Quick Look - Google Nexus 7

It was back in 2010 that I looked at the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and had my first exposure to Android. The $650 7" slate may have found over 1.5 million fans, yet I returned mine in utter frustration due to a lack of video playback and video streaming ability, among it's other notable drawbacks.

Fast-forward two years and I now have one of the latest 7" Android slates, the Google Nexus 7, in my capable hands. Has Asus improved on the hardware and Android improved enough to make me ditch my Windows netbook? Let's take a look!

PROS: Priced very well, small/light, solid hardware performance, mature software base, tons of apps, works great with a NAS, streams Hulu/Netflix effortlessly

CONS: Lack of accessories, still can't do everything a netbook can, planned obsolescence


Regular readers here at lgpOnTheMove will know I'm probably the most stubborn slate critic there is writing online today. With reviews of Android, WebOS and BlackBerry hardware under my belt, I've had more than my fair share of devices that have promised much, yet fallen short on features and capability. I'll let others cheerfully carry the argument about slates being the holy grail of content consumption devices, but at the end of the day my netbook remains my go-to device, having outlived and out-performed every first-generation (and newer) slate priced hundreds of dollars more.

It's not that I'm biased - I simply need more than what I've seen past slates offer. It's not that I'm challenged by a touch UI - it's just not suitable for extended productivity. And it's not that I'm stuck in a Windows/PC/keyboard/mouse mentality either. No. I'm an IT enthusiast at the core. That means I can not only read, but understand a spec sheet. It means that I already have a good idea of what it is that I'm looking for out of a device when it comes to performance, capability and value. And it means I understand the limitations of a smartphone OS versus a desktop OS. So while marketing hype will always try to explain what a certain device can do for me (things I may not be interested in), I'm on the other hand looking to see what I can get out of a particular device (things I cannot do with anything else).

It's that desire to see how far I can push hardware/software to it's limits that has always formed the basis of my critique. After all, why create a slate with a 7" display if it cannot handle video playback? How do you effectively market a slate solution among competing devices offering better capability yet costing hundreds of dollars less? And how do you convince serious buyers to jump on board a platform that could become obsolete in as little as 12 months? Safe to say then, that my skepticism comes with good reason.


All negativity and cynicism aside, I proceeded to grab my Nexus 7 as soon as I saw the Black Friday deal appear online. Staples sells the 16GB model for $199, but will also happily price-match Office Depot's sale price on the 32GB version at $229. The extra 16GB storage for $30 is worth it, especially if you intend to take advantage of the armada of apps available in the Google Play store, and also because there is no SD card slot on the Nexus 7 either.

Google will require you to log into your account upon first firing up the device, or create one if you don't already have. Once running, the device soon prompted me to do it's first update, Android 4.1.2, followed by Android 4.2. I have to say Jelly Bean runs very slick and smooth, not to mention stable. I have yet to see my device crash or require a reset.

As for the hardware, Asus have done a solid job. The device is far smaller and lighter than a 10" netbook and will actually fit in a jacket pocket just fine. The larger 7" screen is clearly superior for watching video content versus a smartphone, and will handle 720p material as well. The back of the device has a textured finish and tapers towards the edges making it very easy to hold in one hand, in either landscape or portrait.

Actual hardware connectivity is sparse. You will find just a microUSB connector on the bottom, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 1.2MP webcam. The only physical buttons on the slate are a pair of volume rockers and a small power tab. The back of the device is bare sans a speaker slit along with the obligatory nexus and Asus branding. That said, you will be covered with wireless as it can do full 802.11 b/g/n on 2.4GHz at 150Mbps as well as support BT 3.0.

Charge the Nexus 7 anywhere
As for the battery, Asus equips the Nexus 7 with a generous 16Wh 4325mAh Li-Poly cell rated for 9.5 hours. Real-world use would come close, as I've been able to handle the slate all-day, whether I'm surfing the web, watching Hulu/Netflix, streaming DVD rips from my NAS (more on that in a future article) or rocking out to Pandora. Again, my Energizer XP8000 works it's magic, being able to charge the Nexus 7 when away from an outlet.

Needless to say, the Nexus 7 pairs amazingly well with a Clear Apollo 4G mobile hotspot or the newer more compact Voyager model. The no-nonsense unlimited data plan works great for all-day usage on the go, and saves me from paying hundreds of dollars more over the course of just a year compared to a slate with 3G/4G built-in tied to other carrier's overpriced and capped shared-data plans.


The true power of any slate comes down to the apps available for it, and Android certainly doesn't disappoint. Since my first look two years ago, the Android marketplace has grown monumentally, with some apps hitting over 100 million downloads, a trend that will continue well on.

