Latest review on Nexus 7

Just over a year ago, Google released its first Nexus tablet. The 2012 Nexus 7 wasn't perfect by a long shot, but it was the kick in the pants that the Android tablet ecosystem needed at the time. Up until that point, the best Android tablets (and we use that term loosely) were trying to pretend like they weren't even Android tablets. Among the Galaxy Tabs and Motorola Xooms of the world, no one tablet really did well enough to merit the attention of developers or users. The Nexus 7 also redefined what people could expect to get for $200—an entirely usable (if not cutting-edge) general-purpose tablet without performance-sucking third-party skins or OEM-exclusive app stores.
Since then, the seven-to-eight-inch tablet category has gotten much more competitive thanks to lower prices from Amazon and a new, smaller iPad from Apple. Since it launched, praise for the original Nexus 7 has also gotten more muted, as storage-related performance degradation has set in and made the tablet feel slower than it did at first. With this follow-up, Google and Asus don't just have to provide a decisive answer to the iPad mini—they also have to quell doubts about their tablet's longevity. Luckily for us, they've managed to do both.

Body and build

Everything you need to know about the new Nexus 7 in 90 seconds.

SCREEN1920×1200 7.02" (323 PPI) IPS LCD
OSAndroid 4.3 Jelly Bean
CPUQuad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro
GPUQualcomm Adreno 320
STORAGE16GB or 32GB (non-upgradeable)
NETWORKING802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, optional LTE (700/750/850/1700/1900/2100MHz), HSPA+ (850/900/1900/2100MHz/AWS), GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz)
PORTSMicro-USB, headphones
CAMERA5MP rear camera, 1.2MP front camera
SIZE7.87" × 4.49" × 0.34" (200 x 114 x 8.65 mm)
WEIGHT10.23 oz. (290 g)
The short version: The 2013 Nexus 7 is more compact and, overall, feels a little better put together than last year's model. This is plastic done right. Adjustments to the tablet's weight and measurements make it easier to hold in both portrait and landscape modes.
The long version: The 2013 Nexus 7 is an all-black, mostly plastic slab with a 7-inch 1920×1200 display on the front. There's also a 1.2MP front-facing camera set slightly right-of-center above the screen, a 5MP camera with no LED flash on the back, and stereo speaker grilles on the back of the tablet at its top and bottom. A new notification LED will slowly pulse at you from the bezel below the screen, but the tablet still lacks any sort of vibrator motor for notifications (or haptic feedback). The Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 both support this feature, so its continued omission from the Nexus 7 is a little puzzling, even if it isn't in any way deal-breaking.
Other new features include built-in support for the Qi wireless charging standard, HDMI output through the micro USB port via the SlimPort standard (adapter sold separately), wireless display support via the Miracast standard, and 4G LTE support on Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in the US (as long as you buy the LTE-equipped model, which is slated to go on sale in the coming weeks). Many of these features made an appearance in the Nexus 4 when it was launched late last year, and they're all welcome (if mostly niche) additions to the Nexus 7.
The new Nexus 7 sports both reduced thickness (0.34 inches, compared to 0.42 for the last Nexus 7 and 0.28 for the iPad mini) and weight (10.23 ounces, compared to 12 for the last Nexus 7 and 10.88 for the iPad mini) relative to last year's model. These measurements make the tablet feel better in your hand, but the best part is that Asus was able to shrink these measurements while also upping its build quality game. There's none of the creaking or flexing you might associate with an all-plastic tablet at this price point. The old Nexus 7 merely felt good for the price; the new one feels just plaingood, though the aluminum construction of the ($100 more expensive) iPad mini still edges it out by just a bit.
It's the subtle changes that really show how Asus has improved the design. For instance: in the year or so that I've owned it, my 2012 Nexus 7 has made two trips to the ground. It survived both falls, but each time the silver trim that surrounds the display has separated slightly from the back of the tablet. It snapped back into place without issue in both cases, but it's a fit-and-finish deficiency that's not present in the more expensive Nexus 10 or either iPad.

Enlarge / The new Nexus 7's finish is reminiscent of the iPad mini's, except it's soft-touch plastic instead of aluminum.
Andrew Cunningham
Enlarge / We can't deny that we miss the unique texture of last year's Nexus 7 (right), though.
Andrew Cunningham
Enlarge / The old Nexus 7 (bottom) is decidedly huskier than the new one (top). Also note that the tablet's headphone jack has migrated to the top of the device.
Enlarge / It's more comparable in thickness and height to the iPad mini, though the Nexus is still narrower.

