Sunday, July 22, 2012

iPad Killer or Kindle Fire Killer? The Nexus 7 Review


Review Background

Ever since I can remember I've been hunting for an inexpensive way to carry out my typical computational needs and desires. Five or so years ago, I thought that was only possible through older machines. So I bought an old iBook Clamshell. It worked... but it wasn't fast, it didn't support some modern software, and the battery life sucked (even after I bought a new one!). Because of this, the next device I purchased was a snow iBook. Same problem. Next! I bought a Netbook. Finally I realized that I wasn't going to get away with buy all these sub-200 dollar devices and having them work very well, so I buckled down and bought a MacBook. It lasted me more than three years before the hardware just wasn't good enough anymore, and the trackpad broke. Now, I have my Dell Vostro 3450- the best laptop I have ever owned. I ran Windows 7 on it for about a month or two before I decided that Ubuntu would work best on it.

But I have never been satisfied with a laptop and a smartphone. I still craved that middle-of-the-line device. The one that lets me do everything BOTH devices can do, and be smaller and cheaper. When the first iPad was announced and eventually released, I waited in line for one, figured out that it wasn't yet for me (I had planned to rid of my MacBook for it) and sold it to my sister. She loves it, it does everything she needs it to do, and she's happy with her purchase. I then realized that the tablet computer wasn't meant to replace anything at all. In fact, it's meant to be yet another device to carry around. And I still wanted one.

The market was still reletively shitty. Tablets went from $350 to $900 with no wiggle room. The tablet you bought, gave you the specs you paid for. And why shouldn't it? The lower end tablets running ancient versions of Google's Android OS were highly lacking in any real functionality beyond that of a basic browsing device and email device- and even then they struggled. So, Amazon released the Kindle Fire. I ALMOST bought the Kindle Fire. That is, until I tried one out. It was the slowest tablet I had ever used. There was a good deal of snapping back, lag, and annoyance. So I decided to wait for the rumored Tegra 3 devices to be released, the ones that were said to be faster AND cheaper too. Because hey, I've been waiting for this thing for a LONG ASS time.

It came. It finally came. And I'm positive of that. The Nexus 7 is THE budget speed demon I and so many others had been patiently awaiting for so many years. But is it more like an iPad or a Kindle Fire? Why should YOU buy one? Read on to find out.



Why Nexus 7?

The Kindle Fire and the iPad are only alike in one sense- they are primarily content consumption-driven devices. And not much more. They exist as the third wheel of the technology wagon, and in reality, every computer manufacturer thinks you should have one, along with a laptop and a smartphone. This brings the following thoughts to a user's cranium: So, if I really NEED one, why should I get the Kindle Fire? It's sluggish, ugly, not well featured, and shit, the Nexus 7 just came out. Why should I get the iPad? It's expensive, and I would really only use it for content absorption! And that is where the Nexus 7 comes in. It's literally the best of both worlds. It's cheap as hell (come on, 200 bucks for a fully blown tablet, I can get an 8 GB iPod touch for the same price!), it's fast as hell, and it's sexy as hell. Really, it's everything you've ever wanted in a tablet, just a little later than you wanted it.

Hardware Review

So, let's talk specs, shall we? The Nexus 7 comes with a quad-core Tegra 3 chipset clocking in at 1.3 GHz- which means yes, you can overclock it if you wish to do so. Even more impressive is the 12-core GPU that makes games pop and fly. I've never seen such gorgeous graphics on a tablet. It's not almost console quality anymore, it IS console quality. To power the extreme multitasking you may or may not be doing, is a gigabyte of DDR3 memory, the same kind used in the new Retina MacBook Pro (can I hear some oohs and ahhs?). And to show it all off is a gorgeous 7 inch IPS display with a resolution of 1280x800 and a pixel density of 226 pixels per inch. It's not a retina display, that's for sure, but it far surpasses the Kindle Fire, with a considerably lower pixel count. The tablet weighs in at 0.74 pounds and is 0.41 inches thick- a hair thinner than the Kindle Fire, a lot lighter than it, and worlds lighter than Apple's iPad. Beyond these typical specs, the Nexus 7 also includes a GPS chip, NFC chip, gyroscope, acceleration, and compass. Put all these things together and not only do you get a kickass gaming device, but also an amazing GPS. The device also comes with a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera for all your video chatting needs, excluding a camera from the back. Because think about it, who the hell uses their tablet over their phone as a camera anyhow? Overall the Nexus is quite powerful and sleek for the price. I really love the soft-touch rubber on the back, it's definitely a lot easier to grip than Apple's aluminum back on the iPad, or the cheap plastic back on the Kindle Fire.

Software Review

The Kindle Fire PALES in comparison to the Nexus 7's software appeal. Sure, Amazon has a lot more content to stream and send to their tablet, but the Nexus 7 has the full Google Play store, providing users with an app market 600,000 strong, compared to the tens of thousands of apps available for the Kindle Fire. And, it's certainly not Apple's App Store which is approaching one million apps, but hey, once this thing is in the hands of more users, Android devs will have another reason to jump on to make more apps for the device.

The included apps on the Nexus 7 are all the basics most users will need to get started. For entertainment you have the Google Play Store, Play Music, Play Books, Play Movies & TV Shows, and the new Play Magazines. Each app allows you to immerse yourself in wonderfully inexpensive content that is a lot more streamlined than Apple's iTunes experience. Also included on the device is the Chrome browser, which is just as fast as it is on the desktop. Let's just say we're all still waiting for Apple to make Safari a worthy contender, or Amazon to push out a better Silk browser, especially considering that the Chrome browser for mobile is only a few months old. All of Google's existing apps and services are here too, Google+ and Google+ hangouts, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, and many others that can be installed via the Play Store.

The experience right now with third party applications however, leaves a lot to be desired. The number of tablet apps is still small- but this may be okay on the Nexus 7, as most phone apps still look stunning on the Nexus 7 (something I can say less for iPhone apps on the iPad), and work just as well. It's worth noting that the Netflix experience is phenomenal, as is SketchBook X (an app I use far too often), Minecraft Pocket Edition, Adobe Reader, and the New York Times tablet app. However, I think games shine a lot more right now on this device than regular apps do.

I can't mention software without mentioning Google Now- the new Google service that allows users to get their Siri-competitior and ask for some help once in a while. Google Now can be activated either by tapping the Google search bar on the home screen (every home screen, mind you), or by holding down the home button and sliding up, or by swiping up upon unlocking the device. From here, you can ask it anything, and for the most part, it does a fantastic job of finding your question. Google Now also serves as the reminder/weather update/traffic update center, which are displayed upon the Google Now screen and your notification bar when such data is available. Overall, it doesn't have the wit and sarcasm of Siri, but it does have the resources to find you what you're looking for, which, in the end, is really all we came to the app for anyhow.

Final Notes

The Nexus 7 is everything I ever wanted a low cost tablet to be. It's inexpensive like Amazon's Kindle Fire, yet it's powerful and versatile like Apple's iPad. And when all is said and done, it's the device that I would want to use for all of my technology needs and wants- something I can't really say about the Kindle Fire, and something I can say about the iPad... but it's too expensive. At the end of the day, if you're looking for a do-all budget tablet that doesn't leave a hole in your pocket or a frown on your face, than I would feel hard-pressed to find a tablet that does a better job than the Nexus 7.

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