6 September 2013

Google Nexus 7 2 review

Key Features: 1920 x 1200 IPS screen; 
Snapdragon S4Pro processor at 1.5GHz; 
5MP rear camera Manufacturer: Google

What is the Nexus 7 2?

Google and Asus rocked the tablet world when they teamed up and released the Nexus 7 last year. Nexus 7's flew off the shelves at a reported million units per month, proving that people really wanted an affordable, small tablet. Amazon took note and released its own small, cheap tablet, the Kindle Fire HD, and Apple responded with the 8-inch iPad mini despite the rhetoric from some quarters that bigger was better. The Nexus 7 finally made Android a serious player in the tablet market.

So it’s fair to say that Google’s new Nexus 7 2013 edition has some big boots to fill, and with the added competition it’ll find it much harder than before. With the same processor that powers the impressive Nexus 4 and a claimed all day battery life, can the faster, sleeker, but more expensive, 7-inch Nexus 7 2 be anywhere near as successful as its predecessor? We put it through its paces to find out - starting with the slimmed down design.

Google Nexus 7 2 – Design


The original Nexus 7 wasn’t the prettiest tablet in the world, but more problematic were the numerous quality control issues. Owners complained about creakiness, the screen separating from the back and general poor build quality. The speed with which Asus and Google developed and shipped the game-changing tablet always meant some niggles were likely, but with a year to get it right there can be no such excuses this time round.

Happily the Nexus 7 2 looks sleek and sexy and makes its predecessor appear more dated than it truly is. Its silky soft-touch black plastic feels great in hand, while the thin hard plastic seam between the screen and the back is far less pronounced than fake metallic join on the original.

The new Nexus 7 2 still doesn’t quite have the cache of the iPad mini’s aluminium back, but the plastic is far warmer and easier to keep hold of than the cool metal of its main rival, and is streets ahead of the shiny plastic Samsung favours. Its grippiness is particularly apparent when you rest the Nexus 7 2 on your lap, it seems to clutch at cloth where the iPad mini just slides off.

Surprisingly, the back isn’t the grease magnet we’ve come to expect from previous experience with soft-touch plastic. It is remarkably resistant to dirt and oil.

While the screen size hasn’t changed, the dimensions of the Nexus 7 have. The Nexus 7 2 is a full 6mm narrower and almost 2mm thinner than before. It's a little taller, but the height of a 7-inch tablet doesn’t matter too much: it’s all about the width and thickness. And here it trumps the iPad mini comfortably. It's a considerable 20mm narrower which, though a small difference on paper, means the Nexus 7 2 fits comfortably into a back pocket or inside a jacket and is easier to hold.

The change in size isn’t the only thing that’s made it a comfortable tablet to hold. The Nexus 7 has been put on a strict diet and the 50g it has lost makes it far easier to use and handle for longer periods of time, particularly one-handed. The soft edges that run all the way around the Nexus 7 2 make it a much more ergonomic tablet, and are a welcome change from its sharp-edged predecessor. All good news if you want to use it for prolonged reading sessions.

There are a few design aspects that could have done with a little more refinement, however.

We always thought the power and volume rocker buttons on the original Nexus 7 are a bit too close together for comfort, making it easy to accidentally hit the power button when you’re actually aiming for the volume up. Asus seems to have taken note and moved them a little further apart, but not quite far enough by our reckoning.

These buttons are tucked away under the curve of the right hand edge of the screen. This has the benefit of ensuring they’re not accidentally triggered when you have the Nexus 7 2 resting on its side, when watching a movie for example. Unfortunately, it also means the buttons are rarely in an easily accessible position. It’s a minor issue, but one that bothered us.

As is the norm the 3.5mm headphone jack is at the top of the Nexus 7 2, while the microUSB charging socket is at the bottom. The speaker grills (yes there’s more than one this time, but more on that later) adorn the back, one at the top and one at the bottom, while there’s one major new addition to the Nexus 7 2 – a 5MP rear facing camera.

However, it’s the screen that can make or break a tablet: let’s see how it fares.

Nexus 7 2 Screen and Speakers

Google Nexus 7 2 – Screen 

The original Nexus 7 had a good screen. The 1,280 x 800 7-inch screen with its 216 pixels per inch is still sharp by today’s standards. Yes, pixels are visible if you look closely and text can be a little blocky if you’re not zoomed into a webpage, but few owners complained too much about its sharpness.

