preview After months of rumours, Google has finally taken the wraps off its first self-designed tablet device, the Google Nexus 7, which was manufactured by ASUS. The device starts at AU$249 and is available to Australians to pre-order right now, but will it give Apple’s iPad, the existing Android market and Amazon’s Kindle Fire a run for their money? We take a look ahead.
Let’s just say it up front: Google’s Nexus 7 tablet looks like a flat-out rip-off of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, itself very similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook. It’s a similar size, has a similar screen resolution, a similar price point, and its promotional shots emphasise the same access to multimedia content through a similar online store. If it wasn’t for the Kindle Fire, we’d be questioning whether Google would have bothered making its own 7″ tablet.
Having said that, that’s absolutely not a bad thing. For starters, the Kindle Fire is still not officially available in Australia (although you can import it through a variety of means), while the Nexus 7 is — in fact, we ordered one this morning for the Delimiter office. It’ll probably end up as a reader giveaway, so stay tuned.
In addition, in Delimiter’s review of the Kindle Fire published in November last year, we found that the device was “the best-value tablet on the market”, and “a compact, affordable and high-quality option for web browsing, email, multimedia playback, reading eBooks, and running any of the hundreds of thousands of Android apps” available to Australians.
The Nexus 7 appears to bring most of the best features of the Fire into play again. The 7″ tablet has a nice big screen, the normal power button and volume rocker, a standard headphone jack and a back composed of nice rubbery material which looks like it would be nice to hold. In short, the design of Google’s new plaything makes it look as if it would be lovely to hold in the hand and consume content with. It’s also quite light at 340g.
The Nexus 7 improves on the specifications of the Kindle Fire and other 7″ Android tablets in a number of ways. Probably its hero features are its quad-core Tegra 3 processor, which will make it more than powerful enough to handle any multimedia content or games you can throw at it, as well as the fact that it’s the first tablet to run the next version of Google’s Android platform (Jelly Bean).
Jelly Bean will give the Android universe a number of improvements over the previous version (ice Cream Sandwich). For starters, Google’s ‘Project Butter’ is slated to make Jelly Bean’s user interface silky smooth and fluid, improving the frame rate of animations and making the interface feel a lot nicer than it does now — we still get the odd jaggy on Ice Cream Sandwich.
There’s a new personal assistant/information prediction feature called Google Now, and voice search has also been improved in Jelly Bean, as well as the ability to enter text into the device by talking. Widget management, notifications, app encryption and more are other features which will arrive with the new O/S.
Apart from these hero features, most of the Nexus 7’s features are pretty much what you would expect. The tablet has a 7″ 1280×800 back-lit IPS HD display (216 ppi), which is a higher resolution than the Kindle Fire’s 1024×600 resolution. This display sits under a pane of Corning’s Gorilla Glass, and there’s a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera for video calls. The device comes in 8GB or 16GB models, costing AU$249 or AU$299 respectively, and a 4325mAh battery for up to eight hours of active use is included.
Other features include support for 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, but no 3G or 4G mobile broadband, as well as a micro USB connection for charging and syncing; a NFC chip for mobile transactions or beaming data to other Android devices, a microphone, accelerometer and so on.
With its quad-core Tegra 3 CPU, Jelly Bean and its decent battery, we think the Nexus 7 will have pretty solid performance. Early hands-on tests of the device have praised its smooth interface, and we think most people will be very happy with that aspect of it. In addition, the device appears to have solid build quality, like the Kindle Fire before it and the smartphone entries in Google’s Nexus line — the Nexus One, S and so on.
My opinion has been for a long time that to compete in any realistic sense with Apple’s iPad, rival manufacturers need to offer Australians either new features not available on the tablet, a much cheaper price or preferably both. Anything else is going to come off as half-baked compared with Apple’s dominant device, which owns more than 80% market share (depending on who you talk to, even higher) in Australia’s tablet market. So the question thus becomes: Will the Nexus 7 be able to measure up to that mark?
In brief, my answer is no.
Unlike Amazon’s Kindle Fire range, which features at least a comparable and sometimes wider range of multimedia content than is available on Apple’s iPad (although, of course the iPad does have a Kindle app for eBooks), the Nexus 7 does not really offer anything which the iPad doesn’t. Apple’s ecosystem currently offers a much wider range of content than Google’s.
Sure, the Nexus 7 offers an alternative form factor coupled with what looks like a great overhaul of Android, but so far Australians haven’t really shown a huge desire for the 7″ form factor compared with Apple’s 9.7″ model. Remember, as far back as November 2010, Samsung launched its 7″ Galaxy Tab model in Australia. Delimiter gave it a stellar review, but the device sold poorly despite its great build quality and solid user interface.
The price differential between the Google Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad is also not as wide as you might believe. We ordered an 8GB Nexus 7 from Google’s website this morning. Including shipping, the 8GB model cost AU$268.99. For just AU$429 including shipping, remember (AU$160 more), you can get a 16GB Wi-Fi Apple iPad 2, the previous model of the iPad which came out in 2010 and was discounted sharply when the new iPad launched this year. And if you want a 16GB Google Nexus 7, the difference will be even smaller.
Even if Google succeeds in pushing the Nexus 7 heavily through Australian retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and Dick Smith, ultimately that push won’t come for a few months and likely not until close to the end of 2012. By that stage, Australians will already be starting to prep for the next iPad, which should be detailed in early to mid-2013. And when it does, likely the current new iPad will go on sale as the iPad 2 did before it. What this timeline shows is that Apple is quite a ways ahead of Google when it comes to these product cycles.
In this context, I predict that the Nexus 7 is destined to be an also-ran in Australia’s tablet market: A nice, nimble, innovative product that nevertheless never came close to challenging Apple’s dominance. It’s a pity, because the Nexus 7 looks like a lovely little device. But it’s a cut-throat tablet world out there governed by Cupertino’s iron first and pricing power; you have to have Amazon’s massive content story even to get a look in. That, sadly, is just the facts.
TL;DR: The Google Nexus 7 looks like a lovely little device, similar to a Kindle Fire. But almost everyone will end up buying an iPad instead; because Google hasn’t moved the bar enough with this one to challenge Apple at all.
Image credit: Google