Asus Nexus 7.
The most influential gadget of 2012, the Android-powered Nexus 7 raises the bar for all tablets.
We saw many impressive gadgets reach Australian shores this year, but the Nexus 7 tablet stands out from the crowd. Google's Android 4.1 reference device, built by Asus, the Nexus 7 sets the new standard for Android tablets -- both in terms of quality and value for money. The Android 4.2 update is now available for the Nexus 7, bringing with it a range of interesting new features including support for multiple user accounts -- similar to Fast User Switching on a Windows PC.
After initially launching with 8 and 16GB models, a hardware refresh now offers even better value for money. Online you'll pay $250 for the 16GB wi-fi-only mode and $299 for 32GB, or a little more on the stores. The $369 32GB wi-fi/3G Nexus 7 has also reached Australian stores this month, making it even more attractive for road warriors.
At this price you're entitled to expect the Nexus 7 to be a piece of junk like many of the budget Android tablets. But this little tablet can hold its head high amongst the best. It certainly deserves some of the credit for forcing Apple's hand with the iPad mini. After declaring 7-inch tablets were duds, Apple finally threw its hat in the ring this year after the Nexus 7 made such an impressive debut. The iPad mini might have been in the pipeline for some time, but Apple could have held off a little longer without pressure from the Nexus 7.
When it comes to the spec sheet the Nexus 7 ticks a lot of boxes;
1.3 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor
Android 4.1 (now ships with 4.2 update)
16 or 32GB of onboard storage
1280x800 IPS LCD screen
1.2 MP front camera
802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz only)
optional micro-SIM slot for 21 Mbps HSDPA
Near Field Communications
198.5 x 120 x 10.45 mm
The most obvious omissions here are mini-HDMI and a micro-SD card slot. Some people will argue that these aren't as important in this age of cloud storage and video streaming, but if you're reliant on streaming then you'll be disappointed by the lack of 5 GHz Wi-Fi support -- which is much less prone to interference than 2.4 GHz when it comes to streaming video. As with the Nexus 4 smartphone, I wouldn't consider Nexus 7's lack of LTE support disappointing considering the price tag and HSDPA's performance.
You're also missing a rear camera, but I don't think that's an unreasonable sacrifice either. Many people wouldn't even miss the rear camera on a tablet if their smartphone already doubles as a half-decent camera.
Power up the Nexus 7 and once again it puts its budget competitors to shame. You're faced with a gorgeous 7-inch screen which, with 216 pixel-per-inch density, is considerably sharper than the iPad mini. The Nexus 7's IPS LCD screen offers very white whites, good contrast and excellent viewing angles -- which is more than you could say for some of the early AMOLED-based Android devices. The bright screen also copes very well with outdoor glare, an important feature in a potential travel companion. It's certainly a worthy rival to Apple's iPad mini, although the mini's colours are a tad more vivid. The mini's speakers also offer slightly richer sound for movies and music.
The 7-inch screen makes the Nexus 7 more pocket-friendly than the 7.9-inch iPad mini, even though the mini is slightly thinner and lighter. Of course the trade-off for the Nexus 7's compact size is that you've got less screen real estate at your disposal. It's most noticeable when reading, but less so when watching video or playing games.
As soon as you fire up the Nexus 7 you can see that it's very much focused on content consumption, following in the footsteps of Amazon's Kindle Fire with its tight integration into the Google Play content store. In many ways the Nexus 7 is more in competition with the Kindle Fire than the iPad mini. The Nexus 7's default home screen widgets display content from your Google library including magazines and movies. The default icons across the screen include links to Google Play's movies, music, books and app stores. Chrome is also the default browser.
Of course you can change these as you see fit and you've got full access to the app store for installing your apps and services of choice, such as Kindle for books, Zinio for magazines and Rdio for music.
As a Google-issued reference device the Nexus 7 is not bogged down with the extra apps and services installed by some vendors and telcos (which you may or may not class as bloatware depending on your requirements). Benchmark results are not as impressive as the Nexus 4 but still respectable. The tablet remains responsive under load, whether you're watching movies, browsing complicated websites or playing graphics-intensive games.
If you're just looking for a tablet to sit on your lap while you watch television then I'd still lean towards a 10-inch tablet, like the new Nexus 10 with its ultrasharp 2560x1600 display. The same goes for Apple fans contemplating the iPad mini. While these new 7-inch tablets are a delight to hold, you're sacrificing considerable screen real estate in return for elegance and convenience.
It all depends on how you intend to use your tablet, but I don't think it's worth sacrificing that screen real estate unless you're on a tight budget or you're primarily after a travel companion. You might argue that it would make an excellent ebook reader, yet dedicated e-Ink readers such as Kindles and Kobos are much cheaper and far better suited to the job. Perhaps a 7-inch tablet would make the perfect secondary tablet for your children, so you can wrestle your 10-inch tablet back from their grubby little hands.
Considering the price, features and performance, the Nexus 7 would have to be the best-value tablet on the market today. The 7-inch screen size isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a tablet to throw in your bag or slip in your jacket pocket as you walk out the door then this is the one to beat.