Monday, October 22, 2012

Review of Nexus 7

Note: This post was originally published at Janne in Osaka and has been slightly adapted for reposting here.

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.


  1. "As a test, I took the N7 off the charger (standard USB - thank you for that)"

    I hope you mean microUSB, because standard USB would be a deal breaker. I've got several microUSB cables but no standard USB ones.

    Also, ¥19,800 isn't a third of ¥42,800, no matter how much you Republican the math.

    Otherwise, good review.

  2. Thanks. Fixed. (standard micro USB)

  3. Yep, should have explicitly said it's micro USB of course. And I was thinking of the 32Gb model of the iPad; it's to the 16Gb version of the Nexus 7 what the 16Gb iPad is to the 8Gb N7. But yes, "one third" is a bit of hyperbole I agree.

  4. Little correction, you do not need a custom firmware to use tethering on a galaxy nexus with docomo (and a xi contract).

  5. Technically yes.

    But you do have to customize the stock ROM so that it won't change the APN to one that doesn't connect with a Xi SIM upon activating tethering.

    So for most people it will be easier to just flash a custom ROM, rather than figuring out what XML file needs to be edited -- or even how to edit it (i.e, adb remount, adb pull, adb push, etc.), especially since you get a lot of good goodness with CM or AOKP source, as well as shed the bad badness of the DCM bloat ;)

  6. The ¥2000 Google Play credit is linked to a Nexus 7 serial number and a unique credit card number and Google wallet. In other words, after registering a new credit card number with Google Wallet on your Nexus 7, a special credit will be applied to the Google account that the Google Wallet is connected to. And purchase less than or equal to the remaining credit will be deducted from the "credit fund." Any app/book/movie more expensive than the remaining credit will be charged to the credit card(s) linked to the Wallet service.

    This means that once you've registered to receive the credit, you can use that credit with any Google Play system (desktop or other phone) connected to that account/service.

    However, reusing a credit card already used won't give you the credit. So if you buy three Nexus 7s (like I did), make sure you have three credit card numbers that have never been registered before by anybody on Google Wallet in order to receive all of the credit.


    It seems that it didn't need to be an unused card, but you do need unique cards for each N7. Doesn't matter though since the offer ended last month.

  8. When I got my DoCoMo Galaxy Nexus, tethering was disabled on it. I had to flash the stock Google ROM on to it to get tethering to work. The GN is meant for their 3G plans after all, not Xi. I have heard that a a later update since has partially or completely reenabled tethering functionality on the DoCoMo version, but as I don't know if it would actually work the way I use it or not I thought it better to mention that.

  9. I am always open for learning something new, so please, could you elaborate on why I would need to make sure that the APN does not change when tethering. I have used my GN with xi from the beginning, and never had an issue with tethering. Speed is fine and there are no extraordinary high costs (read: no additional costs).

  10. As Jan said above, updates may have fixed this, but the original ROM and baseband for the sc-04d would not tether with Xi.

    The solution

  11. Thank you. Very useful review.
    I was waiting for the Kindle Paperwhite to become available here but what you say about battery usage for the Nexus 7 really makes me think again.

  12. Just be aware that it depends a lot on your usage. Just reading — especially at night when you pull down the screen brightness — doesn't take much battery, but if you read long stretches at a time the accumulated drain can still be substantial. In my case here I do perhaps twenty or thirty minutes at a time or something like it. I've yet to try spending, say, two or three hours at once reading a book and see how the battery fares.

  13. Thanks. I'll guess I'll need both.
    I want the Kindle Paperwhite mostly to take advantage of the dictionnary function and read more Japanese.

  14. Good news for you - the Kindle is available in Japan now. For reading I'd recommend an e-ink device, much easier for the eyes

  15. Nice! Although it is a bit disappointing that it doesn't ship right away. Any idea if you can us US Amazon accounts on it?

    This item will be released on November 19, 2012. Limit three per customer.Ships from and sold by

  16. No idea. Some people asked a similar question on the support forum but probably we have to wait a bit to see how it goes. Amazon will open the Japanese kindle store tomorrow - but I do hope they do not tie the device exclusively to the Japanese store.

  17. Thanks for the news. I had not received the announcement.
    Ordered. Amazon says it will ship on November 19

  18. I'm guessing that you will need to use either a US Amazon account or a Japanese Amazon account since the two sites require separate logins. Which is really a let down since I would love to be able to have both Japanese and English Kindle books on my device.

  19. How is that possible? My regular locked Xperia Arc had tethering available in the settings. It's a 3G device that was released before the first Xi phones were.

  20. Because the sc-04d was released without tethering. It came with the update to 4.0.4.

  21. How do you feel now that the iPad mini has been revealed and the 32GB Nexus 7 is *ridiculously* expensive in Japan? A complete waste of money now.

  22. Not announced yet for the J market but probably be sub 30,000 yen with a mobile data UMTS antenna (not LTE unfortunately) and unlocked (unlike the iPads sold in Japan when a MCC 440 SIM is inserted).

    That's the best deal for a mobile-capable tablet I've ever seen.

  23. The 32GB Nexus 7 has been announced, but I doubt they'll release the 3G version here... If they do, I hope the price is reasonable. ¥24,800 for the Nexus vs ¥27,800 for the iPad mini... It's gonna be a toss-up, I feel.

  24. Apple will still sell ton's of iPad Mini's but the Nexus 7 really has a better screen.

  25. I doubt it. Bought Nexus 7 a few weeks ago. The screen looks sh*tty.

  26. I know some of the first batches had issues but the one my wife has looks great. I was just looking at some photo of my trip to Spain last night and they looked fantastic. The iPad Mini has a much lower resolution screen.

  27. Great review! can't wait any more, going to order it right away! thanks