Second Take - Google Nexus 7

Last year I had probably my first acceptable experience with an Android slate, the Nexus 7. Google and Asus addressed much of what was lacking in the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and had I been in the market for a 7" Android slate, would have more than likely made the purchase.

Move forward to 2013 and we now have Google's refresh sporting the same exact name, but with some key upgrades to both hardware and software. Is the design and feature set still as attractive to me? Let's take a quick look.

PROS: class-leading high resolution display, attractive price, thinner/lighter than previous model, good performance

CONS: lack of accessories, rapid obsolescence

DETAILS:

The new Nexus 7 slate takes much from it's predecessor, yet offers some notable new additions as far as hardware and software. Since I don't want to rehash the same capabilities that last year's model also excelled at, and due to limited time with the unit available to me, I'll instead only be focusing on the differences here.

The first immediate change is the svelte exterior. Not only is it thinner and lighter but now offers a rear-facing 5MP camera, ideal for taking photos and 1080p video. You also still get to keep the micro-USB connector for charging, handy for folks that use external batteries.

Gone are the gold contacts located along the bottom for use with a docking station, and it appears Google has dropped this accessory despite it's late introduction for the previous model and keen consumer interest.

Enjoy sharper text and crisper images
Of course, the second biggest improvement users will notice after first handling the improved exterior is the new HD display. At 1920 x 1200 resolution across a 7 inch diagonal, that translates to a better-than 320 PPI density. This is especially noticeable when browsing content in portrait mode which condenses the width of the page to fit the screen. The image you see here is exactly such a close-up macro shot taken from a page of my website with a penny and ruler placed to show the scale. Text remains completely legible even at such a small font size, at native resolution, and without any zooming necessary.

I'm fortunate to have better than 20/10 vision, as I can read everything at this size and clarity easily with the device held at a comfortable arms-length - it's only when I move it beyond that distance that I need to zoom to get a comfortable reading experience. In all honesty, it's the kind of PPI I would like to see in a Windows device, and a 7" Windows device given the availability now of 4.5W SDP ULX Haswell parts.

PERFORMANCE:

Much of what the previous model could do goes over to the new Nexus 7, including Netflix/Hulu streaming and NAS access via dedicated apps. Of course, the new Nexus 7 comes with the latest version of Android 4.3 right out of the box, and with it's various OS tweaks and improvements makes the user experience even smoother and more slate-optimized, especially with core apps running in landscape mode.

Other system improvements done internally include dual band wifi, allowing you to use that 5GHz wireless router in areas where establishing a 2.4GHz network is impossible. Coming later, consumers will also be able to snag a LTE version compatible with multiple LTE providers.

THE BAD:

The newer model still doesn't really do much to address the negatives mentioned with the prior Nexus 7 slate. Branded Nexus 7 accessories are non-existent, there's still no SD card slot for storage expansion, and users must tend with the fact that their $216 purchase (16GB model) will be made obsolete in as little as a short year when a new model again is released to replace what's on show here. Is dumping $200+/year really the smartest consumer practice?

Native WMA/WMV playback is still absent. Also, while I like the fact that the Google Play app retains the same audio controls and EQ options, it would be great to see these available natively to the device, so that apps such as Pandora could also benefit from the audio enhancements.

My biggest desire, though, would really be to see a keyboard accessory for a 7 inch slate similar in look/function to the keyboard used on Microsoft's Surface slate. While effective applications of use would still be determined by the productivity apps available for Android, the ability to quickly remove/reverse the unit would make using a 7 inch slate even more pronounced, and take that productivity capability to an even higher level. I'm confident it's possible to create a 7 inch version of the Surface Type or Touch keyboard that retains the same ergonomics but doesn't cut corners on performance or usability.

Perhaps even more useful for the 7 inch form factor would be a docking station accessory that provided expanded connectivity. Imagine a 7 inch slate with a Surface Touch-like keyboard docked into compact box which offered RJ-45 connectivity, a 2.5" storage drive inside and a trio of USB 3.0 ports. While it may not appear as elegant a solution as a larger 10" netbook, it would sure allow you to do the same kind of work.

CONCLUSION:

As with my review of the original Nexus 7, I have to make the same conclusion with Google's 2013 refresh. Google and Asus have maintained their support and continue development of the platform and hardware, making the Nexus 7 a sure bet when it comes to looking at a 7 inch Android slate. The fact that last year's model also qualifies for the Android 4.3 update should be welcome news for existing owners. The Android app store continues to expand with many of the most popular titles found on iOS, and in some cases, even exclusive to Android, given it's far greater freedom and user-customization.

With it's improved exterior, high PPI display, better under-the-hood hardware and solid software base, I have little reason NOT to award Google's latest effort my recommendation.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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