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Speculation of a Nexus-branded tablet first appeared in December 2011 when Google chairman Eric Schmidt revealed that the company planned to “market a tablet of the highest quality” in the next six months. Indeed, half a year later at Google I/O 2012, the company launched the Google Nexus 7 tablet, powered by Android 4.1, also known as Jelly Bean.
While there’s a general rule that you get what you pay for, the Nexus 7 is probably an exception. Despite its lower than average price point, the Nexus 7, which was actually built by ASUS, boasts quite a solid build that is comparable to more expensive 7-inch tablets such as the BlackBerry PlayBook. In terms of handling and physical dimensions, the Nexus 7 competes favorably against the other tablets in the same class, while being one of the lightest yet at 340g.
Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, is the most polished iteration of the Google Android OS yet. One of the new features in Android 4.1 is enhanced notifications. Aesthetically, the interface also sports a cleaner look, which makes individual notifications more distinct and easier to read.
You can use a two-finger gesture (drag down) to expand or collapse individual notifications.For example, you can view more information of an email by simply swiping down. Some notifications even allow you to take action from the tab itself such as sharing a screenshot (press both the power and volume down buttons simultaneously).
Android 4.1 also gives you the option to turn off notifications for specific apps. Android 4.1 also lets you switch from Camera mode to Gallery mode by simply swiping to the left. Pinch with two fingers to switch to filmstrip mode, and in filmstrip view, you can remove photos by swiping up or down. If you accidentally delete a photo, you can retrieve it via the “undo” button.
The virtual keyboard is also improved even though it looks no different from that of Android 4.0.
Billed as a “smarter keyboard”, it can throw up word suggestions and guesses for your text input after you hit the spacebar. This is possible through the use of a language model that Google claims will adapt to the user over time.
Another highly touted feature is offline dictation. This is especially useful for the Google Nexus 7 since it does not (yet) come in 3G, though you can compose messages without access to Wi-Fi. Unfortunately though, likely due to language and dictation differences here in Asia, using the embedded speech recognizer was mostly hit-and-miss.
Perhaps the highlight of Android 4.1 is Google Now, a contextually-aware system that provides information such as weather, traffic and public transport throughout the day as and when you need them.
All in All
There is little reason to doubt that we are looking at the best Android tablet on the market right now. At US$199 (8GB) and US$249 (16GB), the Nexus 7 is also priced to move. In the Android space at least, none of the immediate competition can match its performance, features and overall value proposition. Google (and by extension, ASUS) have a winner on their hands.
PROCESSOR: NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core 1.2GHz
MEMORY: 1GB RAM
OPERATING SYSTEM: Google Android 4.1 Jelly Bean
PRICE :US$199 (8GB), US$249 (16GB)