Google's Nexus 7 tablet: Hands-on impressions

Google's I/O 2012 developers' conference is off to a roaring start, and already, several shiny new stars have emerged.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet

At its day one keynote this morning, Google showed off a new 7-inch Nexus tablet, called the Nexus 7, along with a brand new version of Android: Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. Google also introduced an Android-based home entertainment computer called the Nexus Q. Yeah -- and this is only day one.

So much to cover. I've had some time to play around with the new Nexus 7 tablet, which runs Android 4.1. Here are my first impressions:

The Nexus 7's killer feature is its price tag.

Google will sell its Nexus 7 tablet for $200. When you look at this tablet compared to other devices in the same price range -- Amazon's Kindle Fire, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 -- everything else basically looks like crap.

The Nexus 7 has a 1280 x 800 back-lit IPS display, surrounded by the same type of high-quality build we've come to expect from Asus (who makes the Nexus 7 tablet). It's powered by a Nvidia quad-core Tegra 3 processor along with 1GB of RAM. It's listed for eight hours of active battery use. And it's a full-fledged Android tablet that can run any Android app -- no locked-down limited-use nonsense.

Put simply, this thing provides a first-class tablet experience at a budget-level price. Up till now, $200 tablets pretty much sucked. Google just changed that.

The Nexus 7 is sturdy but not sleek.

Google Nexus 7 Back

While I certainly have no qualms with the Nexus 7 build, one thing's for sure: Compared to many high-end tablets, the Nexus 7's form isn't exactly sleek or sexy. The Nexus 7 is 0.41-in. thick with a textured plastic back. Hold that alongside, say, Asus's Transformer Prime, which is 0.33-in. thick with a metallic-spun back, and the difference is impossible to deny.

Let me be clear, though: That's not necessarily a deal-breaker. The Nexus 7 doesn't feel cheap; it just doesn't feel like a sleek, premium kind of product. But appearances can be deceiving.

The Nexus 7 performs like a champ.

Now, I've obviously only been using the Nexus 7 for a matter of hours, but in my initial experiences, this tablet has top-of-the-line performance. It should be no surprise, either: Its CPU and RAM setup is pretty much the same as what you see in most high-end, $600 Android tablets these days.

The Nexus 7 is a pleasure to use, with no stutters or lag in my testing so far. Oh yeah -- and there's one other noteworthy element of the Nexus 7 user experience:

The Nexus 7 has pure Google software -- and it rocks.

You know that whole "Nexus" part of the Nexus 7 name? Yeah -- that means the tablet runs pure Google software and will continue to get the latest and greatest updates first. (As a Wi-Fi-only device, there should be no room for the, ahem, carrier interference we've seen in certain other circumstances.)

The Nexus 7 is smooth and lacks the silly software modifications tablet-makers tend to make in attempts to "differentiate" their devices. No arbitrarily reimagined icons, no unremovable bloatware. It's finally a pure Android experience in a tablet form. And that, my friends, is worth a lot.

Google Nexus 7 - Android 4.1
Google Nexus 7 - Android 4.1

  The Nexus 7 is focused on simple content consumption, kind of like that other inexpensive 7-inch tablet.

Google pretty clearly seems to be going after Amazon with the way it's structured the out-of-the-box Nexus 7 experience. The tablet comes with a full-screen interactive view of your "library" content on its main home screen; touching the widget brings up all of your book, movie, TV, and magazine purchases.

One screen over, you have widgets showing recommended media content and applications in the Google Play Store, based on both your own friends' pluses (assuming you use Google Plus) and what's popular with "similar users."

Look, for all its drawbacks, where Amazon succeeded with its Kindle Fire was in making the device dead-simple to use: Anyone, whether geek or technophobe, could pick up the product and figure out how to view and buy content at a second's glance. The Nexus 7 accomplishes the same kind of goal.

Here's the difference, though: Amazon created a locked-down ecosystem built around its e-commerce goals. Google made e-commerce a core part of the default Nexus 7 setup -- but it's a part you can just as easily move beyond.

The Nexus 7 content interface is nothing more than widgets. The widgets are part of Android 4.1, but you can take 'em right off your home screen if you want. And once they're gone, you're looking at a power-packed, fully functioning Android tablet. And a pretty awesome one, at that.

About Android 4.1...

The other significant feature of the Nexus 7 is Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. I'm going to be taking a closer look at the updated OS next, both on the Nexus 7 and on the smartphone side of things (via a GSM Galaxy Nexus).

So don't fill up too much: My impressions of Jelly Bean are on the way soon.


Android 4.1, Jelly Bean: Hands-on impressions

Google's Nexus 7: To buy or not to buy?

Google's Nexus 7 4G: To buy or not to buy?

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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