Since I’ve had it a few weeks now, I thought it was worth writing about the new Google Nexus 7, which annoyingly doesn’t have a particularly distinct new name to differentiate it from last year’s model. So let’s call it the 2013 model.
I was a big fan of the first Nexus 7. It was sold at what was essentially cost price, and along with the various Kindle Fire varieties, really kick-started the 7 inch screen as the tablet format of choice. Having previously owned a 10 inch tablet (the Sony S), I simply found it slightly too large to carry around everywhere, and consequently just didn’t use it a great deal. Whereas a 7 inch device slips into jacket pockets, takes minimal space in bags or luggage on journeys, but is still big enough to allow you to do things that are just too uncomfortable to do on phones.
The first thing to say is that if you already have a Nexus 7 and are happy with it, then you really needn’t upgrade.
So why did I go against my own advice?
It boils down to a single reason – lack of space. I was one of those cheapskates who only stumped up enough for the 8GB model costing £159 rather than spending a bit more and picking up a 16GB model. It was only slightly galling to find that Google fairly quickly stopped making the 8GB model and offered the 16GB for the cheaper price while introducing a 32GB model.
Because the thing you’re going to want to do with the Nexus 7 is download things to watch or listen to later – or perhaps stream them. You won’t be writing your magnum opus on it (well theoretically you could, but I’d pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard at the very least if that was the case). You’re probably not going to even write long emails on it. You might Tweet with it, or update your Facebook status. But that’s probably it.
So what’s changed between models?
Not a whole lot. It’s still made by Asus to a pretty high standard. There’s a camera on the back now, but I always think that you must be a bit desperate – and quite possibly mad – to want to use a tablet to take photos. But we all see them being used. And perhaps there’ll be a time when I need to use the camera – probably because I don’t have a proper camera with me, and my phone has died.
The screen has improved. But that’s almost academic, because the screen was pretty awesome to begin with.
It has wireless charging. But that’s really not made the mainstream yet. I find myself living in a world where every device, including this, charge via micro USB. And that’s a very convenient world. However the supplied Micro USB cable did break very quickly which isn’t great.
Unlike the first iteration of the Nexus 7, there is some technology called SlimPort built into the new version which allows you to mirror your tablet’s screen via HDMI on an external monitor or television. But I’ve yet to use this, and don’t know if there are any limitations. However there were a couple of occasions in the past when I wanted to do this, so although it’s not essential, it’s nice to have.
The price has gone up though, with the 16GB model now selling for £199, while the 32GB model that I plumped for sells for £239. If you spend £299 you can get an LTE capable device too.
Sadly there is still no microSD slot or easy way of using an external USB drive. It’s not alone with this of course, and it’s interesting to see manufacturers like SanDisk making things like wireless memory sticks to get around the issue. In the past, I’ve used workarounds by buying an OTG USB cable alongside an inexpensive app that allowed playback of files stored on an external USB stick. My rule of thumb is to now maximise the storage on any mobile device – because I know I’m going to use it.
Android 4.3 is great, although I haven’t noticed anything too substantially different since 4.2, since I don’t use the multi-user log-in that’s a major part of it. But it’s probably a bit snappier than 4.2 – even on the first generation Nexus 7. And Google has now broken out many apps from the OS to give owners of devices made by tardy phone manufacturers and networks access to get the latest and greatest versions of its apps regardless of the OS version they’re running.
After a few days of not supporting it (and forcing me to sideload the app), the BBC made its iPlayer app compatible with it, and it’s one of the relatively few devices that support downloading of programmes which is fantastic, with radio is due to follow in 2014.
Similarly, an initial problem I had with the Netflix app also disappeared after a few days.
Battery life seems very decent. Exactly how much life you get is obviously dependent on your usage, and the type of things you’re doing. I’ve run it all night streaming radio with well over half the battery left in the morning. I’m not a massive game player, although the newly released FIFA 14 seems to work well, and there wasn’t noticeable drain. Players of first person shooters might be the best people to ask about this.
The radios on the device seem to work well, with WiFi in particular being very strong and stretching to places lesser devices get no signal.
And there’s now a little LED at the foot of the device that tells you if you have an alert of some description when the device’s screen is off.
I’m never entirely sure why Asus is so slow making official cases and accessories for its devices. They’re missing a trick and some very easy money. I bet Apple barely sells a single iPad without also flogging a massively over-priced case to go with it. They’d certainly not release a new model without offering a full range of cases at time of launch. Cases to them are like mats or alloy wheels for a car dealer – there’s a good margin on them.
So I’m using a very decent and fairly priced MoKo case – £14.99 from Amazon – which holds the devicesnugly, has a way to prop it up, and includes a magnet that automatically switches on the device when flipped open. Oddly, despite including this functionality in the first generation Nexus 7, Asus’s own travel case didn’t include this magnet. Very strange.
Overall, I think they’ve shaved a fraction of a millimetre off its thickness, but making something so thin that it snaps has never been a major issue with me. Some still find the large black bezel top and bottom a bit off-putting, but I’m fine with it. When you’re using it in landscape mode, it gives you somewhere to hold it without getting in the way of the screen’s real estate. And the fact that the screen is very close to 16:9 means it’s far superior for watching videos compared with the oddly ratioed iOS devices.
Of course the 7″ Android market is getting very crowded with even Tesco launching a low priced device in the last week. Having a Nexus device means that I’m always on the latest version of the Android OS, but I’m not sure that’s vital for everyone. So if £120 is your upper limit, get something else. That said, I prefer a proper Android device with access to the Google Play store to Amazon’s version in its Kindle Fire devices. And it does seem that paying more does get you faster processors. If you’ve ever played with a “basic” Android phone, you know how sluggish they can be. But I’ve not played with some of the more recent devices, and they may perform very adequately.
There is also the interesting phablet area with devices like the Galaxy Note series filling a gap. It’s certainly true that if you’re using one of these, then you probably don’t need a 7 inch tablet as well.
If you already have a Nexus 7 and you’re happy with it, there really is no reason to upgrade. Otherwise, it’s a superb 7 inch tablet, and would take an awful lot to knock it off the top of the heap in its category.