Interface:

So what’s the hoopla surrounding the Google Nexus 7? Well, unless you’ve been hiding underground in a bomb shelter waiting for the end of the world, you know that it’s all about the Jelly Beans with this one. Specifically, the outstanding reason why this has been given the Nexus moniker, is that it’s packing the most up-to-date version of the platform – Android 4.1 Jelly Bean! It’s not an entirely new experience per se, much like how Android 3.0 Honeycomb was a major departure from Gingerbread, but there are enough new elements thrown into the mix to give it some distinction over its predecessor in Ice Cream Sandwich. Meaning, if you’ve been sitting idly with Gingerbread, this will undoubtedly be a dramatically new experience for you, but if you’ve been using an ICS device, or even a Honeycomb one to an extent, you’ll see many commonalities.

Right away, we’re still exposed to all of the core foundational aspects of Android – like its rich level of personalization thanks to its vast and ever-so-useful set of widgets. However, they’re not particularly new since most of them are the same ones we’ve seen with ICS – and Honeycomb as well! Still, we do notice that Jelly Bean is more refined with its layout since it’s brandishing a cleaner appearance than what we’ve seen previously. Gone are the TRON-like highlights that we saw with Honeycomb, and instead, it follows in tandem to what we’ve seen with ICS already – with that being softer toned highlighting elements and text. Still, there are some obvious untouched characteristics with the experience – such as Android buttons being incorporated into the interface, the multi-tasking pane, and the same ICS app panel that breaks down apps and widgets.


There’s a single widget that seems to uncover the underlying focus of the Nexus 7, and interestingly enough, it follows similarly to what we saw on the Amazon Kindle Fire. As we know, Google is transforming and moving beyond just being an internet search provider. Most notably, they’re expanding into the multimedia content community, where they’re focusing on providing television shows, movies, books, magazines, music, games, and apps courtesy of Google Play. Well folks, it’s quite obvious that they’re making it a focus on the Google Nexus 7, as the “My Library” widget on the homescreen aggregates our stored/purchased content. Certainly, it adds a splash of interest, but it’s also another reminder from Google that the tablet is becoming an all-in-one content solution.

There’s no questioning that Android has the best notifications system of any platform, but with Jelly Bean, Google has managed to solidify it functionality even further. Specifically, the new gestures in play with the notification panel are pretty useful, as we’re able to preview snippets, like email, directly from the panel by simply executing pinch gestures. Additionally, there are even more intuitive functions that help increase productivity – like having the option to share a screenshot or photo from within the notification panel, as opposed to going into the gallery. Simply put it, these new functions are not only appreciated, but they show how comprehensive it is over competing platforms.



Functionality:

With a major platform update, one would probably expect to see new layouts with existing core organizer apps, but sadly, we don’t find anything out of the ordinary on the Nexus 7. In fact, the clock, calendar, address book, and calculator all maintain their layouts. Yeah, they’re all optimized for the tablet form factor, which is made known by the 2-panel layout we’re accustomed to seeing, but it still would’ve been nice to see some improvements.


Email, of course, is pretty much the same as it has always been with Android as whole – fantastic! Again, there are no noticeable changes with the presentation and functionality of both the standard Email and Gmail apps. Nonetheless, we’ve made it clear already that it would’ve been nice nonetheless to see even a minor update to celebrate the new software – but hey, at least the setup process is still a painless one!


If we’d have to choose, we prefer typing with the portrait style keyboard of the Google Nexus 7 over its landscape counterpart – mainly because our thumbs are better equipped in comfortably encompassing its layout. As for the keyboard itself, it’s nearly identical to the ICS one. Still, we would’ve liked to see numbers at least incorporated into the top row of buttons to lessen the time to switch between layouts. Regardless of that, it’s super responsive in allowing us to keep a moderate rate of input.


Having been a staple with Android, gestures aren’t new as we all know, but Jelly Bean throws in new one into the mix. We’re all familiar with the swipe down gesture from the top of the display, which reveals the notifications panel at any time, but now there’s a swipe up gesture from the bottom bezel to gain access to Jelly Bean’s Google Now service.

Google Now:

Back during the early beginnings of Palm’s webOS, we were enamored by the possibilities associated with Synergy, seeing that it was being promoted as a serious personal digital assistant. Well folks, Google Now may actually be just that! Relying on complied data that consists of our search history, calendar, and location, it’s here to provide specific suggestions to us. Presented to us in these stylized “cards,” it’s pretty cool that most of its suggestions are automated. From informing us about traffic on our route home or telling us about inclement weather, it’s unbelievable how it’s able to deliver these useful suggestions. And the more we take around and use the Nexus 7, the more it learns our habits and provides us with tangible suggestions. Honestly, it’s still in the early stages, but we’re excited to see how Google refines the experience even more down the road.



Google Voice Search:

Google’s expertise has always been centered around internet searches, but with the arrival of Jelly Bean, we’re seeing a monumental upgrade in the experience that makes good use of Google’s knowledge graph. Similar to what’s offered by Apple’s Siri, Google Voice Search follows in succession by providing tangible search results – all by simply speaking. Not only is it accurate with its recognition, but it’s also intelligent as well! From computing basic math, conversions, and answering some obtuse questions, it’s really effective in coughing up some relevant searches. Even better, the voice is more natural sounding and distinct when compared to Siri’s robotic tone.



Processor and Memory:

A cheap price point means an equally weak processor, right? Actually, that’s not the case with the Nexus 7, as it continues to impress us with its serious knocker under the hood. Running the show behind the scenes, its 1.3GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM is sure to wow many people – especially when you figure in its price point! Beyond that, the tablet operates at a very responsive rate to make the Jelly Bean experience even more gratifying. Some might be shocked by its low benchmark scores with Quadrant, but it doesn’t depict its true real-life performance. Whether it’s kinetic scrolling or opening apps, nearly everything is accompanied with a buttery smooth operation, primarily thanks to…

Project butter! In the past, we’ve seen even some of the highest spec’d Android devices exhibit signs of choppiness and lag with their operations, but with Jelly Bean’s arrival, Google seemingly eliminated the issue – albeit, we do notice just a pinch of delay on rare occasions. Moving around the homesceeen, with a graphically intensive live wallpaper, it’s able to maintain a buttery smooth operation. So yeah, we totally dig the uniform performance we’re seeing thanks to “Project Butter”.

Of all things, one of the biggest eye strains for the Nexus 7 tablet is its lack of storage expandability. With our 8GB review unit, it translates to 5.92GB out of the box, which isn’t sufficient at all if you happen to be a multimedia fiend.

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