posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 11th Aug 2012 17:22 UTC
IconNobody needs a tablet, but many people still want a tablet. This is still the core differentiator between a 'real' computer and a tablet. At least in The Netherlands, you can't function in society without a desktop or laptop connected to the internet, so people need a computer. A tablet, though? Hence, the most common thing people have told me when they played with my iPad 2 is this: I'd love to have a tablet, but not for hundreds of euros. Enter Google's Nexus 7, the first 'cheap' tablet that doesn't just validate Android as a tablet platform, but also gives the iPad a run for its money.


Introduction

I was a happy iPad 2 owner. I surely didn't need a tablet, but I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and as you can read in my review of the device, once I had it, I loved it. It was far, far from perfect, but I still found that having the internet next to you on the couch in such an accessible fashion was something I really enjoyed - no matter how decadent and, in essence, overindulgent it really is.

When the iPad 3 (I have to give that thing a name) was announced, I wanted to upgrade right away. I love high-density displays, and wanted to reward Apple for taking the plunge, especially since they managed to keep the price the same. I sold my iPad 2, and stashed the money away for when the iPad 3 was to arrive in The Netherlands.

And then my car needed to be replaced. I obviously put all other purchases on hold, including the iPad 3, until all the dust surrounding the car purchase - complicated enough as it is - had settled. Once it had, I came to my senses and realised that spending over €500 on something I effectively only used on the couch or in the bathroom was ridiculous, especially taking into account I already have a €1100 ZenBook. Basically, it was my geek heart versus my self-employed business-owning mind, and the latter won.

I had become part of the 'want-one-but-not-for-hundreds-of-euros'-crowd.

So, I waited. I waited until something affordable, but still capable, would come along. For a few months, I eyed the BlackBerry PlayBook, which, with its sub-€200 price point, seemed like a decent enough option. However, RIM's future is far from certain, and considering I don't want to end up with another BeOS, I decided to wait it out.

And then the rumours started. Google was going to launch its own tablet. A 7" tablet, running the latest version of Android, and it would be affordable. This piqued my interest, but considering the rather shoddy quality of cheap Android tablets, I was sceptical. I didn't see how Google would be able to introduce an affordable tablet that wasn't ten shades of suck.

Google then unveiled the Nexus 7, and I placed a pre-order not too long afterwards. From the first reviews and hands-ons, it became clear Asus had managed to create a quality 7" tablet, with fast hardware and a good screen, and all that for a mere $199. This sounded exactly like what I was looking for, and thanks to the favourable exchange rates, the 8GB version only cost me €165.

I've been using the Nexus 7 for a few weeks now. Does it live up to the expectation?


Hardware

The Nexus 7 packs a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8 or 16GB of storage space, and all the usual other bells and whistles we've come to expect from tablets and smartphones, such as Bluetooth, WiFi, front-facing camera, various sensors, and so on. The 7" 1280x800 (216 ppi) IPS display is covered with Corning scratch-resistant glass, and is really the star of the show here. It's bright, very crisp (although not as crisp as the iPad 3's, of course), and has decent viewing angles. I'm no expert on displays by any means, but to my untrained eye, it looks great.

The back is covered in a soft plastic that's supposed to feel like leather, and while that may seem a bit kitschy, it actually works. My iPad 2 always felt slippery, and I wasn't particularly keen on holding it in one hand while walking around. With the soft back on the Nexus 7, there's loads of grip. It just feels a bit more comfortable and secure.

The weight and size of the Nexus 7 plays an important role here, too. It's remarkably light (340 g compared to the iPad 2's 601 g), and because it's much smaller, you can easily hold it in one hand without straining your arm. You can also wrap a single hand around the back of the device, which is an incredibly secure grip and useful when walking around.

Battery life is excellent. After three days of use, the battery still shows round and about 20% charge, so you could probably squeeze in a fourth day if you tried. I find judging battery life incredibly hard, since it's quite dependent on usage patterns. As always, your mileage may vary.

One omission is a rear-facing camera, but in all honesty, I consider that a feature, not a bug. You should not use a tablet to make photographs, period. Your photos will be crappy, you look ridiculous, and if you do it at concerts, you block other people's view. It's inconsiderate. Anything the technology industry can do to discourage using tablets as camera's, I'm all for it. On top of that, it gives the device a cleaner look.

There's also issues with the hardware, which relate mostly to usability. Since it doesn't have a home button, there's no clear indication what's up and what's down, often causing you to pick up the device upside-down. The front-facing camera gives some indication when there's lots of light, but that sometimes has an unintended side-effect: your brain assumes the camera is a button, and you'll still pick it up upside-down.

Without a home button, the only way to wake the device is the on/off-button, but this button is placed at an annoying angle, and since it's the same colour as the back of the device, you can't actually visually identify it. These two issues are both caused by the lack of a home button, so I would have much preferred a physical home button. Barring that, it would have at least helped if the on/off-button had a contrasting colour (like silver, the same colour as the bezel).

All things considered though, with a price like this, it's amazing you're getting this kind of quality hardware. Google and Asus manage as such because it's sold at cost, but as a consumer, I honestly don't care. It's hard not to feel ripped off when companies have margins in the 40-50% range.

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