Move further down toward the bottom of the back and you'll find the device's single speaker. It's a slit that runs roughly two-thirds of the way across the back, centered and sitting about a half-inch above the bottom -- which is, by the way, where you'll find the tablet's only ports. Centered down there is a micro-USB connector and, to the far right side when looking at the display, the 3.5mm headphone jack. That's it. Thankfully, ASUS's proprietary connector found on the Transformer tablets doesn't make an appearance here, but neither do we get a dedicated HDMI output, which is a bit of a bummer. (
You can, of course, use an MHL adapter if you like.)
On the left edge of the device, similar dock contacts to those found on the Galaxy Nexus can be found, presumably waiting to be tickled by some future accessory, while up top you'll find ... nothing. Just the silvery ring that runs around the full device. It looks like brushed metal, but feels more like plastic. Even so, the tablet has a very sturdy, strong feel to it -- but that's partly thanks to it being just a little bit chunky.
It measures 10.45mm (0.41 inches) thick, which is just half a millimeter thinner than the Kindle Fire -- itself no slender belle. But, crucially, it weighs much less: 340g (12 ounces) versus 413g (14.6 ounces) for the Fire. That's a very noticeable difference and it makes the Nexus 7 much nicer to carry around. Its curved edges, too, make it far more comfortable.
On the inside is an NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor running at 1.2GHz (though it can step up to 1.3GHz when it wants to) and paired with 1GB of RAM with either eight or 16 gigs of flash storage (doubling the capacity will cost you a $50 premium). As there's no microSD expansion here, you'll probably want to pay the extra cash. WiFi (802.11b/g/n) is your only option for data connectivity, though there's naturally Bluetooth and NFC, not to mention GPS, an accelerometer, a digital compass and a gyroscope, too.
Display and sound
Budget tablets typically make the biggest sacrifices on the display front, and certainly the 1,024 x 600 resolution on the Kindle Fire feels a bit constricting at this point. Not so with the Nexus 7, which is fronted by a very nice 1,280 x 800 IPS panel rated at 400 nits of brightness. While more pixels is always better -- the new iPad and its Retina display having made us yearn for ridiculously high resolutions in all our devices -- WXGA feels perfectly adequate here. Text is rendered very well and 720p videos look great.
Much of that, though, is thanks to the other, less quantifiable aspects of the screen. Viewing angles are top-notch, with contrast staying strong regardless of which side you're coming from. And, it's plenty bright, too, a properly nice screen that, like everything else here, is just a little nicer than you'd expect given the cost.
Audio, however, isn't exactly fighting above its class. The speakers integrated in the back and peeking out through a slender slit toward the bottom deliver a decent amount of sound that isn't too unpleasant to listen to. It passes the "loud enough to fill a hotel room" test but the quality at those levels will leave you reaching for your earbuds.
Performance and battery life
When Jen-Hsun Huang teased Tegra 3-powered tablets would drop under $200 this summer he obviously knew what was coming, but what we didn't know was just how far back those tablets would have to be scaled to make that price point. If you've been reading all the way through to here (and we love you for it) you'll know we haven't yet found a real compromise made to achieve that price. Compromises will not be found in this section, either.
Okay, so a 35-second boot time does leave a little bit to be desired, but once you're inside the OS, applications load quickly and respond briskly, even graphics-heavy ones like the Google Play magazine app. Webpages are rendered promptly and swiping through them is snappy. Sure, there are the occasional stutters and hiccups here that even a coating of Butter doesn't completely eliminate, but we've experienced those with even the top-shelf tablets, like the recent Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 with its 1.7GHz version of the Tegra 3 processor.
If benchmarks are to be believed, this little guy actually performs better than its bigger brothers.
Since there were plenty of people freaking out about the new iPad getting warm when gaming and doing other intensive tasks we'll point out briefly that the Nexus 7 was noticeably increasing in temperature as these benchmarks cooked away. But, at no point did it become disconcertingly hot. Just a little toasty.
And of course a tablet is only good for as long as you can use the thing, and we were quite impressed by the longevity here. We came within spitting distance of 10 hours on a charge using out standard rundown test, which has the tablet connected on WiFi and looping a video endlessly. That's very, very good for a budget 7-incher and bests many bigger, more expensive slates.
The Nexus 7 is the first device shipping with Android 4.1. We'll defer to our full review of Jelly Bean for full impressions, as it's far too much to get into here, but there are a few aspects of the latest additions to Android that are worth pointing out.
Like those magazine subscriptions we mentioned above, for example. The Play Magazines app is a perfectly respectable reader that has a great selection of content and very smooth performance. While pinch-to-zoom is quite fluid, thanks to the reasonably high-res screen you won't necessarily have to do so as often as you might on the Fire. That's because text is clear and readable if you still have the eyesight to match -- though should you want something a bit easier to parse there's a handy text view.