Google Nexus 7 (2013) Review

If one is in the market for a 7-inch tablet on a shoestring budget, more often than not the device of choice is a Nexus 7. Google set a high standard with the original Nexus 7 last year, which offered impressive performance at an equally impressive price. Earlier this year, the search giant again roped in Asus to launch the successor — oddly still called the Nexus 7— and subsequently launched it in India last month with prices starting at Rs 20,999. The new version, as expected, gets a boost in specifications including a 1,920×1,200 pixels IPS display, rear and front cameras and wireless charging among others. We put this 7-incher tablet through its paces to find out if it will manage to carve a market for itself or fizzle out under the massive shadow of its predecessor.

At first glance, the Nexus 7 (2013) looks similar to last year’s model, which is not exactly a bad thing to begin with. But look closer and you will see subtle changes that differentiate the two tablets. Starting at the front, where the tablet flaunts an absolutely gorgeous 7-inch 1,920×1,200 pixels IPS display with a pixel count of 323ppi. It’s a big step up from last year’s model, which featured a resolution of 1,280×800 pixels with a density of 216ppi. The result is a display which is sharp, is great at reproducing colors and offers as good a white balance as you would see on any of the high-end devices today. Viewing angles are pretty good and the display is more than legible under direct sunlight. Asus has also done a great job in ensuring that the display doesn’t attract grease or fingerprints.

The bezels are visibly narrower than in the model before, though there is still a lot of unused space at the top and bottom. There is a 1.2-megapixel at the top and instead of capacitive buttons; Asus has opted for three on-screen virtual buttons. On the sides, gone are last year’s faux metal frame and instead the new tablet gets a tapering edge with the power button, volume rocker and the mic on the right hand side. The buttons are of good quality and there is a reassuring click every time you press them. One small complaint that we have is that the tapering edge makes it a little difficult to reach the buttons when the tablet is kept on a flat surface.

The back though is where we see the most number of changes. Gone is the dimpled rubberized back and instead Asus has gone for a similar rubberized back but with a pure black matte finish. It may not give the tablet the most premium of looks, but it does provide a good grip and you are never in fear of the tablet slipping out of your hands. Other changes at the back include a new 5-megapixel rear camera and the word ‘Nexus’ embossed vertically across the back instead of horizontally as was the case on the predecessor.

The tablet’s audio prowess too has been given a boost and in place of last year’s mono speakers, Asus has added two stereo speakers. At the top is a single wide speaker and at the bottom, separated by the microUSB port, are two small speakers. There is also a 3.5mm audio jack at the top, just above the rear camera. The speakers do their job efficiently and the audio is loud enough in most of the environments.

Overall, the new tablet is a shade longer (200mm), slimmer (8.7mm) and lighter (290 grams) than its predecessor (198.5x120x10.5mm and 340 grams), which means it fits well in one’s hands and also into one’s trouser pockets.

Talking of the hardware inside the Nexus 7 (2013), the tablet is a beast on paper. Instead of the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC, this year Google has opted for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core SoC clocked at 1.5GHz and paired with Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. All these mean that performance is sublime without any lags or stutters. The tablet was able to take basic functions like opening/closing apps or browsing the web and more advanced tasks of handling graphic intensive games like Angry Birds Go or Asphalt 8 Airborne in its stride without so much as a whimper. The only indication that the tablet was working close to its maximum capacity was the fact that it heated up in a while.

In terms of internal storage, the tablet comes in 16GB and 32GB variants, but sadly like last year, there’s no place for a microSD card slot to expand the storage. Though 32GB would suffice in normal circumstances, in this case with such a beautiful display at our disposal, we would have loved to cram the device with full HD 1080p movies.

A tablet is not a device you would carry around to click pictures, but with recent devices it has become essential to expect a decent pair of snappers. No wonder then Asus has made up for the absence of a rear camera in last year’s model by adding a 5-megapixel snapper at the back. The camera though is strictly for recreational purposes and not for serious photographers. Performance is average at best and you will get decent results only if lighting conditions are optimal. The camera performance has slightly improved with the Android OS update, but in less than perfect conditions, you will still end up with a lot of noise, dark areas and loss of details. There is no flash accompanying the camera either, hence nighttime photography with this device should be avoided if possible.

The rear camera also supports 1080p video recording, but do not expect any great quality videos. Again results are decent under good lighting conditions and only when the tablet is held steady. With the absence of optical image stabilization (OIS), any moving or panning causes blurs. The front 1.2-megapixel camera is good enough for video chats and those occasional selfies when the lighting is good. Otherwise, results are again dark and grainy.

Being a Nexus device, on the software front, anything less than the latest OS version is sacrilege. Not surprising then, that the device was running on Android 4.4 KitKat when we received it and since then we have updated it to Android 4.4.2. Like we mentioned in our Nexus 5 review, the latest OS update only adds a few subtle UI changes but beyond cosmetics it is essentially a major under-the-hood stuff that regular users won’t realize.

Ensuring everything hums underneath is a non-removable 3,950mAh battery, which is surprisingly a step down from the 4,325mAh battery in last year’s Nexus 7. In terms of performance, we could only get about 7 and half hours of heavy duty usage (brightness at maximum, watching two 1-hour long HD quality TV series episodes, around two hours of playing Angry Birds Go and Asphalt 8 and a bit of alternating between checking emails, web browsing, Twitter and Facebook) before the battery ran out of juice. On a more judicial usage which didn’t involve gaming or watching HD videos, we were able to stretch the battery to about a day and half. This kind of usage involved using the display at medium brightness, and web browsing, Facebook, Twitter, checking emails and keeping a tab of Google Analytics, while connected to Wi-Fi at office and home.

The Nexus 7 (2013) then is an impressive device and a big improvement over its predecessor. Where last year’s Tegra-powered device suffered from performance issues, the current-gen device is nearly flawless and gives off every vibe you would expect from a premium device. The display again needs a mention and is clearly one of the best you would find on tablets in this range today.

Priced at Rs 20,999 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and going up to Rs 27,999 for the 32GB LTE variant, it won’t cause any concerns for your pocket either and thus gets a certain advantage over competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 and the Apple iPad mini. It is a tablet we strongly recommend if you are in the market for a 7-inch tablet this year and don’t want to shell out a lot of money for it.

Photo Credit: Rishabh Chakravorty