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Google Nexus 7 review (8GB)

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.0 stars Excellent
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Average User Rating

4.5 stars 2 user reviews

The good: The Nexus 7's quad-core Tegra 3 processor delivers fast performance and a beautiful and responsive screen. Also, it's comfortable to hold and Android 4.1 brings a surplus of welcome additions. At only $200, the Nexus 7 is a steal.

The bad: The lack of built-in expandable storage and and omission of HDMI are disappointing and the design follows the plain, black tablet mold, with uselessly thick top and bottom bezels.

The bottom line: With a beautiful screen, fast performance, a comfortable design, and overall great media options, the Nexus 7 is easily the best 7-inch tablet available and one of the top tablets on the market.

MSRP: $199.00

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The Nexus 7 tablet embodies the moment when tablet buyers no longer have to compromise performance for price. No other 7-inch, $200 to $250 tablet combines this level of performance, with Android 4.1's features, in such a comfortable design.

What buyers lose with the lack of built-in expandable storage options and the omission of a back camera, they’ll gain in complete OS flexibility on a powerful and cheap tablet.

Yep, the Nexus 7 is yet another black tablet (unless you got one with a white back at Google I/O) in the long line of black tablets. Yet, it does its best to break from the cookie cutter mold of most slates. Chief among those efforts is a rubbery, leathery, grippy back texture, similar to what we saw on the Acer Iconia Tab A510, but with both "Nexus" and "Asus" embossed on it. It may not look like much, but the inclusion of this seemingly small bit of design panache makes the tablet one of the most comfortable I've ever held.

Holding the very comfy Nexus 7.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Speaking of holding, the Nexus 7 is noticeably lighter than the Kindle Fire and thanks to its beveled bottom and painted silver trim, actually looks thinner. Or at least sleeker. There's definitely some kind of slimming illusion going on, as I wasn't the only one to think it much skinnier than the Kindle Fire. Turns out, it is thinner, but only by 0.04 inch.

Hands-on with the Nexus 7 (pictures)

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Nexus 7 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Amazon Kindle Fire
Weight in pounds 0.74 0.74 0.9
Width in inches (landscape) 7.8 7.6 7.4
Height in inches 7.7 4.8 4.75
Depth in inches 0.4 0.3 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 0.76 0.78 (power button side), 0.6 opposite side

Only slightly thinner than the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 looks sleeker thanks to its beveled bottom.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

I usually describe tablet feature placement from a landscape perspective, but given that Google changed the way the Home screen functions, I've been forced to adjust. When the Nexus 7 is held in portrait mode and viewed from the front, the 1.2-megapixel front camera sitting in the middle of the top bezel is the lone distinguishable feature. On the right edge toward the top is the power/lock button, closely followed by the volume rocker. Following the right edge down and around to the bottom reveals a headphone jack, with a Micro-USB port in the middle of bottom edge. Right above that, on the back is a horizontally-aligned two-inch long speaker slit.

That's it, though. No memory expansion, no HDMI out, and no back camera are included. Their exclusion is likely a cost-saving measure, but also makes the tablet that much more approachable for the tablet layman.

Just how sweet is that Bean?
The Nexus 7 will be the first device to ship with the latest incarnation of the Android OS, version 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean. Though Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 is just as customizable as previous incarnations of the OS, the way it's presented here feels much more controlled and focused, and while a bit less intimidating to the uninitiated, it also feels a bit constraining.

Part of the reason is the way the home screen now works. Well, it works the same as it does on every other Android tablet, allowing you vast customization options, but now if you turn the tablet to landscape mode the screen won't rotate. It rotates fine in apps, but as soon as you tap that home button, you're back in portrait mode. Not the biggest deal in the world, but it does contribute to a slight tinge of claustrophobia when navigating and can be quite annoying. To me, at least. Google may see it as a safety net: If you get scared or confused, just press this home button and return to the comforting bosom of the home screen in the same orientation you remember. Not a bad compromise if Google is indeed going after a mass audience with this tablet.

The dock on the bottom of the home screen is filled mostly with Google services apps like Play, Music, Books, and Magazines. There's also a folder housing Chrome -- the default browser -- as well as Google Maps, Google Plus, Gmail, and other services. Directly in the middle of the tray is the apps button. Swiping up from the Home button and across the apps button takes you to Google Now, Google's new predictive personalized helper.

Google Now displays information like the current weather, local bus schedules, and nearby restaurants you may be interested in. While this can be useful on the Nexus 7 if you're near a Wi-Fi connection, it loses its appeal if you're already outside, waiting for a bus, and is much more useful on a phone.

Android 4.1's toolbar and nonrotating home screen make the OS feel very claustrophobic on the Nexus 7.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Google Play plays nicely, but not cheaply
In keeping with the "Google's gunning for the Kindle Fire" theme, Google Play has been updated to include TV shows, purchasable movies, and magazines, finally bringing the store into modern times. After browsing through a few HD and standard-definition TV shows, it appears that Google's prices for complete seasons match the prices for the same shows on iTunes. However, on the Kindle Fire, prices were routinely much cheaper compared even with the SD versions on Google Play -- though those lower prices are offset by the cost of an Amazon Prime membership.

Also, a couple of shows on Google Play like "Breaking Bad" and "Justified" currently offer only the latest season, while Amazon Instant offers the complete series; however, the complete series of other shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Parks and Recreation" are available. This is a rights issue more than anything and the catalog should hopefully improve over time.

Yay! Purchasable TV shows on Google Play! Now we can all (legally) watch movies on our Android devices!

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Movies and TV shows purchased through Google Play will stream by default and you'll have to manually download them if you want them stored locally. I've been looking forward to this for a long time and it's exciting that Android owners finally have an official, fast, and legal way of getting movies and TV shows on their devices.

As mentioned, there's a 1.2-megapixel camera on the front, but there's no actual camera app included. Unless Google adds one before release, it looks like video conferencing is all the camera will be used for. To which my response is, "why even include a camera, then?".

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Where to Buy

MSRP: $199.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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Quick Specifications

  • OS provided Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
  • RAM 1 GB
  • Processor NVidia Tegra 3
  • Dimensions (WxDxH) 10.45 mm
  • Display type 7 in
  • Weight 0.7 lbs

Eric Franklin is a senior editor covering tablets and monitors. He's managed CNET's San Francisco testing lab the last 9 years and has written for CNET, covering everything from CPUs to games, for more than a decade. Full Bio

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