Nexus 7: The Hardware

Categories: Gadgetry
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: December 17, 2012

My district picked up a Google Nexus 7 tablet for evaluation, and there’s a lot to cover so I’m going to break my comments out across a couple of posts this week, starting with hardware.

The Nexus 7 is built by Asus and is not as small as I expected. It’s taller and narrower than the Kindle Fire HD, but it’s still easy to read from and to manipulate. I can easily hold it in one hand, whether pinched between thumb and fingers along one edge or cradled across my palm with thumb on one side and fingers on the other.

Given we’re wanting to see how it fares in students’ hands, though, I gave the tablet to my ten-year-old son. He, too, found it very comfortable to hold and use.

Nexus 7 portrait
My son holding the Nexus 7 in portrait mode

I still see a remarkable difference between students and teachers when I hand them a new device. Most teachers, particularly those uncomfortable withe technology, will stare at the device and ask me how to turn it on. My son, like most students, went straight to work in search of buttons. The Nexus 7 has no buttons on the face when it’s powered off (the three you see at the bottom in the screenshot are all software buttons), so he searched the perimeter to find the power and volume buttons. He was in and exploring in seconds.

The Nexus is a weighty device given its size, but not uncomfortable. The chassis feels sturdy despite the plastic construction, and Google has placed the camera and mic near the top (short edge) and the speakers on the bottom back. The camera does not appear accessible by most apps, so must only be intended for video conferencing. The speakers have been loud and clear while playing YouTube videos.

Nexus 7 landscape
My son holds the Nexus 7 in landscape mode

The screen is very bright and crisp. It’s easy to read indoors, and it’s not too harsh and bright for reading in the dark. Scrolling through websites and flipping through apps was fast and smooth, and I had no trouble picking up Wi-Fi signals in various parts of our campus.

It does, however, seem to lose Wi-Fi from time to time. I don’t know whether this would be a software or hardware issue, and I’ve seen it happen both at work and at home while connected to two very different wireless routers. The Wi-Fi icon will turn white (it’s normally blue) and will say it’s connected, but to get back online I find it’s easiest to turn the Wi-Fi off and back on again.

I have mixed feelings on the battery life. I’ve used the Nexus 7 for long periods at a stretch with no troubles, and I’m confident it will get through one day without a charger. However, its standby time has something to be desired. Where the iPad seems like it can go for several days without draining, every time I’ve left the Nexus 7 for more than a day or two it’s been dead.

I’ve seen some praise Google’s decision to use a standard micro-B USB port due to charger availability, but don’t expect to solve the problem with a standard phone charger. In a pinch I tried to charge the Nexus with a 1-watt adapter, but even after charging for most of a school day it was barely to 30%. My cell phone’s charger provides less than 1 watt, so using it would take even longer. The Asus charger that comes with the Nexus, meanwhile, pumps out 2 watts and charged the tablet much faster. So, while the flexibility is there, it still comes at a convenience cost.

I purchased the rubbery Asus cover from the Play store after ditching the IVSO keyboard case, and I’ve been very happy with it. It provides protection without bulk, fitting more like a skin than a case. The front cover is soft and pliable, but thicker over the screen for extra protection. In fact, the raised portion that covers the screen fits neatly into the screen area to prevent it from slipping while in a carry bag. The cover is on the Nexus 7 in the photos above, and folding it back gets it out of the way without changing the comfort of holding the device. The cover does not, however, double as a stand.

In all, the Nexus 7 is a solid piece of hardware. I’ve come to enjoy reading from it, and the smaller form factor doesn’t get cumbersome like a full-size iPad can in some situations. I’d like to see it include a camera, but as is it’s a solid contender at a savings of $130 vs the iPad mini on the hardware side.

1 Comment
  1. […] second problem is the Wi-Fi issue I mentioned in my Nexus 7 hardware review. It seems to only happen when moving from one network to another (not a different AP, but a whole […]

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