Jul 18 2012
07:54 am

Nexus 7 left, Motorola Xoom 10" right. Click any image for bigger

I pre-ordered the Google Nexus 7 tablet on announcement day, June 27th. It finally arrived yesterday afternoon. I got the 16GB version from the Google Play store, $249 plus sales tax and shipping. The 8GB version is $199.

Impressions and some screen shots after the jump...

It includes a $25 Google Play Store credit, plus a free movie (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) a free book (Bourne Dominion), and some free magazines (Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Food Network Magazine) from the Play Store. It appears the $25 Play Store credit deal is still on.

So far I'm pretty impressed, and I already had high expectations. The 1280 x 800 IPS screen is bright, sharp and scrolling is smooth. And the thing is fast - way faster than my Motorola Xoom 10" tablet (pictured above alongside the Nexus 7 for size comparison). And I'm already finding that I like the 7-inch form factor. It's much lighter and easier to handle.

The smaller screen size is more usable than I expected. Web pages are easy to read in landscape mode, and double-tapping zooms intelligently into the content you're reading, making it usable even in portrait mode (which is how it's designed to be held). The soft keyboard is usable in portrait mode, and just fine in landscape. With the on-board speech to text feature, though, you don't even need to type. It's fast and amazingly accurate.

Google has a winner here. It's no iPad killer, but it's not aiming for that. It's aiming for the Kindle Fire, and its purpose is to sell content from the Google Play store. Which is one reason the price is so aggressive. They are practically selling them at cost. Bonus, the Nexus has all the stuff the Kindle Fire is missing, such as a front-facing camera for video chat, GPS for navigation and location services, and Bluetooth for streaming audio or connecting headphones or a keyboard/mouse.

Out of the box, the Nexus 7 was already pre-configured with my Google Gmail ID, which is used as your account to sync all your Google services and is also your key to the Google Play store (and Google Wallet to buy stuff).

After entering my Google ID password and answering a few prompts about what to sync or not, it was ready to go. Almost. A message popped up that a system update had been downloaded and was ready to install. That took a couple of minutes and a reboot, then it was really ready to go.

The main home screen (there are five that can be accessed by swiping left or right) is set up with a Google Play widget showing all your purchased (or free or uploaded) content. The first thing you will probably want to do is remove that widget (or move it to one of the other home screens) so you can customize your home screen to your liking. You can also change out the pre-set icons along the bottom of the screen.

It uses a USB charger (included). When you hook it up to a PC via USB, Windows sees it as a media player device for syncing. You can also browse the folders to move stuff back and forth between your PC and the Nexus. Presumably this all works the same on a Mac.

Battery life seems pretty good so far. It looks like it will go all day on a charge with normal surfing and emailing use. (The rated life is 8 hours.)

There aren't any accessories yet other than a cover (which I didn't order in hopes there will be some nicer ones coming along). But, there are some undocumented gold connectors on the side, suggesting there will be a docking station at some point.

(Click any of the following images for a larger view.)

Here's why you want to pay $50 more for the 16GB version. Out of the box it only has 13.24GB available, and after installing a couple of apps I'm already down to 12.46GB. (Which is mind boggling for an old geezer like me, but anyway.) There's no SD card expansion slot. My phone has 48GB and my Xoom has 64GB with SD cards.

Google has designed the Nexus for online streaming (from their Play Store, of course), which is great when you're near wi-fi (until internet providers start throttling) but not so much if you're using your phone 3G/4G hotspot, which will eat up your wireless data ration pretty fast. At least with 12GB available you can load up hundreds or thousands of your favorite songs and a bunch of books for offline consumption. Movies, probably not. But who's going to watch movies on a 7-inch tablet anyway?

One curiosity about the Nexus 7 is that it's sold as a tablet but configured more like a phone. In fact, it looks just like my Droid Razr Maxx ICS, with status icons and notifications at the top. (See the photo above with the Motorola Xoom on the right for how an ICS tablet mode home screen looks.) Also, the home screen doesn't rotate, just like a phone. In tablet mode, it does. This can get a little annoying, but you get used to it. There are also third-party launchers that will rotate.

There's some speculation about why Google chose the phone look v. tablet. My theory is that there are a bunch of apps in the Play store that say "not compatible" if you try to install them on a tablet, even though they would work fine but maybe not look so nice on a larger screen. By looking like a phone, more apps will be compatible and in portrait mode look great on the smaller screen.

A perfect example is Flipboard, a popular iPhone app recently ported to Android. It won't install on a Xoom, but installs fine on the Nexus and looks great. (Although they have an iPad version, the company has said they won't do an Android tablet version. Huge mistake in my opinion, but whatever.)

The Nexus 7 ships with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, an update to Ice Cream Sandwich. Here's the change log for all the Jelly Bean goodies.

Chrome is now the default browser for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and forward. It works great. All my bookmarks synced right over from my desktop Chrome. You can install third-party browser such as Firefox, but really, why? Chrome doesn't support Adobe Flash, but Adobe has discontinued Flash for mobile and it isn't supported in Android 4.1 forward. So get used to it, and petition your favorite websites to dump Flash and use HTML 5.

