The fact that Google launched a 7" tablet by ASUS isn't a particularly huge surprise, given that ASUS showed off the Eee Pad Memo back at CES. The story goes that Google liked that particular tablet so much, it became slotted in to become the first Nexus tablet, much to Samsung's chagrin. While there have been other "Google Experience" tablets before (for example the Motorola Xoom), there hasn't been a bona-fide Nexus tablet yet, and especially not one at an aggressive price point like this. For that, enter the Nexus 7.

The Nexus 7 comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean installed, which we're going over on the next page. It brings improvements to UI performance through Android 

Most important is the Nexus 7's price point, which up until now has largely been one of the main issues with Android tablets - price. It's fair to say that the Kindle Fire has done a good job proving that there is indeed a market for lower cost, simplified tablets at an aggressive price point, and the Nexus 7 is Google's answer. Pricing for the Nexus 7 is $199 for the 8 GB model, and $249 for the 16 GB model. There aren't any other differences between the two, nor is there a model with cellular connectivity – this is strictly WiFi only, but again, this is a tablet for the masses without the carrier hurdle. 

ASUS Tablet Specification Comparison
  ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity ASUS Transformer Pad 300 Series ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime ASUS Nexus 7
Dimensions 263 x 180.6 x 8.4mm 263 x 180.8 x 9.9mm 263 x 180.8 x 8.3mm 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm
Chassis Aluminum + Plastic RF Strip Plastic Aluminum Plastic + Rubber back
Display 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 Super IPS+ 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 IPS 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 Super IPS+ 7" 1280 x 800 IPS
Weight 594g 635g 586g 340 g
Processor

1.6GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T33 - 4 x Cortex A9)

NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)

1.3GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30 - 4 x Cortex A9) 1.3 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9)
Memory 1GB DDR3-1600 1GB 1GB 1 GB
Storage 32/64GB + microSD slot 16GB/32GB + microSD slot 32GB/64GB + microSD slot 8 GB / 16 GB
Battery 25Whr 22Whr 25Whr 16 Whr
Pricing $499/$599 $379/$399 $499/$599 $199/$249

When you look at the above specs, it seems puzzling that ASUS was able to get the price down to $199 so effectively. Getting to that lower price point is easier with a few things - physically smaller device and display, exclusion of full size USB or other ports (there's only microUSB), no rear facing camera, and good commodity component sourcing. The added plus is that if you run 1280 x 800 at a smaller size, out comes a pretty high DPI panel at the same time. Other than that though, you end up getting a device which is actually very impressive otherwise, with a quad core SoC and attractive form factor.

I like starting with physical impressions since it's the easy route, and so much of one's experience with a given device depends on that ever important in-hand feel. ASUS has taken an excellent direction here and made the back construction of the Nexus 7 a great textured rubber material. There's Nexus embossed in the top, and ASUS proudly at the bottom. Below that is a small notch for the speaker, which goes pretty loud. 

The power / lock and standby buttons get placed on the top right corner, and both microUSB and the headphone jack are located at the very bottom. There are also some pogo pins on the bottom left, just like the Galaxy Nexus. No doubt these will work with some future unannounced accessories.

The Nexus 7's construction is downright impressive. While I haven't been doing regular tablet reviews (that has become Anand's domain largely), I have handled a number of recent tablets big and small, and some feel downright cheap to me thanks to the back plastic. I would not have guessed that the Nexus 7 is a $199 device based on how it feels. There's no flex or creaking at all, it feels absolutely rigid. The tradeoff is that the Nexus 7 is slightly thicker than some other devices, at almost 10.5 mm (compared to 8.5 or 9), but that larger thickness also permits a bigger edge bevel radius. I feel that 7" is an ideal tablet form factor for me personally. 

So the next logical question is what performance is like on the Nexus 7. I asked around, did my own digging, and wound up confirming that what's inside the Nexus 7 is indeed a Tegra T30L SoC. This is a lower leakage / lower binning T30 that no doubt is offered at a cost advantage to ASUS - I was expecting a T30L inside and am wholly unsurprised to see one. The only difference is that CPU clocks are 1.15 GHz for all four cores at 100%, or 1.3 GHz on a single core. The GPU clock is also slightly lower at 416 MHz. The Nexus 7 also ships with 1 GB of RAM, and I'm pretty certain this is DDR2 at 500 MHz based on what I see from the digging I've done. 

I've borrowed Anand's TF700T review graphs and added data from the Nexus 7 that I hastily ran this afternoon. The results are in line with my expectations for T30L and other devices with T30L inside that we've already benchmarked. 

SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark 0.9.1

Rightware BrowserMark

GLBenchmark 2.1 - Egypt - Offscreen 720p

GLBenchmark 2.1 - Pro - Offscreen 720p

GLBenchmark 2.1 - Egypt (Standard)

GLBenchmark 2.1 - Pro (Standard)

The Transformer Pad 300 uses the same T30L SoC as the Nexus 7, so it isn't surprising to see the two post numbers very close to each other in so many places. 

I should note on the browser synthetics that we're also talking about Chrome here, not "Browser" as the Nexus 7 is the first Android device to ship with Chrome as the default browser. In this case, that means there's no "browser" to be found anywhere on the device. You can still install Flash from the Play Store, it just doesn't do anything anymore.

Speaking of digging, I sent Francois Simond (@supercurio) a voodoo report from the Nexus 7, and he has graciously done a component analysis just like we've done with other devices in the past. There aren't too many surprises inside. WiFi and Bluetooth is courtesy the ever-ubiquitous BCM4330 module, which no doubt has gotten cheaper now that BCM4334 is out. The front facing camera is a Aptina MI 1040 1.3MP CMOS with 3.6µm pixels and 1/3" optical format. NFC comes courtesy a new NXP PN65 controller which is best I can tell a PN544 with embedded SE (secure element). 

The next question is what that display looks like. We've seen other lower cost tablets ship before, but usually the first thing that gets skimped on is the display. In the case of the Nexus 7, ASUS notes that the panel is an LED backlit IPS panel with 10 point multitouch and 400 nits maximum brightness. Resolution is of course WXGA (1280 x 800) at 7". If you do the math out, that's a pretty high PPI, and in person it looks great - I can't see pixels unless I look very closely. 

Pixel Density Comparison

Since I expected having to do something of a tablet review on this trip to Google I/O, I brought along my i1D2 colorimeter. I took measurements on the Nexus 7 using my normal workflow – a combination of Francois' Voodoo Screen Test Patterns and Color HCFR. 

Display Brightness

Display Brightness

Display Contrast

Brightness falls a bit short of the advertised 400 nits at just 312 nits. I'm actually not sure whether there's some of Nvidia's Prism power saving tech going on here (there's no toggle anywhere for it), but that's as bright as I could get the Nexus 7 to go. Contrast on the other hand is pretty good, at 850, and blacks are very good at 0.37 nits. 

The rest of the display metrics are a bit interesting, with color temperature hovering around 5500K which is a bit warm for my taste, and gamma isn't flat over the grey scale either. What's really curious to me is that the greens seem undersaturated (the larger triangle is sRGB), which was my first impression on seeing the Nexus 7 while installing some apps from Google Play (which has lots of green). Again I'm not sure whether this is some power saving Prism technique at work here. 

I feel like those metrics could mislead you into thinking the display is bad, on the contrary it's obvious this is an IPS panel based on the viewing angles, which are superb off axis in the horizontal and vertical. You just can't get away with putting a TN in a tablet because of how bad viewing angles are immediately visible on a big surface device like a tablet. The Nexus 7's IPS display is very contrasty and has a high enough PPI that I'm not wishing for higher resolution.

 
Left - some bundled Google Play books, Right: Notice the new rotation lock toggle on the notification shade, and new style

Google is also doing something interesting with the Nexus 7 by bundling a $25 Play Store credit which pops up in your account after signing into your Google account for the first time. The strategy seems pretty obvious here - get Nexus 7 buyers to at least check out the Play stores. In addition, they've preloaded a number of books and videos which should bait users into at least checking out the respective Google Play applications. 

Honestly I think ASUS and Google have really done an excellent job here with the Nexus 7. The combination of a quad core SoC, IPS panel, solid construction, and the latest version of Android all for such a killer price point pretty much make it hard to really find any faults. Sure, it'd be useful to have a full size USB host port, microSD slot (though no Nexus has shipped with one since Nexus S), 5 GHz WiFi (Nexus 7 is 2.4 GHz only), or cellular, but the tablet wouldn't be $199 anymore. I also really feel like the 7 inch diagonal form factor is an ideal one, and the Nexus 7 is quickly growing on me.

Update: I've had many emails and questions about whether USB-OTG (On The Go) is supported on the Nexus 7, and didn't touch on it when I originally hit publish becuause I wasn't entirely sure. I've now confirmed that USB-OTG is supported on the Nexus 7, and works on the current Android 4.1 non-final build that has been sampled. That's encouraging, and I'll test it myself when I get home and to my miniUSB OTG adapter.

