Friday, August 16, 2013

Kotas Reviews the Nexus 7 2nd Generation

For my wife’s birthday, I bought her a Nexus 7 (2nd Generation). I got it early, during a “tax free” shopping weekend, because I like to support local businesses when I can. Like my last tablet review, I’ve given it at least a week to get used to it, and see how it works. I got the 32GB model because Asus is notorious for using somewhat questionable parts for storage in their “basic” tier gear. Besides, it can’t hurt to have more storage, now can it?

TL;DR: This tablet is the bee’s knees of 7 inch Android tablets, with an amazing screen and robust software. It has its quirks, but nothing that would prevent someone from using it. Now, for the more detailed review.

First Impressions

The Google branded packaging is pretty nice, and for once it was easy to get open (unlike SOME retail packaging). You don’t get much in the box, just a set of quick start instructions, power cord and wall adapter, and the tablet. The Nexus 7 is surprisingly light and thin, with thicker bezels at the top and bottom than along the edges (when held in portrait orientation). What does this mean? It means I can hold the damn thing one handed, though using the touch screen one handed is much more difficult. It is possible though, which is a plus from my aging Asus Transformer Prime. The back has a really nice surface to touch. Smooth, but with enough uh...grip to mitigate any fears of it slipping easily out of your hand.The tablet feels good in the hand, but it does seem a little fragile, if only because it is very, very thin. It’s a well built piece of technology.

Initial Setup

Initial setup was as straightforward as I remembered it on my other Android tablet, though since I have two factor authentication turned on I needed to use the “web login” to complete the setup. A minor hitch at best. Gmail, G+, Hangouts, etc. all “just worked”. It even came mostly charged, and it connected to my wireless network without issue.


It comes with stock Android 4.3 and my oh my is this a leap from 4.1 (I haven’t used 4.2). Hands down, my favorite feature is multiple user accounts. I have an account, and Charlotte has an account, and switching between the two is as easy as going ot the lock screen and back. We don’t have any sort of restrictions on the accounts, but there is an option to set up a “limited access” account. I’m sure that will be handy when Sylvia wants to play Angry Birds. The other big change for me is a “favorites” bar kind of area. No matter which “desktop” you are on, this bar exists. No more having to swipe around trying to remember where you put your email app launch icon.

The system settings now swipe down from the top, rather than having to tap a corner, and that’s pretty cool. The settings panel is a bit nicer, but not much has changed here. It’s very workable. The screen is an absolute joy to behold. Seriously it is very sharp, and way outshines the screen on my Transformer Prime.


The default software is what you’d expect: all the Google apps you’d expect (Gmail, G+, Hangouts, etc.), and even Google Keep, which I don’t know if I will use or not. I’m not big on note-taking apps, so probably not, but hey, it’s there. For someone who sold himself to Google years ago, the default software is fine. Web browsing is handled with Chrome. I haven’t bothered with any other browser on this device, but it works good. The new Google Keyboard for screen typing is a nice improvement over the old one and even has some Swype-esque features. Google Play is there in all its glory, and all my previously purchased or downloaded apps were available for me to install.


I haven’t done a lot of serious work on this tablet, but the responsiveness is really, really solid. I haven’t seen one instance of stutter, slowdown, or other hiccup. It is also nice and bright, and while others have complained of dead pixels, I haven’t seen any. Unlike a lot of tablets, this one actually has stereo speakers, on the “top and bottom”, and they can get surprisingly loud.

The rear facing certainly a camera. It works about as well as any other tablet camera I’ve used, though the lack of flash is somewhat disappointing. Still, it gets the job done. The 4.3 camera app is weird, but once I got used to it, it works pretty well.

I was excited to test the wireless performance vs. the Transformer Prime, and at first I was pretty disappointed. It was better, but only a tiny bit better rather than the significant performance increase I saw between the Prime and my old Asus netbook. After a little poking around on the Intarwebs, I saw some posts indicating that NFC could be interfering with the wireless reception, so I turned it off. This did improve things to a solid level, but my netbook outshines both tablets for whatever reason. It is much less of an issue now that I’ve bought a powerline Wireless extender, which gives me wireless throughout the entire house, but I can still see a difference between my Prime and the Nexus 7. All in all, it’s perfectly serviceable.

Battery life is pretty good, though I’ve not done any formal testing. If one is good about turning off the wireless, it will go a good while between charges, and even under fairly regular use it only needs charging every 3 to 4 days. Charlotte uses it for reading, browsing, checking email, and watching TED talks and hasn’t complained.

Browsing seems fast, certainly faster than on my Prime for whatever reason, though Flash is no longer a thing without resorting to side loading. Honestly, I haven’t missed it and reading web comics from the comfort of my bed is a fine way to wind down an evening. Apps seem to be quicker to react too, except the Kindle App which has always been slow for whatever reason. Eh, it works.


I am very impressed with this tablet. The screen is the best one I’ve ever seen, at least as nice as the “Retina” screen on the current generation of iPads, even if it is smaller. I like the 7” form factor a lot more than I thought I would, though I think I still prefer the 10” size for a lot of things. Charlotte can chime in here, but I’m pretty sure she really likes it. Stock Android is a fine experience, and 4.3 is a great way to get into it. The price isn’t bad either ($280 for the 32GB model, $230 for the 16GB model), considering what you get. On a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, I give this a solid 4 smileys.