Google introduced the Nexus 7 in the summer of 2012 as the first Google-branded tablet. Asus is actually the manufacturer, but the device is branded as all Google. You can purchase a Nexus 7 online through the Google Play store, but you can also buy them through traditional electronics retailers like Best Buy and Microcenter.
The tablet comes in a 7 inch diagonal size (hence Nexus 7) and has either 8 or 16 gigs of internal storage. The price starts at $199 for the 8 gig model and $250 for the 16 gig. While some may see this as an assault on the Apple iPad, the pricing and size seem more in line with the Kindle Fire, a device that thumbed its nose at Google by using the free Android operating system and removing all portions of the mobile OS that would use any Google software. The Kindle Fire uses a separate app store maintained by Amazon.
The Nexus 7, on the other hand, natively uses the Google Play store, but you're not restricted from using the Amazon app market, either. With a few taps and a download, you can use just about any app market you choose. Open architecture and beefed up hardware are Google's shot across the bow at Amazon.
Is it effective? Is this a good device? Well, let's just put it this way. I had two colleagues immediately try to order one as soon as I showed them mine. Apple is rumored to be offering a 7 inch version of the iPad sometime soon, and if this doesn't happen, Apple should have reason to worry. This is a big deal.
The Technical Specs
The Nexus 7 has a 7 inch diagonal screen that displays 1280x800 content. That's not quite the HD resolution of a super high def big screen TV, but for a tiny little tablet, it's pretty good. The screen is made of Corning glass, and there's a front facing camera. It's only 1.2 megapixels, so you won't be taking any award winning portraits. There's also no rear facing camera. This is intended as a video chat camera, only. But when you think about it, just how often do you use your tablet to snap pictures, anyway?
The Nexus 7 supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n. There's no cellular data access or plans. Also missing is any card storage. You're stuck with the 8 or 16 gig internal storage and a micro USB port, mostly for charging. You can use Bluetooth keyboards and headphones.
The battery claims about 8 hours of active use. Your usage may vary depending on the type of activity you do, but unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, I did not find that the battery drained while the tablet was sleeping. I generally only have to plug mine in every second or third day, unless I'm spending most of the day using it.
The Nexus 7 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It was one of the first devices to sport this up to date operating system, and it's perfectly zippy with a quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1 gig of RAM.
Other features include a microphone, gyroscope, accelerometer, GPS, NFC, and magnetometer. This puts it well above the camera, GPS, Bluetooth, and microphone-less Amazon Kindle Fire, and other than the lack of cellular access, it's pretty much as well equipped as a smartphone.
As a limited time promotion, Google is also offering a $25 credit on Google Play for Nexus 7 purchasers. That's just a little over shipping costs if you buy it directly from Google. You also get some freebies pre-installed, like sample books, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, and a selection of magazines.
Using the Nexus 7
This is my third 7 inch tablet, and it's my favorite by far. Android Jelly Bean is far more usable than Honeycomb, and it allows for features like "face unlock" and Google Now that just make this a very smart and useful tablet.
The Kindle Fire previously got the most use out of my tablets, not because it was fastest, but because it was the most useful as a media consumption device. The Nexus 7 has completely replaced it. Not only can you use the Nexus 7 for reading e-books, you can use it for reading just about any e-book. Where the Kindle Fire was mostly restricted to Kindle books and documents you emailed to yourself, the Nexus 7 can run any compatible Android reader. Beyond that, watching movies works very well. If you turn the Nexus 7 on its side and compare the usable real estate with an iPad, you'll find that you're really not losing any movie viewing area for widescreen movies.
Where the Nexus 7 Falls Short
There's no expandable storage card space with the Nexus 7. You've either got an 8 GB model or a 16 GB model, and that's as big as it gets. As long as you judiciously use the cloud, you should be fine, but some users may have problems with offline movie, music, and book storage space. There's also no rear-facing camera, and the one aimed toward the front isn't that high of resolution, and there's no option for cellular data access. Personally, I find all of these choices to be acceptable features to trade for a cheap price. I've never once made heavy use of an SD storage card slot, and even in phones that have storage cards, it's been the hard drive that fills first no matter how many apps I move to the card.
Some users may be annoyed by the lack of 3G or 4G data options on the Nexus 7, but until phone companies start to charge reasonable rates for the service, I'm fine using Wi-Fi only. I would imagine most users would be.
The Nexus 7 was a purchase I don't regret. The size is perfect for reading just about any type of e-book, and it handles games and movies well. The built-in Bluetooth and front-facing camera make it flexible enough to use as a business tool, and the hard volume buttons make it superior to the Kindle Fire for music playback. Google has definitely created a winner with this one.