The £159 tablet from Asus and Google
The Apple iPad has been a huge commercial success, but Android tablets have struggled to capture the popular imagination. That could all change with the Nexus 7, an Android tablet from Asus and Google that costs just £159.
Asus and Google are aiming the Nexus 7 at users who want to enjoy content, such as movies and ebooks, while out and about. To emphasise this, when a Nexus 7 is turned on for the first time the home screen is dominated by a My Library widget for quickly browsing and opening ebooks and other media files. For a limited time, buyers will even get a free £15 voucher to spend on the Google Play store.
Google has chosen the Nexus 7 to debut the latest version of its Android operating system, version 4.1 otherwise known as Jelly Bean. Some of the changes aren't very impressive - the redesigned notifications tray hides some of the options we used most frequently, such as the toggle for turning Wifi on and off. Our first impressions of the improved voice recognition feature weren't positive either - it struggled to correctly recognise simple Google search queries. We also had trouble with the new offline mode in Google Maps - searching for an address simply didn't work.
The most intriguing new feature is the one we weren't able to try out - Google Now. Once you agree to share your personal data with Google, this new feature should be able to intelligently help you out. For example, if you have an upcoming meeting, the Nexus 7 should not only remind you about it but also show you an estimate of how long it will take to get there and suggest a route. If you regularly take the same route home, the Nexus 7 should be able to alert you if there is heavy traffic.
Despite the low price, the Nexus 7 is surprisingly well-specified with an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad core processor, 1GB of RAM and a surprisingly good looking 7in screen with a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. It weighs just 340g. A version with 8GB of storage will be available exclusively from the Google Play store for £159, while the 16GB model will be available more widely for just £199.
The Tegra 3 processor, along with a host of other hardware and software improvements from both Asus and Google, is supposed to ensure that the Nexus 7 is the smoothest and most responsive Android device to date. In our initial hands-on, it did indeed feel very smooth and slick which can't be said for all Android devices. Even expensive Android devices in the past have struggled with simple tasks such as scrolling and zooming which the Nexus 7 had no trouble with.
Inevitably, compromises have been made to keep the price low. The case is made out of ribbed plastic rather than metal or glass and there's no rear-facing camera or microSD memory card slot. The Nexus 7 is also Wifi-only - there's no built-in 3G.
The hardware isn't all about cost cutting though - NFC is built-in for use with the Google Beam future for quickly transferring files wirelessly. There's also a proprietary docking connector (in addition to the usual microUSB port) for speaker docks and other peripherals.
The Nexus 7 is the most promising Android tablet we've seen in a long time - not just because of its low price, but because of the surprisingly decent hardware and some potentially clever features in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. We'll bring you a full review as soon as we can.
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