When the first Nexus 7 became a certifiable sales hit last year, it only makes sense for Google to do a follow up. However, Google I/O came and went with no new tablet announcement. In the intervening weeks, the leaks have come fast. Now the new Nexus 7 is official, so we know what was truth and what was fiction.
Let's take an in-depth look at what the new Nexus tablet will bring to the table and how it fits into the small tablet market.
The Speeds and Feeds
Front and center on the new Nexus 7 is a 7-inch LCD that clocks in at a stunning 1920x1200. That's 320 pixels per inch on a 7-inch screen. The screen is bordered on the top and bottom by sizable bezels -- larger than the bezels on the last N7. At the same time, the left and right bezels have been slimmed down. There's also a notification LED below the screen.
The device is 114 x 200 x 8.65mm and weighs 290g. The old Nexus was 340g--that’s about 15% more than the new one. Asus also managed to shave more than 2mm off the thickness this time around.
Inside, the Nexus 7 is very similar to the Nexus 4. Yes, that's a phone which was released over 9 months ago, but its hardware is still good. The Nexus 7 runs the identical quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.5GHz. Asus built in 2GB of RAM, so those earlier rumors about 4GB of RAM were sadly mistaken.
The early benchmarks bear out that the Nexus 7 is going to perform almost identically to the Nexus 4 with essentially the same hardware. However, keep in mind it’s pushing a lot more pixels -- 1280x768 vs 1920x1200. It’s impressive that engineers were able to get the N7 up to, and even exceeding the level of performance we see with the Nexus 4.
The last Nexus tablet only had a front facing camera, but this time Google and Asus have added a 5MP rear image sensor. Don't expect anything beyond passable pictures out of this device -- tablet cameras are never amazing anyway. There are dual speakers back there as well. It would be nicer to have them facing the front like on the HTC One, but at least there will be more sound to redirect with your hands (sad, but this is the world we live in).
There is no HDMI port on the N7 but it does support the SlimPort adapter for HDMI output. Again, we see a parallel with the Nexus 4, which uses the same standard for HDMI output.
Interestingly, this tablet comes with a 3,950 mAh battery, but the old Nexus 7 had a 4,325 cell in it. Google is claiming 9 hours of use with the new N7, and it is true that Snapdragon S4 tends to be more power efficient than Tegra 3. Maybe this will still be a battery life improvement, but we can certainly say that some of the weight loss comes from dropping battery girth.
Charging is a fun angle for the Nexus 7. Google has chosen to build in Qi wireless charging -- once again, just like the Nexus 4. There was no word on an official wireless charging stand for the N7, but there are many more Qi chargers on the market these days. The trick will be finding one that can accommodate a 7-inch tablet comfortably.
Android 4.3 is a smaller update than some past ones have been, but it will add a few features relevant to the N7. Firstly, Google's multi-user support has been beefed up substantially. Users can now make limited profiles for a guest or child to use. Access to various apps and services can be blocked, and even in-app purchases can be disabled. This makes Google's new slate more viable as a family device.
The new N7 will also support full 1080p video streams from Netflix thanks to some new DRM code. Yes, DRM is the devil and so on, but it's a necessary evil. The inclusion of this technology will really let you enjoy that super-crisp screen.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 is a more than capable gaming chip with its Adreno 320 GPU, and the N7 will support OpenGL ES3.0 thanks to Android 4.3. Android is the first mobile platform to support it, and that means developers can make more beautiful games with native code.
Where the New Nexus 7 Fits in the Tablet Market
The first Nexus 7 cemented the role a sub-10-inch form factor in the market. Samsung has continued scaling down some of its popular slates, and even Apple gave in and released the iPad Mini last year. There are use cases for tablets of many sizes, but is there still space for the Nexus?
Small Android tablets have expanded far beyond the typical tablet feature set. One of the most popular devices is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. This device includes the S Pen stylus and a snappy Exynos processor. The screen would have been slightly above average last year, but now it pales in comparison next to the Nexus 7.
In general, 7 and 8-inch tablets have 1024x600 or 1280x800 resolution screens. The Nexus 7 with a 1920x1200 panel blows them all out of the water. Even Apple, which prides itself on having great displays finds itself on the losing end of this deal -- the iPad Mini is only 1024x768. I will say that Apple has chosen a very nice panel for that resolution, though.
The last Nexus 7 has some ghosting issues because of a rather budget-oriented LCD. Maybe lower-res screens can make up a little ground by avoiding such issues. Having not seen the N7 ship, it’s impossible to say if history will repeat itself.
The Nexus 7 has less aggressive pricing this time around. In 2012 the name of the game was breaking the $200 price tag. There were ads all over the internet for the $199 Google tablet, and that sent a powerful message. This time the 16GB N7 starts at $229, but let’s not forget that’s actually a better deal than last time.
The first N7 launched with 8 and 16GB options -- it wasn't until months later that the 16GB dropped to $199 and the 32GB was introduced at $249. This time a 16GB tablet comes in at $229, so it’s actually much better. There just isn’t a lower tier for the 2013 version.
Even with a slightly higher price, the Nexus has a shot at dominating the small tablet market. The iPad Mini starts at $329, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is about $380, and the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is $300. HP’s Slate 7 successfully bests the Nexus in pricing at $139.99, but it’s reportedly a very poor experience. The Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 is only $199, but it’s specs also result in a lacking final product.
What’s an OEM to do when the Google machine is steamrolling everyone with incredible pricing? Mountain View can afford to take razor thin profit margins on the hardware -- all Google needs is the data.
Having a niche is what will sustain some OEMs. Even though a device like the Note 8.0 is more expensive, it brings a unique feature with the S Pen. The iPad Mini will appeal more to iOS fans (if you want to call that a niche), but might lose some people on the fence. Basically, someone that doesn't have a strong preference for iOS is probably going to get the Nexus 7. A product like the Galaxy Tab 3 or HP Slate 7 simply looks old and busted without a selling point or killer specs. Aggressive pricing might keep these products chugging along, but no one's making money like that.
The new Nexus 7 has not been fully reviewed yet, but just on the basis of the specs and pricing, it’s going to be even more dominant in the small tablet category than the last version. For users that want a general purpose tablet in this size range, there isn’t a better choice. This is Google’s game to lose.