Update 2: I've asked for further clarification about what USB-OTG functionality is supported. Using a mouse and keyboard will be supported, and I saw Google using an ethernet to USB adapter over USB-OTG as well. Unfortunately I found out that mounting USB storage will not be supported natively. In addition MHL is not supported.

Now, what about Android 4.1?

Android 4.1 - Jelly Bean
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  • pxavierperez - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    So straight from the horse's mouth: previous Android version the UI drags. And I keep hearing Android users swear their UI is smooth as "butter". Google now admits their users were just imagining things. Funny. Reply
  • Super56K - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Android gets better with each revision. Going from 2.x -> 4.x was quite a nice jump in UI and overall performance so nobody was imagining things. Sounds like the JB update just makes things better yet.

    Sometimes people like to go overboard with superlatives when describing things. Thus, unending comments of the fastest, smoothest, greatest, blahest, blah of blah.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    I've never heard an Android user say ICS or prior was smooth as butter, while ICS was a great improvement most users would admit it's not always perfectly fluid. Reply
  • Scannall - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    It seems nice enough and all, at the price.

    But you have to wonder what the real goal of it is. This is a dagger in the back of all the OEM's that helped build the Android franchise. $199 is pretty much cost to build this. Sucking all the life out of the 7" market. Between buying Motorola, and now this it appears anyway, that since the Android name has been built they are trying to push the OEM's out.

    If you're an OEM you have to be thinking of moving away from Android, as you are at the mercy of Google and their whims. Plus Googles goals aren't the same, or in line with their OEM's. Thinking about moving to Windows 8 seems likely. Or putting together a group of OEM's to develop WebOS, which is already very good and finishing it. At least that way they can actually do some future planning.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Are you an OEM?
    I am pretty sure that OEMs are happy today. This tablet will help popularize Android on tablets. Android is doing fine on phones, but still lags behind iOS on tablets (in terms of market share). If OEMs want to sell tablets in the future, they want the market share of Android to be as high as possible.

    Amazon already had a $200 tablet anyways, and Asus planed a $250 one. This isn't anymore a dagger in the back of the OEMs than any Nexus phone. Also, google always partner with the bests. Asus makes the best tablets and Samsung the best phones. If you are an OEM and want to make the next Nexus, just make something good. We call this competition. It gives incentives to OEMs to make the best devices.
    Reply
  • Scannall - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    The problem with this is why care about making something if there is no profit in it. Selling these things at cost kills that particular market segment.

    You, as a consumer can say buy this one for $199. Or buy one made by a company that has to actually sell them for more than cost. Say the exact same thing for $275. Who gets your money? Or, the for profit one say has a SD card slot. But it's $300. Would you pay $100 for that? Probably not.

    You could race to the bottom I suppose, but you'd have to really make some cheap crap and sell it for almost nothing to get out of competition in this particular size and form.

    I can see making a reference model. All the goodies, memory, SD slot, 3G/4G and sell it for a premium. That gives OEM's a target to shoot for, and still make some money. But taking the profit potential off the table is just plain stupid, unless you want to pith the OEM's out the window while still keeping your agreements you made for the Motorola merger.
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    I agree. If the manufacturers don't get half of the 30% market profits, they have no motivation to give stuff away.

    I'm not sure what Asus gets for this.

    Maybe it's to try to make sure microsoft doesn't get a foot hold in the tablet market.

    Maybe it's because they've seen after trying to fight apple at similiar price points or even a fair bit cheaper, they just aren't succeeding. So... they are going to try this. And seeing as how apple is slowly giving google the boot whereever they can, google needs to get market share fast.

    It's certainly not doing any favors to it's partners, but then microsoft's surface announcement didn't do their partners any favors either.

    Starting to look like a bad time to be a hardware manufacturer relying on somebody's else software.
    Reply
  • ven1ger - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Since Google is the one that will be selling it at cost, I'm sure that ASUS is making some money off of this.

    If an OEM..ahem..ASUS was just to add a few things that were missing that everybody is clamoring for, then they could easily come out with another version with the bells and whistles and sell it at a good price and still make a profit.

    I think Google setting the bar with the Nexus 7 is a good shot across the bow of all the OEMs that were just dumping a lot of crappy hardware on the market, that making a good tablet doesn't have have to be expensive.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Google is not selling it at 'cost'. They just aren't adding any markup on their end. Asus has plenty of profit margin. Reply
  • Scannall - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Google is not selling it at 'cost'. They just aren't adding any markup on their end. Asus has plenty of profit margin.


    Except that in this case, ASUS is a contractor, with a known volume to sell. Not to mention not having to market, distribute, advertise, buy shelf space etc.

    Much cheaper.
    Reply

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