Friday, August 31, 2012, 05:38 am PT (08:38 am ET)
Review: Google's Nexus 7 tablet with Android 4.1
Software, apps and content
As the Nexus 7 runs Jelly Bean, the latest major release of Android, it comes preinstalled with Google's Chrome browser. Browsing the Internet on the Nexus 7 works as expected, in an experience largely identical to using Chrome on iOS devices, including automatic syncing of open tabs and bookmarks.
As iPad users, we found the digital navigation buttons at the bottom screen in Android took some getting used to. When using the onscreen digital keyboard, particularly when in landscape mode, we frequently found ourselves accidentally tapping the home button at the bottom of the touchscreen display when we meant to press the keyboard located just above it. Apple's dedicated hardware home button on the iPad is a better design choice in this respect.
Speaking of landscape mode, there's another strange, inexplicable quirk with the Nexus 7 that we encountered: The auto-rotate screen feature was not enabled by default. This was addressed by a relatively easy fix, by simply enabling the feature under the "Accessibility" section in Android's Settings. However, the question must be asked: Why isn't this enabled out of the box? The answer may be the Nexus 7 feels best used in portrait mode, due to its relatively small screen and narrower-than-iPad 16-to-10 portrait mode.
Even when auto-rotate is turned on, it's only available in applications that support it. The Nexus 7's Android home screen cannot be operated in landscape mode only portrait. Users will likely want to run a third-party launcher to enable use of the home screen in landscape mode.
Applications remain the Achilles' heel of Android tablets. While there are plenty of options to download in the Google Play store, almost none of them feel like they were designed to take full advantage of the larger screen of the Nexus 7. Even many of the native applications found in Android 4.1 give the impression that they have just been stretched to fill up the screen.
While applications are limited, content on Android is competitive enough to go toe-to-toe with Apple's iTunes as well as Amazon. While the selection at Google Music isn't as broad (you can't purchase The Beatles or Metallica, for example), users can upload their own library, including non-DRM iTunes tracks, to their Google Music account for cloud storage.
The best argument for a 7-inch tablet may be e-books. It's here again that the thin width of a 16-to-10 ratio display and the light weight of the Nexus 7 shine, allowing a user to hold the device with one hand if they choose. In our view, the weight is probably the biggest knock against Apple's current iPad.
While the smaller size of the Nexus 7 is good for e-books, it's less than idea for digital magazines, which must be shrunk down too much to fit the small 7-inch screen. As with on the iPad, too many magazines for the Nexus 7 are essentially PDF-style scans of the same printed product. While this is problematic enough on the iPad, it requires even more inconvenient zooming and scrolling on the Nexus 7.
Making the Nexus 7 an even greater value beyond its $199 price is the fact that Google is currently offering all customers a $25 credit to its Google Play store. This is an obvious effort by Google to get Android users into the idea of purchasing applications for its mobile operating system, something users of Apple's iOS App Store already do in droves. While the selection and quality of applications for Android doesn't compete with Apple, a free $25 credit to purchase anything from Google, including music and books, is a welcome addition that sweetens the pot even more.
On page 4 of 4, thoughts on an "iPad mini," conclusion and final score
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