I've had the Nexus 7 - Googles new 7" tablet - for a month now, and it's a nearly perfect device. It's not my first tablet; I've used a budget Android 2.3-based tablet for the past year. It was cheap, limited and full of flaws, but I did find it surprisingly useful as a book reader. The N7 removes every one of those flaws and annoyances. I've also used and admired the iPad, but find the Nexus 7 to be the better device for me in many ways.
I bought the Nexus 7 through the Google Play store soon after it went on sale in Japan. The price includes tax and shipping, and it also included a ¥2000 credit in the Play store — most of which I spent on Final Fantasy III. Delivery took just a few days. (Note that the Google Play credit offer ended this past September. Also, see comment below for more information when buying multiple Nexus 7s.)
The Nexus 7. Some light reading and web browsing during lunch. it's easy to hold and use in one hand, and if a few drops of soup would hit the screen, it's nothing to worry about. This kind of situation is where a tablet this size excels.
The size of the N7 is just right. Width, height and weight is similar to a paperback, but it's very thin, and with its curved edges and sloping, grippy back it's easy to hold and use in one hand for long periods. It goes easily into a coat or jacket pocket, and it even fits in my jeans back pocket when I need both hands for the food tray at lunch. A larger device is too big and heavy to use at the table, on the train, reading in bed or looking thing up on the street. Of course, a larger device may be very good for other uses — I don't recommend taking the Nexus 7 into the bath.
The Nexus 7 is wifi only (though a 3g version is rumoured). It keeps the price down and battery life up, of course, and you don't depend on a network carrier with opinions on what you can and can't do with your device, but it can be a little limiting. Fortunatly it is easy to tether the N7 to my phone when I need a network connection on the go. I have a Galaxy Nexus on the NTT DoCoMo Xi network, and tethering is allowed. Once you've set it up ut works fairly well. Turn on "wifi hotspot" on the phone (you need stock Android, not NTTs version) and the tablet automatically finds and connects to it. I have a 7Gb monthly data limit, but I've yet to actually use the entire monthly quota.
I got a slim book-style cover, but while it may make sense for a large tablet it makes the Nexus 7 clumsier than I like. Fortunately the N7 just snaps in and out of place, so I use the cover as a carry sleeve and stand — the front flap folds back to become a support — but remove the tablet for use. The N7 really shines when used without a cover, so I'll probably replace the cover with a slip-in pouch later on.
The N7 is a "nexus" device. That means that it's Google-branded and runs the latest version of Android. It gets new updates as soon as Google releases them — we got 4.1.2 just last week — not when the maker or carrier decide to update it (if they ever do). Nexus devices are meant to showcase the Android system, and Android 4.1 on the Nexus 7 is a pleasure. It's smooth, beautiful and fast. The UI just gets out of the way, and is far more polished than earlier versions.
Up until now, many cheap tablets don't actually have the Google Play store, a crippling omission. The success of the full-featured, fully-supported Nexus 7 will hopefully have an impact far beyond its user base. The Nexus 7 — at the same price level as many budget tablets — will set a new minimum standard and weed out most of the horrible, barely usable products currently out there. Any maker who wants to stay in this market will have to at least match the Nexus 7 for basic features or find themselves without customers.
Battery life is good — really good, in fact, with the latest update. As a test, I took the N7 off the charger (standard micro USB - thank you for that) on Tuesday morning, then used it as I normally do until the battery ran out. A typical day I read my RSS feeds during my morning commute, read a book during lunch and at night, and occasional web surfing, games (I finished "Anomaly: Warzone Earth"1 on my way home Tuesday night), reading and dictionary use throughout the day.
Nexus 7 battery graph just as it reached 4%, giving me 2 days and 15 hours of use. Wifi was constanly enabled, as was account synchronization and GPS.
I disconnected the N7 Tuesday morning. It reached 4% charge and a final power warning on Thursday night, after two days and 15 hours; that is 63 hours of use on one charge. This is fairly light use, but typical for me on weekdays (I spend most of my time working after all). I've made no attempt to extend the battery life; If I turn off GPS, lower the screen brightness, turn off wifi when I'm not using it and don't play games I could probably use it another half a day on a charge.
What's the use for something like this? Anything that involves mostly consuming things rather than creating it. It's perfect for reading books; email and web surfing (Firefox runs great); forums and chat; social sites such as Facebook, Google+, twitter and so on. The screen is fine for viewing photos (though that's one area where a larger screen could be handy) and movies. It's an excellent gaming system; I've got Minecraft, Final Fantasy III, Broken Sword and a dozen Humble Bundle games on it and they all run beautifully. It excels at video chats. And for all the talk about the lack of "tablet optimized" applications on Android, I've yet to find an app that doesn't work great on the Nexus 7.
You can connect a keyboard to the Nexus 7 with an OTG USB adapter. Here I've connected a Happy Hacking Professional JP keyboard2 to the Nexus 7 and it works just fine. Even such a small keyboard dwarfs the N7, though, and as the small size of the tablet is a main feature, adding a bulky keyboard sort of defeats the purpose. If you need to write a lot, then do yourself a favour and bring a real laptop.
The weak point for tablets is creating content. Writing is clumsy and slow on a touch screen, and not comparable to a real keyboard. Short emails, chats and posts are fine. Longer texts soon become cumbersome; I'm drafting this blog post on the N7 at a cafe in Namba, and this is about as long a text I would ever want to write without a real, physical keyboard. Small portable keyboards are not a real solution; they're almost as hard to write with as an on-screen one. Android has voice input of course, but it's too slow and still too error-prone to replace typing, and you usually can't dictate things aloud in public.
The price is an overlooked feature of the Nexus 7. At just below 20k yen it's half the price of similar size Android tablets and substantially less than an iPad. That's cheap enough that you can buy one on impulse, rather than after careful decision, and cheap enough to easily replace it if it would break. An expensive tablet is something you feel you must be careful with; something you need to protect and coddle, wrap in a protective case and keep safe in a bag. The N7, on the other hand, I can treat like a paperback or noteblock rather than a computer. I simply throw in my bag and use in a crowd without worry that it'll get bumped, scratched, spilled on or dropped. It's light and well-built and if it breaks then getting a new one would be no big deal.
I've got the 16Gb model, though an updated model with 32Gb memory is coming. You might be tempted to wait for the update, and I wouldn't blame you of course. But I've installed all the apps, books and other data I use, and it takes up less than 3Gb on my 16Gb Nexus 7. You can reportedly connect memory sticks and USB hard drives to it using an OTG USB adapter. That would give you essentially unlimited storage, but you apparently need to install extra software for that, and may need to root your Nexus 7 as well.
Google and Asus have really hit the bulls-eye with the Nexus 7. There's a few quirks and niggles — it can't connect to ad-hoc wireless hotspots, and there's no Swedish keyboard dictionary — but it doesn't detract from it being a nearly perfect device.
#1 A neat idea, well executed. The game's a bit short, but as it starts to feel a little repetitive towards the end, it's really just the right length. Another unexpected Humble Bundle gem.
#2 The HHKB keyboards have full-size keys in a very compact layout. Perfect for a cluttered, busy desk. There's two model lines: the "Lite", which is mechanically a normal keyboard with the compact layout; and the "professional" with much higher quality build and better tactile feel. If you have the money to spare, get a "professional" model.