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25 July 2012
This is a review of the Google Nexus 7 tablet. The first tablet running the latest Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean' operating system. The tablet is branded by Google (who develop the Android operating system), but is manufactured by Asus. I already have two computers made by Asus, the first an Asus Eee Pad Transformer Tablet running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and an Asus Eee PC netbook running Xubuntu Linux. This is not through any particular allegiance to Asus, but that the devices they make are a good fit for my requirements by providing something unique.
The Nexus 7 is another example of a device that breaks the mould. In this case it is the price / performance that makes the device so special. It is also the first tablet with Android 4.1, although there have already been announcements of other tablets that will be running Android 4.1 soon.
The tablet is physically well designed. It is comfortable to hold and the screen is excellent. The performance of the processor is excellent for such a low cost device, rivalling tablets that normally much more than the Nexus 7. It is very smooth and responsive in use.
One complaint is that it comes with a very short power lead, which is also the case with the Eee Transformer Pad. In this case the lead has a standard micro-usb connector, so it should be easy to replace with a longer cable, or by using a USB extension lead (the EeePad needed a USB 3 lead). Charging did appear to be fairly slow, although I've not used it enough to test this further.
There is a forward facing low quality camera. This could be useful for simple video conferencing, but is not really suitable for taking photos. As such there is no icon for launching the camera application, although it is possible to install an icon from Google Play 'Camera Launcher for Nexus 7'.
There is no micro-SD slot (or similar) so there is no way to add additional storage beyond that included in the tablet (available as an 8GB or 16GB model). The inclusion of a micro-SD would have made it easier to use as a media device for playing video files.
There is no HDMI out, so it is not possible to connect this direcly to a TV.
None of these are features you expect on a tablet priced at less than £200, but if you do need any of these then it may be worth looking for a more expensive tablet with these included.
The upgrade to Android 4.1 is not as significant as the previous upgrade to 4.0, but does bring some changes (good and bad).
Firstly the big downside is that Flash is no longer supported natively on Android. Others have reported success by side-loading (downloading an unofficial binary and installing directly), but this is not the same as the official support that was available on earlier versions of Android.
It is Adobe that has decided to drop support for Flash on the mobile platforms, but it's a shame they couldn't have continued it for Android 4.1 which is a fairly small upgrade. Whilst HTML5 will replace flash (and is a much better solution compared to the flash plug-in that was the only option in the past) there is a lot of work involved in migrating and there are still many sites with Flash in use (in fact one of my own sites has a small section that uses flash). Flash is something that would be particularly useful for my daughter, for whom the tablet has been purchased, as her school homework needs to be done on a Flash website. Fortunately she also has a laptop, or can my tablet, but it does limit some of the usefulness of the tablet.
It is also worth noting that Android is the only tablet operating system that has had Flash support, and as a result many sites have already started moving away from Flash.
Another thing that has changed in the protocols for which the tablet can be accessed when connecting to a PC. Instead of using the traditional USB disk drive that was popular in the past it now only supports MTP or PTP. This has some advantages for the internal structure of the tablet (allows the internal structure of the devices to change so removing the need for the manufacturer to separate the app and data storage), but makes it a little harder to access from Linux.
Windows users can use Windows explorer in the same way as they have before, but Linux users need to either manually configure MTP or use the graphical tool gMTP.
Normally I wouldn't have thought a sub £200 tablet to be worth looking at, but the Google Nexus 7 manages to provide an excellent 7" tablet well within that price. It's fast and responsive and looks great in use.
There are a few features I would have liked to see - in particular a micro-SD slot and perhaps a HDMI output, but these are minor things on a tablet that costs so little.
It's a shame to see that Flash is not officially supported any-more. I hope that this encourages sites to move away from Flash as soon as they can, but it would have been nice to see this extended a little longer.
I expect to see more competitive tablets in the future, but for now the Google Nexus 7 is the best budget tablet by far.