The Google search bar has a new feature called "Google Now." It says it will learn from your searches and show you the results before you ask. It always shows weather for where you are, and there are several other categories for travel, traffic, places, sports scores and more. You can configure when to show "cards" in each category.

You can also talk to it and ask a question. On the Search/Now screen, just say "google" and it activates the voice search option. Here I have asked "what is the population of Knoxville?" and the answer popped right up.

It's pretty smart, too. I asked "what is the square root of 850?" and "how many cups in a gallon?" and got instant answers to both questions. It couldn't answer "when is the University of Tennessee's first football game?" but it popped up several suggested links to their schedule.

Here's a shot of the keyboard in portrait mode. It's entirely usable, more so than a phone.

The soft keyboard in landscape mode.

But you don't even need to type. Tap the microphone icon and it starts the built-in speech to text recorder/transcriber. The speed and accuracy are amazing.

The Nexus comes with all the standard Google apps already installed such as email, Gmail, contacts, maps, Google Books, Music, etc., including Google Talk which has a great video chat feature that uses the Nexus front-facing camera.

Google Books is almost identical to the Amazon Kindle Android app. I'm surprised there hasn't been a lawsuit. I still prefer the Kindle Touch e-reader because it's easier on the eyes, but I can see myself using the Amazon Kindle app more on the Nexus because it's perfect for the 7-inch form factor. (It's useless on a phone and a 10" tablet is too heavy and bulky.)

The movie player works great, but I won't use it.

The Google Music app is adequate, and in fact I use it all the time on my phone in the car with Bluetooth. The Nexus has Bluetooth, too. Google Music lets you upload your entire library (up to 20,000 songs) for free so you can stream them from anywhere (or download them to any device for offline playback).

Google Magazines is a nice new Play store feature. I've tried a couple of magazine apps in the past but they are generally slow and clumsy. Google Magazines is much faster and sleeker and easier to use. The selection is pretty good, and will presumably get better. It shows you the exact print layout with ads and everything, one-up single page in portrait mode or two-up side by side pages in landscape, which isn't as usable on a 7-inch tablet. Better yet, there's a "text" mode that makes it just like an e-reader showing just the article text.

jah's picture

phone vs tab layout

Odd that it's laid out like a phone instead of a tab. Is that just with the launcher? The resolution is tablet resolution, although the density could be too low for a tab. If it's just the launcher, you should try Apex. It's my favorite launcher, and I think I have tried them all. Nova is another good launcher for ICS & above - developed by the widgetlocker crew.

We had an ipad for a year before I got my first android tablet. I never thought I'd like a tab because the ipad - as nice as it truly is - is too big. the 7" size is ideal for anyone who isn't a big gamer or movie watcher.

You should consider getting a flygrip. I have one each for my tab and my phone.

R. Neal's picture

Is that just with the

Is that just with the launcher?

Yes,just on the launcher home pages. Apps that allow it rotate fine. You have to turn on the auto-rotate option, which is off by default.

Thanks for the tip about the third-party launchers.

gonzone's picture

I'm suffering with tech envy

I'm suffering with tech envy [shakes fist at SKB].

KO's picture

Nice write up. Mine arrived

Nice write up. Mine arrived today and is charging right now. Hopefully I'll get to mess around on it tonight.

missy's picture

Still waiting!!!!!!

UPS can't seem to get their act together to get mine delivered. Have been waiting since 7/13 when I was told it was being shipped and still no tablet a week later. It was supposed to be delivered yesterday, then today, now they are saying tomorrow. What gives!

fischbobber's picture

Track it.

If it's UPS ,you have a tracking number, and that will tell you exactly where it is at. If it's in town, call the 800 number and get a refund if the delivery has fallen outside of the terms of service.

flaco's picture

Nexus 7 Tax + S&H

How much did they tack on to the $249 for taxes S&H?

Do they charge taxes to all the States or a selected few?

jackdlail's picture

Taxes and shipping

Shipping: $13.99
Tax(TN): $24.33

Great first look Randy. As you say, it's not an iPad, but it's an excellent usable tablet. If you are already Google-centric on the Web, it rocks.

The knoxnews Android app looks really nice in it, BTW.

-- jack lail

R. Neal's picture

Battery life update

Battery life is pretty good. I charged it up to 100% and used it all day without recharging. I got 13 hours and 48 minutes before getting a low battery warning at 14%. This included reading several chapters of a book using the Kindle app, a lot of web surfing, a few short videos, some emailing, and using the Taptu and Flipboard newsreader apps a lot.

Tips: 1) Set the screen brightness to the lowest possible setting where it's still comfortable to read (or set it on auto). 2) Turn off syncing for stuff you can easily update manually (email, gmail, Twitter, etc.) especially the Google Currents app (which is also a data hog), or turn off syncing system wide except when needed. 3) turn off GPS and Bluetooth when not using. 4) Tap the power button to put the screen in sleep mode when not using. Set a low screen timeout (I've got mine set to two minutes, which I think is the default).


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