Nexus 7 takes mini-tablets to new heights

If there is one Android tablet that really got it right, it's the Nexus 7.

While most Android tablets miss the mark when going head-to-head with the iPad, Google's 7-inch tablet proved that it could stand on its own against the competition. Its winning formula? Sell a premium quality device at a budget price.

The Asus-built Nexus 7 won many praises online thanks to its great design and specs coupled with wonderful software at an affordable price point of just under US$200 (S$253). The Nexus 7 kickstarted the smaller tablet revolution that pushed Apple to come out with the iPad Mini. Today, the 7-inch form factor has become more commonplace.

The Nexus 7 was a huge success globally, but ironically unpopular in Brunei because they were not shipped here. As a result, it's unfortunate that not a lot of Bruneians are aware of the mighty Google tablet.

The local market is flooded with iPads and Samsung Galaxy tabs that looking for the Nexus 7 is like searching for a needle in a haystack. (I've found a couple of stores that sell them but they jacked the price up - they shouldn't cost more than $300 each).

This week, the amazing Nexus 7 gets a sequel, and it comes with improvements that makes the tablet even better and addresses all its shortcomings.

I'm going to start with software first because that's the whole point of getting a Nexus device.

In the case of the new Nexus 7, Google introduced the latest Android operating system (OS), Android 4.3 Jelly Bean before making it available to other Android tablets and smartphones.

Android 4.3 comes with several new features and improvements such as restricted profiles, which allows users to control what apps or games can be accessed on the tablet by another user (great for parents); support for low-energy Bluetooth Smart accessories; improved notifications; new camera user interface; and upgraded algorithm for tap-typing recognition, among others.

But the most impressive new feature of 4.3 Jelly Bean is improvements in energy consumption, which brings significant benefits to the battery. More on that later.

As a Google Nexus device, the new Nexus 7 offers a "pure Android" experience, so you won't find third party skins like the horrible Touchwiz on this thing.

The killer app is Google Now, the intelligent personal assistant similar to Apple's Siri. If you've been living entirely in the Apple ecosystem for a while, you're missing out on why Google Now is so much better.

Overall, Android has quickly become a great tablet OS with Jellybean, a far cry from the nightmare that was Honeycomb.

Now let's talk hardware.

One of the most noticeable changes of the new Nexus 7 is in its design, which is far more portable as Google has shed some weight on the device thinner bezels on the side of the display for better one-hand grip, slimmer and more lightweight than the old model.

Also highly celebrated is the inclusion of a beautiful higher resolution (1920 x 1200) display, which puts the iPad Mini to shame for not including a "Retina Display".

Although screen dimensions are identical to the last one, the new Nexus 7 has a much higher pixel density, at 323 pixels per inch compared with 216 on the old model, which makes text look pin sharp and images look flawless. It's not 8 inches with a 4:3 aspect ratio like the iPad Mini (which Apple claims to be the sweet spot), but it's still looking swell, especially as it's aimed to be ultraportable (the iPad Mini is still uncomfortable for one-hand use).

If audio is crucial to you, then you might be happy to know that the new Nexus 7 sports a really good pair of speakers for a tablet.

It also has a 5-megapixel rear camera, which was lacking in the old model. This should make the Nexus tablet much more appealing for tablet-touting photographers out there.

It's also pretty impressive under the hood. The new Nexus 7 is faster and more powerful than its predecessor, no surprise there. The device is powered by a hefty 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM.

It's not the fastest mobile processor out there when compared to flagship smartphones released this year, but it's no slouch either, and it's certainly more than enough for a tablet. Let's not forget the new energy optimisations in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Coupled with a 3,950 mAH battery, the new Nexus 7 claims to deliver up to nine hours of active use. In contrast, most 7-inch Android tablets can't even push beyond the 8-hour battery life.

There are three variations of the new tablet on launch day; a base 16GB model, a 32GB model and the top of the line 32GB LTE version. The new Nexus 7 comes at a slight increase in price than that of the last version by $30, but at $229 for the base model, it's still a steal. It's also cheaper than the iPad Mini.

What's not to like about this tablet? Well, those wanting micro SD card expansion will have to look elsewhere (the Samsung tabs offer better expandability).

When it comes to tablet-optimised apps, Apple still carries the most, although this is improving. Apps such as Flipboard and Google apps look great on the Nexus 7. Games look stunning with the improved graphics processor and the higher resolution display. Meanwhile, apps designed for a smartphone's screen are automatically adapted to take advantage of the Nexus 7's larger screen, and they look just fine on a 7-inch.

If you strictly live in the Google ecosystem, the new Nexus 7 offers the best value for an Android tablet. It's an excellent device for browsing the web, reading e-books and watching movies. It's also a great alternative for those who do not want an iPad Mini.

The Google tablet landscape has changed over the recent years, and it will continue to get better.

The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Brunei Times. The Brunei Times