Saturday, July 26, 2014

Google announces a quad-core, 1080p Nexus 7

A sharper display, wireless charging, quad-core processor, and rear-facing camera: Google’s 2013 edition of the Nexus 7 proves you can get plenty of bang for your buck, even though its latest entry in the budget tablet market now exceeds that magical $199 price point.
But what’s an extra $30 between friends? Google’s new cost-of-entry isn’t so much a price increase as an acknowledgement of success: You loved us at $199. You really loved us. So take our hand, and let us show you what we can really deliver for just a few dollars more.

Android fans have been waiting months for a hardware update from Team Google. The company’s I/O event in May was conspicuously lacking in tablet or phone reveals, but on Wednesday, Google finally pulled the curtain on the latest iteration of its flagship Nexus hardware. Though the Nexus 7 tablet bears the same name as its predecessor, its new look and long list of feature updates—including the much-anticipated Android 4.3—give it the aura of an entirely new gadget.
The only similarity between 2012’s Nexus 7 and this year’s model is its 7-inch diagonal screen size. Indeed, the two tablets are so different, they really should have different names. Google’s new tablet is thinner and sleeker—Hugo Barra, vice president of Android product management at Google, explained that the side bezels were reduced by 3mm on each side so that the device would be easier to hold with one hand. Shaving off that 6mm provides a “much more comfortable grip,” Barra said at the event.

Google also stuck with a pure black-on-black design with the same soft touch that Barra says “everyone loved in the original Nexus 7.”

Today’s announcements also pushed forth a new processor architecture for the Nexus 7. Rather than stick with Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 chip, the Asus-built device now features a Qualcomm 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. It’s the same chip featured inside the Nexus 4 handset announced late last year, though according to Android Police, initial Nexus 7 performance benchmarks show the processor performing just a bit better inside the tablet. This particular chip should help increase battery life, as well as speed up software multitasking. The tablet’s RAM has also been increased from 1GB to 2GB to help support processing power.
Photo-frantic users will appreciate that the new Nexus 7 adds a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera to the mix, complementing the front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera that was available in the original model. There’s also a Slim Port on the back of the device that enables you to pipe 1080p video to your TV with an HDMI cable.

The new Nexus 7 will also be the first device to feature the 4.3 version of Android. The new OS version is still called Jelly Bean, and is merely an incremental update with the inclusion of features like restricted profiles for individual user accounts and Bluetooth LE support, a standard that makes Bluetooth connections more energy-efficient and thus less taxing on battery life. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the new graphics capabilities—lens flare effects, richer texture and more—made possible by support for OpenGL ES 3.0.
The Nexus 7’s new 1080p display is also a huge improvement over the last generation. With a resolution of 1920 by 1200, and a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch, display sharpness is a big leap forward relative to last year’s 216 ppi, 1280 by 800 display resolution. Applications, pictures, games, and movies will appear clearer and brighter, making the Nexus 7 a true contender among other entertainment-focused tablets like the iPad mini.
And to help add to that experience, the new Nexus 7 will feature dual speakers on each side of the device. Google teamed up with Fraunhofer, a German engineering firm, to integrate virtual surround sound for the onboard speakers and any connected headphones. Barra compared this new features to a “5.1 surround sound system… just using the device speakers or any pair of headphones.”

Other hardware perks include the ability to wireless charge the device with an Qi-standardized wireless charger, a feature that is only available on a limited variety of Android devices. You’ll be able to simply plop down the device on a compatible charging base and have it refuel overnight. The Nexus 7 will also have NFC capabilities, and unlike its predecessor, Google and Asus will only offer a 16GB and 32GB variant of the Android tablet, priced at $229 and $269, respectively. You can also pick up a 32GB LTE version for $349. Last year's Nexus 7 is now listed as "no longer available" in the Google Play store.