But this hasn't dissuaded Google and Asus from upgrading the screen to 'retina class' 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, equivalent to 323ppi. That's the highest 'pixels per inch' of any tablet at present. Indeed, the Nexus 7 2’s screen packs in almost twice as many pixels per inch than the iPad mini, and boy is it apparent. 
Everything you view on-screen is razor-sharp. Text is perfectly defined without a hint of pixelation, whether you’re zoomed all the way out or up close. The IPS technology the screen uses also means that viewing angles are great.

One of the main issues we found with the original Nexus 7 is its washed out tones and the pinkish tint it gives to white backgrounds. But hold the Nexus 7 2 straight on and you'll notice no issues whatsoever. It looks like the screen has been put into an industrial washing machine with a ton of Daz and a sprinkle of Vanish for good measure.

Whites are as accurate as we could hope for, while colours ping off the screen. If we’re being picky we did notice some colour inaccuracy – tones being a little off on occasions – but not enough to affect enjoyment. 

The screen is also significantly brighter than before and contrast levels impressive. Blacks and shadows are accurately represented in dark scenes, while full HD video runs smoothly and looks sumptuous on such a small screen.

Google Nexus 7 2 – Speakers and Audio

The speakers on the original Nexus 7 were a major let-down, as was its audio output in general. While the screen handled 720 HD resolutions just fine, you needed to be three inches away from to hear what was said. Even Michael Bay explosion fests played at full volume sounded like a mouse with a dicky tummy. Sticking a pair of headphones in didn’t help matters much, either. The audio output simply wasn't strong enough.

Thankfully, Google and Asus have opted for more powerful 'surround' speakers and drivers by Fraunhofer on the Nexus 7 2 and it’s made a huge difference. You won’t be perforating any eardrums, but you can happily watch a film or listen to some tunes with company. Sound is basic and lacks depth, but it does the job.

Because the speakers are at the top and bottom you do run the risk of covering them when holding the Nexus 7 2 in portrait mode, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra grunt. Attach a pair of headphones and you’re rewarded with acceptable levels of volume - a big improvement on the original's puny output.

Nexus 7 2 Camera and Features

Google Nexus 7 2 – Camera and Features

If you’re going to bother to add a rear facing camera to a tablet, make it count. No-one expects SLR quality shots from a tablet, but taking snaps in well-lit conditions should result in decent pics. It’s something the iPad mini manages well enough.

On paper the Nexus 7 2 should perform just as well, considering it has a 5MP rear facing camera, like the iPad mini. In practice, however, photos taken with the Nexus 7 2 are much more disappointing than expected.

Anything but ideal conditions and the camera frustrates. Noise is very evident in indoor or low-light outdoor shots, which means grainy pictures that lack definition, as well as dull colours.

In perfect light conditions the camera is adequate, although sometimes finds it difficult to focus. Too much light and the screen starts to flicker alarmingly, making you unsure as to how the picture will turn out.

In low light the camera doesn’t even turn up. Our comparison shots taken a second from each other in identical conditions show that the iPad mini’s 5MP camera far outperforms the Nexus 7 2’s one. The Nexus 7 2 just can’t handle low light.

The camera will just about do for Facebook and Twitter, but you’ll want a much better snapper to capture important moments.

Video quality is passable, but once again the camera sometimes struggles to focus and is jittery when light levels change.

Android 4.3 has added a host of fun new features and usability tweaks to the stock camera app. Settings are now much easier to get to using simple swipe commands. You can tweak everything from exposure levels to white balance or selecting scenes.

You can now also now take pictures by using the volume rocker buttons. In practice this is more suited to a phone rather than the Nexus 7 2 as it’s too easy to get fingers in the way of the lens.

Unfortunately, all these features are a little wasted on the Nexus 7 2’s camera.

If you, like many, are not that interested in having a camera on the back of a tablet then this won’t be too much of disappointment. You’ll still get the benefit of being able to use the camera with the many apps that require one to be present, like barcode or QR readers.

The front-facing camera is 1.2MP, similar to the original Nexus 7. As usual this camera performs its main function, video calling, adequately.

SD Card slot and wireless charging

Just as many Nexus 7 owners bemoaned the lack of microSD card slot as the lack of rear camera. But Google has decided not to grace the new Nexus 7 with one, so you’ll need to buy the £239 32GB model if you’re a media junky.

A peripheral new feature Google has included, though, is wireless charging. It uses the same Qi standard wireless charging the Nexus 4 does, and is compatible with the Nexus 4 wireless charger, in case you have one knocking around the house.

