Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Nexus 7 Review

It's here.

I got so frustrated with waiting for my Google Play order to arrive that I went out this evening and bought one from Currys. I'll just have to refuse delivery of the other when it finally arrives.

But enough of that, here's my review. And it's the first I've ever written so we'll just have to see how it goes.


I have no idea what all of the fuss is about. Took about 10 seconds. Maybe if any of them had a knife to hand to cut the stickers...

First impressions

It's really nice. Looks pretty sleek, the genuine pleatherette back gives it a good surface to grip. Not in love with how close the volume and power buttons are, but that's mainly bugging me right now for producing screenshots (which I'm not going to be doing a lot of after this!). As reported elsewhere, very minimal other than that - there's a micro USB port and audio jack on the bottom and four little brassy dots on the bottom of the left hand side which I believe are something to do with a magnetic cover reported elsewhere.

First switch on

Following a welcome screen, you're prompted to select a Wi-Fi network. After this you're asked if you have an existing Google account and then if you want to join Google+. I'm assuming that if you're already joined this step is skipped. After a couple more setup screens (Google location, services etc) Setup is complete and you're taken to the homescreen.

Having a play (no pun intended)

Everyone who's seen anything about the Nexus 7 will be familiar with this screenshot by now. The default homescreen has the My Library widget front and centre showing you the free content you've got access to. As you'll have read elsewhere, the widgets can be resized and the content in them resizes to match. It's a pretty nice feature that makes you ask "Why haven't they always done that?".

I couldn't resist testing the screen and dove straight in to Transformers: Dark of the moon. The picture quality is astounding. And, to my far from well trained ear, the sound was fine too - I wasn't expecting 5.1 surround but it was certainly loud enough for me to be able to hear exactly what was going on despite my 2 year old watching TV in the same room. The movie is streamed by default but you can download it in the background for offline viewing. I'm a bit disappointed that there's no way to stream the movie via DLNA to my TV. I'd love to see this in the future (assuming that the software isn't that hard to implement).

While I've been typing this the screen has timed out so I may as well talk about the lockscreen now. Once you press the power button to wake up the tablet, you get a pretty simple screen with the time, date and charge level in the top half and a padlock icon in the bottom half that pulses once to draw your attention. Dragging the lock to the left, right or bottom takes you back to whatever was open when the screen locked. Dragging it up brings up the much touted "Google Now". Right now, it's pretty useless showing only the local weather "card" and the card for the distance and travel time to my work (15 minutes! ha!) but it'll supposedly learn over time what I do and when I do it and automatically bring it up here. We'll see how that pans out.

At this point in the review I've just noticed something - I'm not really missing the hardware buttons and I thought I would. If there's one thing I am missing it's the menu button - I'm finding it a bit hard to locate the new triple dot button on some occasions (at least once because it wasn't there).

One last point in this section for now - I found very quickly that the screen wasn't rotating when I thought it should. It would appear that Google want you to use it in portrait by default (and that's certainly backed up by the design of the hardware). To that end they've disabled screen rotation. You can quickly and easily re-enable it though using an icon in the redesigned taskbar pulldown menu (which also offers access to the settings menu and the ability to dismiss one or all alerts).

General Performance

Damn it's slick! I'm yet to see it stutter or pause. I've downloaded a couple of pretty graphics intensive games like Dead Trigger and Glowball to give it a go and they're as smooth as silk. I refuse to say butter. Damnit!


Already in the app tray are Calculator, Calendar, Chrome, Clock, Currents, Downloads, Earth, Email, Gallery, GMail, Google, Google+, Latitude, Local, Maps, Messenger, Navigation, People, Play Books, Play Movies, Play Music, Play Store, Settings, Talk, Voice Search and YouTube. Here's my thoughts on most of them...

Calculator - Better than the one I'm used to. My current phone is an HTC Sensation XE and the HTC calculator is not good - I didn't think you could mess up a calculator design but HTC managed it. The Nexus is much cleaner

HTC Calculator
Nexus Calculator

Calendar - This is stunning. The last time I saw a stock Android calendar it was awful and I was so grateful for having HTC's take on it. But this beats the pants off my phone's calendar. It's cleaner and crisper with a well thought out design for the day, week and month views. But it's the agenda view where I can see me spending most of my time. It's so simple to navigate and offers the ability to set reminders and send emails to meeting attendees right there - a nice touch.

Chrome - Chrome rocks as a browser on the desktop and the new version included with JellyBean doesn't disappoint. It's fast and responsive, renders pages well and does a good job of resizing when rotating the screen. My only complaint - no Flash. Damn you Adobe!!

Clock - First app that's not as good as the one on my HTC. It's clean but very basic with just the time and the ability to set alarms. No World Clock, Stopwatch or Timer. Shame.

