Google/Asus Nexus 7
With the Nexus 7, we finally have a confident, viable contender to the iPad. This Google-branded, Asus-made tablet computer, which started appearing on store shelves in Taiwan in October, hits a bunch of sweet spots. The sweetest is price. Retailing for NT$8,990, the Nexus 7 is probably the best value tablet available at the moment.
Another perk is size. The Nexus 7, which has a 7-inch screen and overall is the size of a small legal pad or large-ish paperback, is comfortable and easy to hold with one hand. If you’ve been wishing for something like the iPad but smaller, this is it (the yet-to-be-released iPad mini notwithstanding).
Then there’s the ever-improving software. For all the mess that it used to be, Google’s Android tablet operating system has matured with its latest version, Jelly Bean. Everything runs smoother and more fluidly than before. The screen feels responsive, without the lag and delay of previous OS versions. For apps, there isn’t the variety on Google Play that you get with Apple’s App Store, but all the important ones are there: Facebook, Skype and Dropbox. The advantage of the Nexus series is that Google has a direct hand in the look of the software. The stock version of Android usually looks cleaner and less confusing than the widget-filled screens and user interfaces that Samsung and other tablet makers add to their devices.
(And as usual, Android is very friendly to Chinese users when it comes to text input, whether you use traditional or simplified, Zhuyin Fuhao, also known as Bopomfo, or Hanyu Pinyin.)
Asus deserves big kudos for the Nexus 7’s design, which sets it apart from similar-sized tablets. It beats Samsung’s plasticky Galaxy Tab by a long mile. The Nexus 7 feels like a high-end device, with a mirror black screen on top that inevitably reminds one of a large iPod but which is nice nonetheless. Asus’ original design touch is on the backside, which is made of a leather-like black rubber that looks and feels like it belong in a luxury car. It’s beautiful, and makes the Nexus 7 feel nice to hold. Google and Asus decided to err on the side of minimalism, offering only three physical buttons, for power and volume, and a USB power plug.
Hardware-wise, the Nexus 7 generally gets it right. 1 gigabyte of RAM helps the device run smoothly, while NVIDI’s 1.2 GHZ quadcore processor ensures speed. Most importantly, though, the Nexus 7’s 1280 x 800 screen is nice. If you’re counting pixel density, it’s not quite as sharp as Apple’s “Retina” screens, but the tablet is very comfortable to read and watch videos on. I didn’t keep close track of battery time to compare with Google/Asus’ claim of nine and a half hours, but that figure didn’t seem far off. I got two and a half days between charges with normal use, which for me means checking e-mails and Facebook, surfing the Web and watching YouTube videos off and on throughout each day.
The Nexus 7’s drawbacks are minor and may not apply to everyone. In Taiwan, it’s only available with 16 gigabytes of storage, and there’s no SD card for expansion. There is no back-facing camera, which might ward off those who think a tablet makes a good point-and-shoot camera.
A few new features come across as lukewarm novelties. Google Voice is comparable to Apple’s Siri — it’s useful for certain things such as basic dictation and basic information like weather and stocks. Google Now makes educated guesses on what info you need most, and automatically displays cards with data and information based on your most frequent searches and location. For example, open up Google Now, and the local weather will appear, as will your calendar appointments. These features are pretty cool for their potential and fun to play with, but aren’t quite in the “must-have” column yet.