Google Nexus 7, An extraordinary compact tablet

The original Nexus 7 blew the compact tablet competition away when it first launched in 2012, so we were very keen to see how Google would update it. Now it’s here, we’re delighted to say the 2013 update takes that superb template and improves on it in multiple ways.

It might look a bit taller and thinner than the old model, but the height and screen size actually haven’t changed; the reason for the new skinnier look is that the hardware manufacturer Asus has slimmed down the side bezels by 6mm, making the new model just 114mm wide.

This has the slightly unfortunate effect of making the top and bottom bezels feel even bigger than they did before – an effect that’s exacerbated by Android’s black notification and button bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Still, you quickly become accustomed to the long shape, and it’s hard to complain about getting the same amount of screen in a slightly smaller overall package.

The new Nexus 7 is also lighter than before, down from 340g to 290g – a palpable 15% reduction in mass over the previous generation – and thinner, too, measuring only 8.5mm thick. That isn’t quite as slim as an iPad mini, but it’s the thinnest and lightest Android tablet we’ve seen. Don’t confuse thin with flimsy, however: there’s very little flex to the back of it, and with scratchresistant Corning glass covering the frontwe’d have no qualms about tossing this tablet into a bag.

There’s good stuff on the inside, too. The 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro is a beast of a processor that really ups the performance from last year’s model – and it’s supported by an unusually generous 2GB of RAM, plus a fast GPU. This being a Google product, it comes with the very latest Android 4.3 OS, and those powerful internals make flicking around the interface a wonderfully snappy experience.

The full power of the hardware really shone through in our benchmarks, where it was anywhere between 30% and 65% faster than the old Nexus 7. That performance is evenmore impressive when you take into account the number of pixels it’s processing. A fantastic new 1,200 x 1,920 IPS display represents the highest resolution we’ve seen on a compact tablet, delivering a pixel density way higher than Apple’s Retina iPads.As you’d expect, this makes black-on-white text and vector-based appssuch as Maps look absolutely pristine. Video content and games look bold and bright, too, helped by a searing maximum brightness and very high contrast. Colours on our test model verged slightly towards the cool side, but not by enough to suck the warmth out of the picture. In fact, our only real problem was that a screen this sharp tends to exposethe weaknesses of the countless low-resolution images you’ll find online.

On top of this,the new Nexus 7 has a5-megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera, to partner the fixed-focus 1.2-megapixel camera on thefront. Images fromthe rear cameraare a little cold and noisy, but the quality is fine forsnapshots. You also get support for Bluetooth 4, “SlimPort” HDMI (although compatible adaptors aren’t yet widely available) and Qi wireless charging, plus, as before, GPS, NFC and the latest dual-band 802.11nWi-Fi.

With all this great hardware stuffed into such a slim case, you might expect the power consumption to be a weak point. The 3,950mAhrating of the internal batteryis indeed below average, yet impressively the device lasted 11hrs 48mins in ourstandard battery tests.That’s 1hr 10mins short of theAsus Fonepad, but well ahead of most other compacts; for comparison, theoriginal 2012 Nexus 7 managed only 8hrs 48mins.

If you really want to find niggles with the Nexus 7, you can. For a start, there’ s no microSD card slot to expand on the base 16GB of storage should the need arise. The speakers aren’t very loud, and their low-end responseis distinctly lacking. The power and volume buttons at the right-hand side are set almost flush with the case, making them awkward to press.

Plus, although theoriginal Nexus 7 seemed like incredible value at the time of itsrelease, this new modelmust be evaluated against some verycheap additions to the compact tablet line-up.

What you get for that Nexus premium, however,is a superlative piece of hardware. Put simply, it’s the fastest, lightest, thinnest and narrowest compact Android tablet available, with thecrispest Full HD screen as well. And, because it’s a Nexus, you know the Android OS will be well supported for the foreseeable future and won’t get bogged down by any third-party “enhancements” .

If you just want a cheap and capable tablet, thereare perfectly usable alternatives out there. But if you’re in themarket forsomethingmore elegant,more capable andmore future-proof, for only a littlemore money, the 2013 Google Nexus7ismore or less irresistible.