Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Still The Best 7in Android Tablet Around?
The best Android tablet just got better
The original Nexus 7 swept onto the scene dramatically in 2012 and took a neat chunk out of Apple's tablet share with its fast and clean performance on stock Android, competetive spec line-up and, crucially, a much lower price point than any of its rivals. In this respect the Nexus 7 was something of a pioneer (following in the footsteps of Amazon’s original Kindle Fire, but just with a workable OS). Up to this point in mobile history, cheap tablets usually meant very bad, awful, rubbish and basically unusable tablets. But the Nexus 7 changed all that, bringing with it very decent specs, decent hardware and a gorgeous OS and high-end display to market for a rock-bottom price. This –– along with the Nexus 4 –– was the proper dawn of Google’s now-seminal Nexus line of smartphones and tablets.
The Nexus 7 (2013) was a reworking on 2012’s popular model. It added in a few new features, changed the design somewhat and altogether attempted to create a more premium tablet experience without adding too much cost to the end retail price. Below is our verdict on Google’s second 7in Android tablet.
So it's not exactly surprising that Google has decided to reboot the concept with the Nexus 7 2013 edition. The name may not have changed save for the timestamp on the end, but the important thing is that Google's gone back and checked over the original Nexus 7, figured out what worked and what didn't and has refined and distilled the concept into something even more impressive.
While much has changed on the exterior, it's worth bearing in mind that although the processor and other internals are upgraded this is what might be considered an incremental upgrade (akin to the iPhone 'S' models) rather than a massive overhaul.
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Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Design
As much as we liked the design of the original Nexus 7, it was abundantly clear that it was made as cheaply as possible. From the all-plastic casing to the hollow-feeling back cover (which could be popped off completely if one were so inclined) the device simply couldn't compete with the build quality of Apple's products – but few complained, because the Nexus 7 was less than half the price of an iPad.
Thankfully, while the value of the device hasn't risen all that sharply (it's now £199 instead of £159 for the entry-level model) the standard of the construction has. It is now thinner and lighter than its predecessor, although it does stand a little taller when held in portrait. It's not as wide though, which means you can wrap a hand around it quite comfortably - handy for those times when you need another hand free (we won't speculate as to why).
The back of the device has a soft-touch texture that should prevent unwanted drops, but it does pick up scuffs and marks incredibly easily. We'd barely had our review unit out of the box minutes before we noticed a scratch on the back.
In terms of colour, Google have now added a white version of the Nexus 7 to the Google Play Store. This is only avaliable on the more expensive 32GB option and isn't yet avaliable on the 4G LTE version. Once you take this version out of the box there will be a cheeky little Android 4.4 KitKat update awaiting as well.
Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Specifications
What a difference a year makes. Tegra 3 is out and Qualcomm's 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro is in - the very same processor that shipped inside the Nexus 4 phone. And even though its powering a display with more pixels, the chipset performs admirably. Benchmark scores are excellent, although they fall short of being at the cutting-edge of the Android sector.
Running 3DMark's Ice Storm graphical benchmark on the 2013 Nexus 7 returns a score of 11489, which is very respectable indeed. GeekBench 2 – which benchmarks all kinds of performance details – comes up with 2589, which is a big improvement over the 1558 posted by the previous year's model. While the Nexus 7 can't match Tegra 4 beasts like the Nvidia Shield, it's still got more than enough raw power to do everything you could possibly want it to.
Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Software
The 2012 Nexus 7 was the first Android product to launch with 4.1 - better known as Jelly Bean. This newer model has 4.3 on board, which also goes by the name of Jelly Bean. Confused? Don't be - like the tablet itself, the software represents an evolution rather than a revolution. Android 4.4 KitKat is also now avaliable but we're not sure in what capacity.
There are improvements such as OpenGL ES 3.0 support for better 3D performance and Bluetooth low-energy compatibility, something that will come in very handy as the much-hyped "smart watch" revolution kicks off. For long-suffering parents there's the welcome ability to run restricted profiles on the device, which means you can disable in-app purchases in games to avoid having your pesky offspring spend thousands of pounds of digital goods.
The fact that many of Android 4.3's improvements are hard to see makes it feel very much the same as 4.2. In fact, if you didn't know you might even assume it was the same version of the OS. However, when you take into account the level of polish that is now applied to Android, it's hard to grumble - it's an exceptionally good operating system with excellent stability and customisation.
Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Display
The screen remains the same size as it was on the 2012 model and uses the same IPS tech, but the resolution has risen to 1920×1200 pixels, giving a pixel density of 323ppi. That means it's practically impossible to spot individual pixels, and makes the Nexus 7 perfect for reading eBooks or magazines.
It also helps that the screen's brightness has been enhanced over the 2012 model, and contrast is noticeably better. This is one of the best tablet screens we've ever seen.
Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Battery, storage and connectivity
The 2013 Nexus 7 may beat its ancestor in almost every regard, but it's stuck with a lower-capacity battery. The 3950mAh cell offers around the same stamina though, with about 8 hours of solid use possible – Google says this was achieved by tweaks in the Android code.
It also supports wireless charging now – just like the Nexus 4 – which is handy to have, but you'll need to invest in a Qi charger to make use of it.
The 8GB model from last year has been dumped, making 16GB the entry-level storage option. This should be enough for most people, especially when you take into account cloud services such as Google Drive and Google Music. If not, then there's always the more expensive 32GB edition.
Like many other devices in the Nexus range, there's no way to expand the storage space with MicroSD cards, so keep this in mind if you like downloading loads of stuff and are used to the card slots found on other Android products.
Fancy being a bit productive with your Nexus 7 2013? If you want to work on your documents stored on Google Drive this little Bluetooth keyboard-come-tablet case by Hawara could be just what the doctor ordered.
The keyboard is designed specifically for the Nexus 7 2013 edition and allows the tablet to dock comfortably in a laptop position – no need for a kickstand, so you can actually use it on your lap. It’s made from aluminium giving a premium look and feel. It connects via Bluetooth 3.0 and means you can avoid the touch keyboard taking up a large section of the display. The wireless connectivity means it'll also work over a distance of up to 10 metres from the tablet - we can't fathom why you'd need to be that far away, but perhaps it has its uses.
You can also mount the tablet face-down on the keyboard for transporting both the slate and keyboard in one handy package. The keyboard has its own battery with a supposed life of 55 hours on a single charge.
Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Conclusion
It may not be a radical departure from the previous model, but the 2013 version of the Nexus 7 is arguably the best Android slate you can buy right now. It may not be at the cutting edge of tech – its innards are almost the same as those of the soon-to-be-replaced Nexus 4 – but for the price this device offers amazing value for money. It's also truly portable and much easier to carry around than other tablets.
Twinned with Android 4.3 – the most refined version of Google's OS yet – the new Nexus 7 is an unbeatable proposition. If you've got the original model then you may want to spend some time with its successor before throwing down the cash. The 2012 edition has recently been blessed with Android 4.3, and is hardly a slouch. For everyone else, the Nexus 7 (2013) comes highly recommended.
What Others Say
The Nexus 7 is proving popular across the web. Here's a selection of comments from other tech sites.
IT Pro: "The Nexus 7 lays down the gauntlet yet again. It boasts the industry’s sharpest screen and oodles of power. The hard-wearing, good-looking chassis and price make it a better choice than the iPad Mini.Whilst the new Nexus is not the cheapest 7in device it’s the best in the business in virtually every department. If you need a compact tablet, versatile tablet, this is the one to buy.
PC Pro: "It’s the fastest, lightest, thinnest, narrowest, highest-DPI compact Android tablet – and because it’s a Nexus, you know the OS will be supported for the foreseeable future, while not getting bogged down by third-party “enhancements”. If you want a cheap and capable tablet, the Nook HD is still a tremendously tempting bargain. If you’re in the market for something more elegant, more capable and more future-proof, however, the new Nexus 7 is more or less irresistible."
Expert Reviews: "The Google Nexus 7 2013 costs £199 directly from Google for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only edition. That's £40 more than the previous model, but we feel the increase is justified based on the increased performance, sleeker design and vastly improved display. It's feels like a top-end device now, one which holds up well in comparison to the more expensive iPad Mini, and is very much deserving of our Best Buy award. "
|Screen Size||1920×1200 pixel IPS LCD, 7 inches|
|Processor||1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro|
|Built-in Memory||16GB or 32GB – no microSD|
|Operating System||Android 4.3|
|Designer Lens||5 megapixel (rear), 1.2 megapixel (front facing)|
|High-speed Data||LTE, HSPA+|