Currents - Well, I've never heard of this before so can't tell you if it's new to JellyBean or just omitted from HTC builds. But boy is it good! It's a news reader app but formatted far better than what I'm used to in a very magaziney and compelling way. Just found myself spending 15 minutes browsing the stories rather than writing this. Oops! Having just checked, it's available in the market on my Sensation so it's just that I've never heard of it before.

Downloads - Yeah, this isn't really an app. It's a way to view stuff you've downloaded (but not through Google Play). 'Nuff said.

Earth - I've never used Google Earth on Android before so have no comparison but it's pretty smooth and usable. I'm honestly not sure how much (if at all) I will use it as I've always found Google Earth to be more of a novelty than a useful tool. Sorry Google!

Email/GMail - Both have had a tablet makeover and look good. Folders are listed down the left-hand side with emails listed to the right. Mail and GMail seem to be very similar these days in both design and functionality which is a good thing in my opinion.

Gallery - I'm not sure there's much to say about this. It's a gallery, it works, its smooth, you can see pictures with it. Err... that's it.

Google - Is, it turns out, the Google Now app. Ahh, I see. Well, as I said before, we'll see how well this works out.

Google+/Messenger - I'm so dedicated to writing this review that I've re-joined Google+ to test it out. The app's pretty good and I think I'm going to stay but I'm still not sure it's for me - Practically nobody I know actively uses it right now and I've never managed to get into the "What's Hot" and "Hangouts" side of it. Still, it's a tablet optimised app so that gets it plus points

Latitude/Local/Maps/Navigation - I tend to class these as different facets of the same app. And there's not much, if any, difference between them on my ICS phone and here on a JellyBean tablet. Not a bad thing per se but there's nothing new to report. Hopefully they're going to get some tablet optimisation in the future. I'd say that the best feature to note is that, since a recent upgrade to Google Maps, you can make maps available offline which is going to be pretty much essential as the tablet has no mobile connectivity and relies entirely on Wi-Fi for data.

People - Hmmm. This is an odd one for me as I don't use People app on my mobile. If I want to call someone I go straight to the phone; text I go straight to messaging; email straight to GMail etc. So, I see even less of a need for an app of this nature on a tablet with no mobile network connectivity (and therefore no voice calls or texts). That said, it's been tablet optimised and does a decent job of letting you see a bunch

Play Books/Movies/Music/Store - All of these (with the exception of Music) look the same to me as they did in ICS on the Sensation. The music app's a new addition for me but functionality has been severely limited as the Google Play Music store isn't available in the UK. Essentially, it's the mp3 player. I haven't had the chance to transfer and mp3s yet but will see how well it bears up.

Settings - Has also not changed much from ICS. Not sure whether it's an HTC affectation but the icons in the settings menu of my phone are colour whereas the ones on the Nexus are just black and white. Also different (for me) is that accounts are listed seperately in the root menu instead of a sub-menu.

Talk - Is still just the chat functionality of your Google account. And looks pretty much the same as it always has.

Voice Search - Is pretty good. It's quick, accurate and gets me the results I'm after. I tried a few searches for places, people and movies and always got the info I wanted in the first set of results. The results page looks very clean and links take you off to Chrome, maps etc. I think the key here is its integration with Google Now which could be very good, I just need more time to test it.

YouTube - Has had a make over recently which I wasn't aware of so initially thought "Oh! New for tablet/JellyBean!" However, it's the same on my phone. There's a new sidebar for navigation which is definitely an improvement and actually works better on the tablet than on a smaller smartphone. Again, it depends on how much you'd use this as to how good or bad you'd find it. I don't use YouTube much so can't really comment on that front.

I've downloaded a couple of other apps so far but not many. Google Drive has had a tablet-y makeover and looks good for it. Facebook has no apparent differences and neither does Twitter although both work fine on the bigger screen.

That, I think, is just about enough info on apps for now!

So, Any Complaints?

A few. But they're minor. The keyboard isn't as good as the HTC one so I'll be looking for a good alternative. As I said earlier on, I occasionally have difficulty finding the menu button and would have preferred it if it was included along with the back and home buttons at the bottom of the screen. And, also mentioned earlier, I'd like DLNA functionality at some point.

Other than that though, I'm a very happy bunny. It's a brilliant piece of kit at a great price. I'm looking forward to seeing how I get on with it on a day-to-day basis and will more than likely report back on that at a later date.


  1. Hmm. Does the Adobe flash plugin for "other browsers" work? Think I had to use that one at home...

  2. I gave it a quick go this morning and had no success. Did read on one forum that the latest version of Dolphin browser doesn't support Flash on JellyBean. I may have had the wrong browser installed (went for Dolphin HD). In the end decided that I'm not that bothered about Flash any more - as long as the BBC put out a version of the iPlayer App at some point that doesn't rely on it, I'll be happy.