Nexus 7 2 – Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and Performance

Google Nexus 7 2 – Android 4.3 Jelly Bean

Android has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. While it’s still not as simple to use as Apple’s iOS, it's become much more user-friendly.

The huge increase in Android devices has also led to the Google Play Store becoming a vibrant marketplace. The quality or quantity of the apps is not on a par with the Apple store but neither is the difference as great as it once was.

Google is constantly refining and improving Android and we’ve already talked about some of the camera app changes 4.3 Jelly Bean has introduced, but there are a few other notable additions.

Gesture Keyboard:
Introduced in Android 4.2 but refined in 4.3 the gesture keyboard predicts words as you type, making writing on a touch screen quicker and more accurate.

Smarter Notifications:
Smart notifications have been around on Android for a while, but 4.3 makes it even easier to access and action them. If you slide a finger down the right hand side of the screen you get instant access to the Nexus 7 2’s settings, while the left hand side shows notifications.

Location detection via Wi-Fi, Daydream:
Having to keep your Wi-Fi on for location services drains the battery. Android 4.3 now allows location services to work accurately even without having the Wi-Fi constantly on.

Restricted Profiles:
One the biggest and best additions to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean is the ability to add multiple user profiles. Profiles can now be set up for apps and content, meaning you can restric access to children or any other users without concerns.

It’s an area Android has caught up with Windows, but Apple and iOS are still lagging behind.

Android 4.3 issues
We did find some compatibility issues with certain apps in Android 4.3, however. These were predominantly video playing apps. For example, MX Player would not load at all. These are very likely temporary issues, but it goes to show that Google doesn’t quite have the same ethos as Apple when it comes to transitioning users to a new version on an operating system.

We also found that the auto-brightness setting to be overpowering, darkening the screen too much, as well as causing some screen flickering.

Google Nexus 7 2 – Performance and Gaming

The original Nexus 7 was powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. While this was nippy enough to start, with many users have experienced bugginess and slow-down of their tablet over time.

The Nexus 7 2 has instead opted for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4Pro running at 1.5GHz, with an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. If those specs sound familiar it’s because they are exactly the same innards as those in the Google’s Nexus 4.

While on paper the Nexus 7 2 looks like a 7-inch Nexus 4, it actually performs better on a number of benchmarks, almost 25% better in fact. It also outperforms the Nexus 10. This is mainly because the flash storage on the tablet is faster.

As you’d expect it also wipes the floor with the previous Nexus 7 in all the benchmark tests we conducted.

In gaming tests the Nexus 7 2 proved to be more than twice as fast as its predecessor. What this means in day-to-day terms is that you can happily use the Nexus 7 2013 to play even the most intensive 3D games, such as Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger, with no lag whatsoever .

Apps open instantly and the Nexus 7 2 zips through the menus and settings. The only time we noticed any stuttering or pausing was when the screen rotated while a video was playing.

Nexus 7 2 Battery Life and Verdict

Google Nexus 7 2 – Battery Life

The Nexus 7 2 is an upgrade from the previous model in every respect other than battery size.

Google claims that the 3,950 mAh battery lasts up to nine hours with active use. This matched up quite closely with our mixed use tests on the tablet, which covers a little gaming, browsing, reading and watching media.

Our video test was conducted with the screen at 50% brightness using 720p video stored on the tablet. The Nexus 7 2 managed just over 6 hours of video of playtime. That’s less than the previous model, but the benefits of the svelte design warrant the slightly shorter life-span in our eyes. It’s also not bad considering the battery is smaller, while the screen higher res and the speakers louder.

Should I buy the Nexus 7 2?

The new 2013 Nexus 7 may not seem like such a major upgrade from the 2012 model, but Google has managed to resolve many of the issues of an already very good first stab at a 7-inch tablet. It’s one of the most compact tablets on the market, and, other than the very iffy camera, is very accomplished.

If the cost, or lack of microSD slot, puts you off then the £130 MeMO Pad HD 7, also by Asus, makes a great alternative.

Otherwise keep your eyes peeled for the iPad mini 2 expected next month.

The Nexus 7 2 has a UK release date of 28th August and will be priced at £199 for the 16GB model and £239 for the 32GB one.


The Nexus 7 2 is better in almost every single way than its predecessor. It’s slicker, faster and sleeker than any other 7-inch tablet on the market right now, and only the rear facing camera lets it down. At £199 it’s also a little pricier, but well worth the extra pennies. 

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