Google Nexus 7 Tablet Review: Solid, but Not Revolutionary

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Google has shaken up the design of its core navigation and status buttons, ostensibly for consistency with how navigation is handled on its smartphones. The three nav buttons (back, home, and recent apps) have moved from being clustered together flush left to being spread out along the bottom center of the display. The clock and notifications, meanwhile, move from the lower right of the display to the top of the screen. To gain access to the notifications or settings, you must slide down the "shader" from the top of the display. I preferred the earlier clean simplicity of the notifications pop-up on the lower right of the screen. But at least this new design in 4.2 separates notifications (pull-down shader when you drag from the left side) from several quick settings (drag down from the right side). And, you now get to see the percentage of remaining battery life at a glance?a small, but useful tweak.

I like the new set of Play widgets for surfacing content from My Library, My Books, My Magazines, My Movies, and My Music, but I was less satisfied with the recommendations widgets which recommend Play store content based on previous downloads. The beauty of Android is that you have the choice to customize the home screen, and you get customization in spades. Widgets are more resizable now; and in addition to the Google Play widgets, you get a handy new widget for quick access to wireless, rotation, and brightness controls?plus another one for using Android 4.1's new music identifier. The music ID worked successfully with most of the music I threw at it, struggling only with beat-heavy areas of dance tracks and some obscure world music choices from Croatia, Japan, and Poland.

At the top of the home screen sits the Google search bar, which ties in with the company's Google Now service and allows you to perform voice searches. Other improvements include the reintroduction of battery life percentage left (visible in the settings shader); vertical and horizontal home screen support; the ability to place widgets on the lock screen; and the addition of multiple users.

One more change for the better: The Google Nexus 7's native image gallery has improved image rendering as compared with Android 4.0 and 3.2. I noticed that images regained full sharpness more quickly than before, a critical feature when you actively use the gallery to show off your pictures.

Unfortunately, Nexus 7 also shows one of Android uglier sides?the pain of OS and device fragmentation. I encountered some tablet apps that wouldn't work on the Nexus, raising the old issues involving Android's app availability and compatibility. Android 4.2 goes a long way toward improving Android's usability?in spite of the aforementioned portrait mode and nav button mess?but it doesn't solve some of the underlying problems, either.

Bottom Line

Google succeeds at shooting Amazon's Kindle Fire out of the sky; the company has delivered a superior piece of hardware at the same starting price. The Nexus 7 remains one of the best Android deals you can get, and among pure Android tablets, it is the best deal, bar none. I like the feel and design of the Toshiba Excite 7.7 better, but that model typically costs twice as much as the 32GB Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 performs well, but its mixed display performance and lack of a MicroSD card slot prevent it from eliciting unequivocal enthusiasm. At 16GB, the Nexus 7 is an affordably priced starter tablet that provides terrific battery life, solid performance, and the latest full-court version of Android. But beware of the storage limitations; they might be a deal breaker for anyone with a large media collection or a desire to download movies and TV shows from Google Play.

This story, "Google Nexus 7 Tablet Review: Solid, but Not Revolutionary" was originally published by TechHive.

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