services, and
you need to log into your Google account, before some of the more
helpful navigation and other features will work, but the downside
of that is that Google is potentially building up a minute by
minute record of where you are and what you're doing.
Of course, such privacy
compromises also occur, without our ability to choose or not, with
our cell phones. Whether GPS enabled or not, the wireless
companies know fairly exactly where we are based on what cell
towers we are close to, and of course, based on the data traffic
to and from our phone, they know most of what we are doing, too.
Nonetheless, as more and more
stories come out about the detailed data which Google, Apple, and
others are keeping about us and our usage of devices connected
through their systems, it is not a comfortable feeling, and the
sham (in)ability to opt out adds further to one's sense of
Increasingly, it seems that
just about every possible app now wants to know much more about us
than it needs to know, and your only choices are to give it full
access to everything it wants or not download it at all.
Google eBook Reader
The Google eBook reader is not
very polished. Actually, it is appallingly dysfunctional and
there's no way we'd ever spend money to buy a book through Google
that would need to be read on the Google eReader.
It has two different modes - one is a bit
like displaying a book as pdf pages, with the problem being you
are stuck with the text size as it is 'locked in' on the pdf
images. The other mode is what we'd consider 'normal' eBook
mode where you can adjust the font size and the text reformats to
fill the screen.
But this 'normal' mode fails
in tables, which remain locked in a fixed font mode.
In addition, the included Nexus 7 Guidebook is full of appallingly
amateurish formatting errors. In addition to simply
formatting errors, and strange capitalizations, at times the text is totally garbled and
For example these two paragraphs on page 6
of 100 :
accessi- Gesture Mode supports
naviga- to try shortcut ges
bility tion by usingtouch and
swipe gestures in combination with speech output.
turesintalkback, swipe using a single motion:
Can someone decode that for
us normal folk?
Other than being forced to use Google's dysfunctional reader for its own manual, you are free to
download and use either an Amazon Kindle or a B&N Nook eReader
program for regular books.
The Amazon Kindle eReader
works reliably as expected.
The Google Wallet
Google Wallet is a new way to
buy goods. This is one of the key new things that the major
players are all fixated on, even if they've yet to introduce
workable products, because all the main companies (which these
days seems to be Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft) seek to become
the intermediary and wish to get some slice of every transaction,
plus also to own or at least share all the transaction data too -
not only knowing what each person is buying, but also knowing what
each company is selling, and at what prices.
Google adds a NFC (near field
communications) chip - what used to be called an RFID chip until
it was decided that 'radio frequency ID' sounded a bit too
Orwellian, so in finest Orwellian manner, it was simply renamed.
This makes paying with the Wallet function easy.
But how to get funds into your
payment wallet? That's the big weakness of the Google system
at present (well, the lack of many places that accept Google
Wallet payments is another weakness too, for sure). Whereas
debit cards directly take money from our bank account, and credit
cards pile up a balance that we can pay off monthly (or not) as we
wish, the Google Wallet needs you to prefill it with cash, through
the inconvenient intermediate step of first buying a prepaid
stored value card from Google.
It also can be connected to a
Citibank Mastercard, but not to any other type of credit card at
all. Other Citibank cards (such as their Visa cards) aren't
accepted, and neither are other issuers' Mastercards.
Out of curiosity I tapped an
image that seemed to invite one to associate your Wallet account
with a Citibank Mastercard, but when I did so, I got the curious
message 'Busy with another card : Wallet is busy working
with another card'. What does that mean?
Android - a More Geeky/Techy
Interface than Apple's iOS
Overall, one of the distinctive elements of the Android operating system will be seen
by most as either its strength or its weakness. The Android
operating system is much more obviously a computer operating
system, designed for people who like computers.
The great strength of Apple's
iOS system is that it obscures the fact that the device you are
using is a computer. A person can almost immediately start
to understand what an iPad is and how to use it, and Apple is very
clever at making everything that is 'under the hood' stay under
Android, on the other hand,
seems much prouder of the fact that it is a computer operating
system. For example, with an iOS device, if you want to
check on the battery charge, you can either look at a picture of a
battery and guess at its level of charge based on how much is
filled in, or you can choose an option and have the charge level
displayed as a percent.
But with Android, if you check
on your battery charge, you get graphs and statistics, showing the
varying state of battery charge level, and what devices have been
using the battery. Is it really helpful to know that 3% of
the battery usage was by the Android OS and another 2% by the
Android System (I've no idea what the difference is between the OS
and the System)? It is lovely to see a full screen chart
showing what has been using power and when, but personally, I'd
prefer that the time used to create this presentation had been
reallocated to make the Google eBook reader display books
Okay, so no-one is forcing us
to go look at the battery power consumption analysis. We
make this comparison merely to indicate the different approach to
managing the device - Apple is a totally 'user transparent/black
approach, whereas Android is a 'let's pop the hood and look
This difference in attitude
slightly flows through to all elements of the interface, which we
feel is not as intuitive as the Apple iOS interface.
We're hard pushed to cite specific weaknesses or limitations; but
it just doesn't feel as easy or simple or obvious.
We've been using Apple iOS
devices since the original iPhone and Android devices since the
original Android phone too (the T-Mobile G1). At every step,
iOS has always felt like a polished solid interface (even when, in
hindsight, it really wasn't), while Android
has always felt rushed and not quite ready and not yet polished
Although it is 3.5 years since
the G1 was released in October 2008, and although Android has gone
through many major releases (this latest 'Jelly Bean' or 4.1
version being considered the tenth major release) since that time,
the bottom line is that Android is clearly not as user-friendly or
intuitive as iOS.
That's not to say this is a
deal breaking point. For most people, the differences in
design and stylistic approach mightn't matter too much. But
in terms of the 'better' interface, Apple's iOS still remains
The Google Nexus 7 made
headlines for being better than the Amazon Kindle Fire, and at the
same appealing $199 price.
Yes, it is better than the
Kindle Fire. But is that really the main competitor that
Google seeks to win market share from? When one compares the
Nexus 7 to the iPad 3, the Nexus 7 is never better and usually
inferior, other than in terms of being smaller - an attribute
which is equal parts plus and minus.
If you want a mobile
entertainment device, this would be a bad choice, due to its lack
If you want a portable web
browser/game player/email client device, this might be a
good choice, if you can accept the limitations inherent in the 7"
screen. If you do decide the 7" screen is acceptable, then
be sure to buy the 16GB ($249) model; the 8GB model is just way
too inadequate for almost all users and uses.
As for us, our iPad will
continue to be our preferred tablet.
Should You Buy a Nexus 7?
Truly this is the ultimate
question. Should you buy a Nexus 7?
If you already have an iPad,
you should stick with your iPad. I even prefer my original
first generation iPad to the slick new Nexus 7.
If you already have a Kindle
eReader of some description, whether it be a Fire or a black and
white earlier model, you might wish to wait until 'the dust
settles' and you can choose between the next version of the Kindle
Fire, the Nexus 7, and whatever lower cost/smaller iPad that Apple
If you have no type of tablet
or eReader, we are tempted to say wait a few more months - you've
waited this long already - and see what the new Amazon and Apple
products will be and at that point choose the best of the three.
So, although by all accounts,
the Nexus 7 is selling very well, most of us would be best advised
to wait just a few more months.
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20 Jul 2012, last update
18 Jul 2012
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.