When the original iPad was released, it had its fair share of flaws and design quirks. And yet when Steve Jobs showed it off and declared it was “magic,” no one argued. But the magic that the iPad possessed had little to do with the practicality or accessibility of such a device. In the end, it was the iPad 2 that really cleaned up the hardware and had the tablet ecosystem to make it a device worth having on you at all times.
When the original Nexus 7 hit shelves last year, many users had that same “magical” experience. There was just something special about a completely stock, well-designed 7” Android tablet—the way it looked, the way it felt in your hands—it achieved something that other Android tablets had been trying to nail for years.
This year, Google released a new Nexus 7 that doesn’t have a new name, but maybe it should—because the new Nexus 7 is Google’s iPad 2. This isn’t just a flashy toy—it’s a device worth putting money down for.
HARDWARE: A sleek 7” tablet with an incredibly high-res screen
The new Nexus 7 is a beautiful and meticulously crafted device. Although it’s made of plastic and glass, the Nexus 7 has a durable and premium feel. This 7” tablet also features a new soft-touch back that replaces the hideous rubber that plagued the back of the original Nexus 7. But most importantly, Google has managed to make the new Nexus 7 far thinner and lighter, which is exactly what you need in a tablet made for content consumption. It’s gone from something that feels like a toy to a thing you’ll want to show off to your friends.
Weighing in at just 2 pounds, it feels comfortable to use with one hand—even to use leisurely in landscape mode with two hands. When you first pick up this tablet you’ll know exactly what to do with it—lounge on your couch to browse your favorite websites, catch up on Twitter on the bus, or do some late night before-bed reading. There are a few curious choices that take some getting used to—mostly that the side-mounted buttons don’t stick out at all and the strangely huge top and bottom bezels. For the most part though, you’d be shocked to learn that such a well-designed device was made in conjunction with Asus, the company responsible for devices such as the Transformer and the MemoPad.
But the real shocker here is the display. You won’t find a tablet display with better viewing angles, color reproduction and brightness. But the screen isn’t just vibrant, it’s also incredibly accurate—far better than the iPad Mini and miles ahead of any other 7” tablet. Add on to that the fact they’ve boosted the resolution up to 1900×1200 (a significant leap over the original), and you’ve got a tablet display that simply has no competitor. And while the Nexus 7 doesn’t look particularly notable just sitting on a table—a problem that the Nexus line of products has always had—it’ll turn some heads once that display is unlocked.
SOFTWARE: A no-frills Android tablet experience
The Nexus 7 runs stock Android JellyBean 4.3, the newest version of the operating system that few non-Nexus tablets will get this early. What you get with 4.3 is designated profile modes for parental controls, as well as other minor features such as an improved Google Now. Beyond that, you won’t see a ton of visible differences in 4.3—but what you do get is a significant boost in performance. That could also be due to the much-needed extra GB of ram in the Nexus 7 (two total) pushing the very capable Snapdragon 600 processor.
With no bloatware or extra features to speak of, the end is result is a device that can focus solely on pushing the OS and your favorite apps as fast as they can go. That also means that battery life is fairly dependable despite the high-res screen—as long as you don’t have the brightness turned up all day.
Although the Android ecosystem has almost caught up to iOS in some ways, one of the big problems with Android tablets has always been a lack of quality tablet apps. While that matters a bit less on a screen that’s only a couple inches bigger than most Android smartphones (or even less sometimes…), it was still a big concern of mine heading into using the Nexus 7. Fortunately, the timing of this Nexus 7’s release has really been perfect in that the state of Android tablet apps in the Google Play Store is better than it’s ever been. Apps like Evernote, Netflix, Plume, Pocket and Pinterest all look great on the Nexus 7—a testament to the depth that the Android ecosystem now has.
As a side note, there have been a few serious bugs reported since the launch of the Nexus 7—most notably reported problems with the device’s keyboard and GPS. Although I didn’t run into any of the problems with my device, Google has already acknowledged the bugs and has vowed to take care of them.
The Nexus 7 is not only the best Android tablet to be released, it’s also the best 7” tablet money can buy period. And although an updated, Retina Display-enabled iPad Mini is probably just around the corner—the 2013 Nexus 7 is sure to hold up to its competitors throughout the year. If you’re looking for a device that will let you get away from work in the evenings and let you just unwind with your favorite articles, music, books, and games—look no further. Did I mention that this thing sells at a starting price of $229.99?
_Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11 and follow Paste Tech at @paste_tech._