Google’s recently-announced tablet, the $199 Nexus 7, is now shipping, and the early reviews are encouraging.
If there’s a consensus, it’s that Google’s latest move into the hardware business a far bigger threat to other 7″ tablets than the iPad. Its low price (Google is selling it at cost), solid hardware, and improved Android software easily blow away the Kindle Fire and Galaxy Tab, but the category itself still doesn’t hold a candle to the iPad and the lack of tablet-optimized content in the Google Play store is still an issue.
That said, I hope they put more thought into the product itself than the packaging (reminds me of this classic scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm):
On to the reviews…
For me, the key is the size. Again, I was skeptical at first, but for many situations, I’ve come to love the 7-inch frame. The iPad is brilliant when you’re sitting on a couch or camped out in a coffee shop. In my view, the 9.7-inch iPad is slowly but surely becoming a laptop replacement. I expect this to continue. But a 7-inch tablet is different. The iPad is clunky to read in bed, for example. The Nexus 7 is perfect for that.
Google’s Nexus 7 isn’t just an excellent tablet for $200. It’s an excellent tablet, period. In fact, it’s the first Android tablet that I can confidently recommend to buyers — and not just because it’s got a low price tag (though that certainly helps). It’s a well-designed, powerful, and useful product, with lots of bells and whistles that makes it feel like a device that should be more expensive than it is.
The Nexus 7 is the best of its breed, but it also doesn’t give me any evidence that the breed is one that really holds all that much promise. Aside from reading books, I think it’s pretty clear that a 7-inch tablet is not preferable to a larger one like the iPad or the upcoming Microsoft Surface. It’s like comparing a moped to a car. Both get you from point A to point B, and it’s not bad for what it is, but they’re not really at the same level as far as capabilities go.
Sadly, Android giveth and Android taketh away. Using Jelly Bean, your tablet can no longer play Flash videos online, once an important advantage of Android over the iPad. Also, bizarrely, Jelly Bean removes the ability to turn your Home screen 90 degrees into landscape mode on seven-inch tablets.. It’s upright or nothing.
On the Nexus 7, Google’s special apps for reading e-books, playing music and playing videos are front and center. Clearly, Google is pulling out all the stops to duplicate a chief advantage of Apple and Amazon tablets — their well-integrated, well-stocked online store for books, movies, music and apps.
Unfortunately, Google’s efforts to build that online store are only in the early stages. Its store shelves are much emptier than Apple’s and Amazon’s.
Ultimately, I would describe the 8GB Nexus 7 as the best tablet you shouldn’t buy today—even though its relatively low price will soften the blow when you outgrow the Nexus 7’s limitations and want to step up to another model in six months’ time. At 16GB, the Nexus 7 becomes an affordably priced starter tablet that provides terrific battery life, solid performance, and the latest full-court version of Android. But beware of the storage limitations; they might be a deal breaker for anyone with a large media collection or a desire to download movies and TV shows from Google Play.