The 2013 Nexus 7 also has a plastic rim around the screen that can be pried away from the back of the tablet to expose its innards, but the rim is recessed compared to last year's model. Drop the 2012 Nexus 7, and the tablet's silvery edge is likely to absorb the blow and come apart from the rest of the tablet. Drop the 2013 model, and the edges most likely to absorb the impact are on a piece of the back of the tablet (and thus are less likely to separate from the screen).
The back of the tablet is now a flat black "soft-touch" plastic that lacks the pleasant texture of last year's model. The tablet doesn't have the slippery, glossy plastic feel of one of Samsung's phones or tablets (the Nexus 10 notwithstanding), but it's not quite as grippy as either its predecessor or its larger relative. In practice, the tablet is quite easy to hold in one hand or two, but the decision to make the tablet both narrower and taller than the previous Nexus 7 makes it easier to hold in portrait and landscape modes.
For instance, the narrower side bezels make it more comfortable to really grip the tablet in the palm of your hand like so:

Enlarge / Even in my relatively large hands, I couldn't hold the old Nexus 7 like this without straining.
Andrew Cunningham

Or, if I need to, I can use my thumb to interact with onscreen elements while the tablet is balanced against my pinky, much as I do with the larger Android smartphones. Since the bezels are thinner, it's more difficult to rest my thumb against the side bezel without also accidentally brushing the screen, but it's still possible.

Enlarge / Seriously, does anyone else hold stuff like this, or am I just a freak?
Andrew Cunningham

Neither tablet is particularly fatiguing to hold in one hand for extended tablet-ing sessions, but I feel like I have a better grip on the newer Nexus. I'd call this an improvement, though whether you do depends on how you hold your tablet most of the time.

Enlarge / Holding the tablet in landscape mode is also more comfortable, thanks to the sort-of-awkward-looking but functional top and bottom bezels.
Andrew Cunningham

The tablet has larger top and bottom bezels, which make the new Nexus 7 easier to hold in landscape mode than the old model as long as you're using two hands. Because of its light weight, you can still hold the tablet with one hand in landscape mode for a while, but the elongated design can be a bit difficult to balance. The alignment of the Nexus logo on the back of the tablet really drives this newfound love for landscape mode home—if you'll recall, the original Nexus 7's home screen wouldn't even work in landscape mode out of the box until an update enabled it. The adjusted bezel thickness makes the tablet look a little awkward, but in actual use we'd call it an improvement over the prior model. It's proof positive that "plastic" doesn't always have to mean "cheap."

A great screen at any price

Enlarge / The 2013 Nexus 7 (left) has a 323 PPI screen, compared to 216 PPI for the old version (right).

The short version: The 1920×1200 display has much brighter colors than last year's 1280×800 panel, and at 323 PPI, it outdoes both the 300 PPI Nexus 10 and 264 PPI Retina iPads. Until there's a Retina iPad mini, no other small-tablet screen comes close.
The long version: Our review of the first eight-inch Windows 8 tablet really drives home the importance of the screen to the smartphone and tablet experience. Use a crappy screen, and it doesn't matter how good the rest of your tablet is—the user's experience is going to be bad.
There are two big things to consider when evaluating a tablet's screen: the resolution (and thus, pixel density) of that screen and the actual quality of the screen itself. In both respects, the new Nexus 7 beats the pants off of its predecessor and the iPad mini.

Enlarge / The iPad mini's individual pixels are easy to discern when you get close up.
Andrew Cunningham
Enlarge / It's not too hard to do it with last year's Nexus 7, either, though text already looks a bit smoother.
Enlarge / Even very close up, it's difficult to resolve individual pixels on the new Nexus 7's display.
Andrew Cunningham

The new Nexus 7's screen is very similar in pixel density to that of the Nexus 10, and it has most of the same virtues and drawbacks. Text across almost all apps is universally crisp and clear, as you can see in the pictures. Images that have been optimized for high-resolution, high-density screens are also clear and crisp, though images that haven't been optimized will be slightly blurry as they are on the Nexus 10, the Chromebook Pixel, and the various Retina-equipped Apple products.
Everyone will have different opinions about pixel density and how much it matters. Plenty of people are perfectly happy with the iPad mini's 163 PPI density, though I think it's a little pixelated (especially for text—I spend most of my tablet-time reading either webpages or e-books). To my eyes, there's a line just above 200 PPI—right around the screen density of the 2012 Nexus 7—after which additional improvements to tablet screens are nice but not necessary. I can tell the difference between the 2012 Nexus 7's 216 PPI and the higher PPIs of the Retina iPad, the Nexus 10, and the 2013 Nexus 7, but it's that line between the iPad mini and the 2012 Nexus 7 that will probably make the biggest difference to the most people.