There's a good selection of apps already installed on the Nexus 7 out-of-the-box, including Google's suite of Gmail/Chrome/Earth/Maps applications, with Google Play handling e-books, magazines, TV/Movies and music. It's ironic that the most popular user hangouts (facebook/skype/twitter) were still absent requiring a manual download to get going.

Quite pleasingly, both Hulu and Netflix have improved their Android presence since 2010. I was able to stream online content from both sources effortlessly, although I do question the need to pay $7.99/month for Hulu's services when said capability is available on the PC free of charge. Netbook 1 - slate 0.

Minimal, but definitely useful
Music is still a difficult hurdle, as the device fails to play back WMA files natively, while Google Play expects content to be stored either directly on the device or streamed through your account after uploading to the cloud. Fortunately you can pair your notebook over BT to quickly transfer tunes, plug in using USB, or my favorite method, move files over wifi directly from my NAS. I was also very pleased to see a 5-band EQ with bass-boost and 3D effect sliders included with Google Play, although to appreciate the sound enhancements requires a decent set of cans.

Video playback can be done with files stored either directly on the device (again a good reason to pony up the extra $30 for the 32GB Nexus 7), or streamed directly from a NAS if you have the right app. For folks who keep rips of their DVD's, choosing the latter is the way to go, especially if your particular NAS allows web access via Android.

I'm also getting a lot of enjoyment using Skype for video chat, although the app only seems to work in landscape, placing the camera to the side and your head off-center.

Still hanging on to my netbook, thanks!
Accessing my blog is made easy too thanks to the blogger app that lets me view, edit, save and publish blog posts, add labels as well as insert/upload images stored on the device and take photos from within the app. Here's one usage example that would benefit greatly from a keyboard accessory and a rear-facing camera! While it's not enough or anywhere near as full-featured as using the native web interface on a netbook, it certainly offers potential.


One of the things I really liked when reviewing the HP TouchPad was the smart selection of accessories HP designed for the slate, including the keyboard, cover and adjustable stand. Asus briefly leaked details of a desktop dock for the Nexus 7, but this accessory has so-far been non-existent (connections for the dock can be seen on the left edge of the slate) . Likewise, the company has yet to come forward with a case or keyboard that could really push the 7" slate into becoming a useful tool. I would love to see a clam-shell type of case/keyboard for the Nexus 7, although that again raises the argument in favor of the more capable netbook.

I also yearn for a rear-facing camera, considering that smartphones much smaller already have 5MP and 1080p video capabilities. Having this available would not only allow for image sharing, but permit uploading to a NAS.

You could point fingers at Asus for failure to provide a SD slot on the device for expanding storage, but there are various ways today to get around that, including apps that let you upload to a NAS or connect a USB drive using an adapter. These are especially useful if cloud storage becomes full, or too expensive for maintaining a large storage quota over the long-term.

My biggest concern with the Nexus 7, however, is that of obsolescence. No slate released so far to my knowledge has remained on sale beyond 12 months, either being superseded by a newer model or being forced obsolete by an unsupported OS update/upgrade. While we're not talking about a $500 device, I still would be hesitant to invest in an unproven gadget that is at risk of becoming a paperweight within 2 years. With the incredibly rapid advances seen in smartphone hardware racing with mobile software, you would either need to religiously commit with current solutions keeping them beyond their hip status expiration date, or continuously pump money into buying the newest hardware the minute it's released. Compare to my $400 netbook purchase from 18 months ago that still remains feature-competitive, without requiring any upgrades or additional expense.


I really like the Nexus 7. Google and Asus have put together a really nice package, so much so that I am seriously considering keeping it. $199 is great value for what you get, and the 32GB model going for just $30 more makes for a logical choice. The current crop of Android apps offers a broad range of usability that in the past has been either unavailable to slate users, or required a netbook to enjoy.

The million dollar question is will the Nexus 7 follow past slate efforts and become obsolete in 18 months, or still remain as useful as it is today? I really don't like blowing money on gear that ends up collecting dust, all because somebody higher up one day determines a perfectly working device needs to be killed off.

That said, I won't be replacing my HP 210 Mini with a slate any time soon - I'm critical, not blind! The blogger app (as with many, MANY others) is still a watered-down version of the full web-based client, and the slate fails to offer an upgraded audio experience for movies/music, never mind a total lack of x86 productivity, peripheral connectivity, cursor control for lengthier text input or the luxury of a 250GB SSD. More likely I'll be using a 7" slate as a companion tool alongside my netbook, especially when it comes to streaming movies from my NAS, catching up with TV on Hulu, killing time surfing the news or taking advantage of specialist Android apps not available on my HTC Touch Pro 2.

Bottom line - if I'm liking the Google Nexus 7, then you DEFINITELY should.



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