It looks like Google is finally starting to take Android tablets more seriously. I took Google's second-generation Nexus 7 out for a spin and found it to be superior to its predecessor in nearly every way: The tablet has a better screen, better guts, and better software than the Nexus 7 that shipped last year. The only thing it doesn't do better than the original Nexus 7 is coddle your wallet. This new model costs $30 more (starting at $229 for a 16GB Wi-Fi model) but that extra $30 buys you a much better overall Android tablet experience.
First generation Nexus 7 (left) with the new Nexus 7 (right).
The second-generation Nexus 7 is both thinner and lighter than the original, making it even more comfortable to use and to hold one-handed. The material on the back of the device isn't as easy to grip as what's covering the original Nexus 7, and it felt like the new tablet was going to slip right out of my hands if I relaxed my grip too much. It feels solid and well-built, and didn't creak and groan when I tried to twist and bend it. The drop test will have to wait a bit; we don't want to risk breaking this thing right after taking it out of the box.
The bottom bezel on the new Nexus 7 is thicker than it was on the old one.
The top and bottom bezels surrounding the screen are thicker than they were on the first Nexus 7, but the bezels on the sides have been slimmed down some to make up for it. While the original Nexus 7 had the front-facing camera sitting squarely in the top-middle of the device when you held it in portrait mode, it is offset slightly on the new model, so you don't cover it up as often when video-chatting with the tablet in landscape mode. The power button, volume controls , and charging ports are all in the same locations as before, but the headphone jack now sits on the top right of the tablet instead of at the bottom.
The new Nexus 7 has a 5-megapixel camera and an extra speaker at the top of the tablet.
On the back of this new Nexus 7 you'll find dual speakers with virtual surround-sound (one at the top of the device, and one at the bottom), as well as a 5-megapixel camera. The speakers on the new Nexus 7 sounded crisp and clear in my limited tests, but I was underwhelmed with the camera's image quality. It seems like it'll work great in a pinch in areas where you have good lighting, but my quick test shots taken indoors came out grainy and had a bluish cast to them. This new Nexus 7 has a sharper display (1920 by 1200) than the original (1280 by 800), making it great for reading ebooks or watching HD movies.
The new Nexus 7 (right) has a higher resolution display than the old Nexus 7 (left).
Google ditched the NVIDIA Tegra 3 that was in last year's model and opted to instead go with Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor to power its new tablet. Games didn't seem to take as long to load on the new Nexus 7 as they did on the old one, and the tablet felt very responsive as I played a few minutes of Riptide GP2.

The second-generation Nexus 7 will be the first device to ship running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. It doesn't feel much different from Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but you now you have the option to create restricted accounts that have limited access to apps and content—perfect if you have a kid who likes to steal your tablet to play Kingdom Rush and you don't want them messing with your other apps. I did encounter a few bugs while poking around the OS: The email app randomly crashed even though I never opened it, and the tablet lagged a bit when I tried creating a second user account.
Overall, it looks like Google has got itself a winner. The new hardware might not be enough to make owners of the previous Nexus 7 want to update, but the low price will definitely sway a number of first-time tablet buyers into picking one up. Google still needs to beef up its efforts when it comes to getting more tablet-optimized apps onto the Play Store, but for now, I'm just happy that the company hasn't abandoned the idea of running Android on something other than smartphones.
Hey, remember just the other day when Google told us that its new Nexus 7 tablet would go on sale July 30? Good times, good times. Well, Google apparently uses a different calendar from the rest of us because over at the Googleplex, “July 30” means “right now.”

A Friday tweet from the Google Play Twitter account announced the date switch. “Surprise!” the company tweeted, along with a link to Google Play’s order page.

This looks to be an instance where Google’s hand was forced by its retail partners. Earlier Friday, Best Buy, GameStop, Amazon, and Walmart all started selling the Nexus 7.

The Nexus 7 still ships by July 30 when you order through Google Play. Shipping is free, if you go with the default three-to-five day ground option, but you can pay an extra $14 to get the tablet in your hands sooner. Only Wi-Fi-enabled models appear to be available from Google Play at this time.

As you can review in our hands-on with the Nexus 7, the latest version of Google’s tablet costs $30 more than its predecessor. But it’s also thinner and lighter, runs on a Qualcomm 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, and boosts the camera. It also happens to be the first device to run Android 4.3. 

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