Looking forward to the 2013 Nexus 7

By on Aug 5, 2013 in Editorial |

new-nexus-7-google-play-store-1Google announced the predicted update to its Asus-produced Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus 7 was a runaway success, and its second incarnation has stayed true to its predecessor’s formula. That is a well specified, well designed, and highly affordable tablet. The new tablet is available already in the US and will be available soon in Europe and the rest of the world.

Comparing old and new

If we look at the minimum specified models of the old and new Nexus 7 (i.e. wifi-only with 16GB storage), then there’s a price difference of £30 to £40. For that difference, there are quite a few differences.

Screen

The 2012 Nexus 7 had a screen resolution of 1280×800, which was perfect for the time, but technology has moved on. Google needed to steal a march on Apple who has yet to produce a “Retina” iPad Mini. The old Nexus 7 gave a pixel density of 216 pixels per inch (ppi). The Nexus 7, though, has a stunning resolution of 1920 x 1200 which gives a density of 323 ppi, which smashes Apple’s “Retina” standard for this size of device.

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RAM

The working memory (i.e. not storage) is the key to giving a device longevity through multiple operating system updates. The original Nexus 7 only had 1GB of RAM and has infamously not aged well. The 2013 edition of the Nexus 7 has doubled the amount to 2GB of RAM. While it’s a certainty that system requirements will increase over time, 2GB of RAM should give the new tablet a longer lease of life than the original Nexus 7.

CPU

The CPU has a moderate speed boost from 1.2GHz to 1.5GHz. However, the real difference is in the type of processor used. The original Nexus 7 used the Tegra 3 processor by Nvidia. The new Nexus 7 uses a Snapdragon S4 Pro. I’ve read the results of several comparisons, and the S4 Pro consistently comes out on top of the Tegra 3. See here and here.

GPU

Google claimed that the graphics process of the new Nexus would be 4 times more powerful than that of its predecessor.  This is going to the new Nexus 7 a serious portable gaming device. Of course, the new tablet has more pixels to drive than the old tablet, but only 2.25 times more, which leaves plenty of overhead for faster frame rates and better 3D graphics.

Battery

The battery of the new Nexus 7 is slightly smaller than older tablet’s battery. We’re going from a 4,325mAh battery to a 3,950mAh battery – a difference of 375mAh. That’s an 8.7% drop. It’s impossible to say how much of a difference this will make on everyday usage. The new Nexus 7’s hardware is more powerful than before, but it may turn out to be more efficient – or it might not and we might have to carry a charger around with us (You can find plenty of spare chargers on MobileFun.co.uk). We’ll have to wait and see.

Camera

One place in which the iPad and iPad Mini beat out the Nexus 7 was in image capture. The original tablet just had a low-quality front facing camera for video calling – it had no rear facing camera for high quality image capture. At the time this seemed reasonable, we all use our phones for taking photos, right? Well yes, but as time has gone on, I (and I think many of you reading this) have seen more people seriously using their iPad as a camera. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, the new Nexus 7 will have a rear facing 5 megapixel camera. Again, testing is needed to see how beneficial this camera is, but given the price point of the tablet, and the sensor resolution, don’t expect stellar results.

Why should we care?

nexus-7-2013Okay, so we’ve gone over the tech specs – the new Nexus 7 is better than the first Nexus 7. No surprises there then. Why does this matter? It matters for several reasons and they all point to the same result – that Android tablets are going to overtake the iPad and iPad Mini just as Android smartphones (mostly Samsung) overtook the iPhone. Before the Nexus 7, the iPad reigned supreme because it had a healthy app ecosystem (i.e. apps made specifically for tablets), and it had the hardware to create a fluid user experience. Meanwhile, Android tablets had no specific apps and were of made with poor quality hardware. The Nexus 7 changed all that. Google and Asus created a fantastic product at a price point that was hard to resist.

Even after more than a year the Nexus 7 is on the shelves of every high street electrical department. That undoubtedly says something. Despite that, over a year is a long time in the technology world and the Nexus 7 was certainly showing its age, and it needed a refresh – enter stage-left the 2013 Nexus 7. The new tablet will sell for a slightly higher price than before, but not so high as to be prohibitive. Which means it still undercuts the iPad Mini – which is its direct competition.

As for tablet apps, Android is catching up. More and more apps are being optimised for tablets, plus Android apps are generally improved thanks to the Holo design guidelines from Google. There are several Android apps that I’d class as ‘hero’ apps that are seriously showing how stylish and elegant Android apps can be:

Feedly and Flipboard

I’ve grouped these together because they have a strong feature in common – that is they aggregate your RSS feeds (sourced from Google Reader until it’s shutdown) together into stylish looking magazine format. Perhaps such apps have traditionally been the bread and butter tools of power bloggers, but everybody likes news and the aesthetic analogue to glossy magazines make them far more approachable to users who are primarily consumers rather than creators.

There’s an intriguing contrast between the two apps as Flipboard gives a much more visceral sense of turning pages with its graphics accelerated page transitions. However, its menus are just black and white; meanwhile Feedly embraces color in its folder menu and interstitial pages between feeds. Both are interesting in their feature set too. Feedly is taking up the mantle of Google Reader by promising to provide its own feed gathering system to provide a seamless transition when Google eventually turns off the Reader service. Meanwhile, Flipboard has rolled out a new facet to its service by allowing individual users to publish their own curated ‘magazines’ of content through Flipboard that other users can subscribe to.

Pocket Casts

This podcast client is an interesting example of developers giving precedence to their Android version over their iOS app. Pocket Casts on iOS is a capable app, but bears no resemblance to the newly designed Android version. It’s not just in aesthetics though – the Android version of Pocket Casts boasts a synchronization feature that lets you sync your subscriptions and playback positions across multiple Android devices.

As for the looks of Pocket Casts, it shares a lot with Feedly and the other apps we’re looking at in this article. It shows a extremely clean minimalist interface, with most of the features

Falcon Pro

This is a Twitter app that works perfectly on phones, but seamlessly expands to take advantage of the extra screen space on tablets. When in landscape mode, the Twitter timeline is shown on the left while a large content pane on the right shows the content that a selected tweet was linking too or to a conversation mode.

Carbon

Carbon is another Twitter app for Android, which makes a point of telling its customers that this is not a tablet optimised app (but that one is coming). However, this app is a impressive demonstration of how well Android apps for phones scale to tablets – much better than I’m told is the case for iPhone apps on the iPad.