Engadget Review of the Google Nexus 7 2013 Tablet
When I began researching my phone and internet options for my upcoming winter travels to Mexico, I found a confusing and bewildering array of options that were either outdated technology, required multiple solutions/devices/plans, or were overpriced and limited to just one country or the other.
While traveling in Mexico, I had just a few simple tech needs:
- Share internet bandwidth from a single cellular data plan across multiple devices (phone, tablet, laptop)
- Make/receive a few text messages or VOIP phone or Skype video calls if needed (using a wired or Bluetooth headset)
- GPS navigation & maps (with or without a cell connection)
- a Spanish-English translation app (again, on or offline)
- Preview photos of the day (without having to squint to see them on the back of my camera)
- Listen to internet radio stations or my own music library
- Read eBooks, magazines, blogs & web news (while sitting on the beach!)
- Jot down handwritten notes with a pen stylus (I like being paperless!).
Most importantly, I didn’t want to have to buy new devices that I’d only be able to use in Mexico—if I needed to buy something new, I wanted to be able to use it in just about any country I might travel to.
Well, fortunately, I’ve found such a singular “do it all” wonder -- the Google Nexus 7 2013 LTE tablet.
At only $349 for a 32GB tablet, it’s cheaper than most “unlocked” LTE/GSM smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy series or Apple’s iPhone.
Unlocked phones/tablets allow you to keep your same device and just swap out a small SIM card whenever you wish to change cell carriers (like when going from the US to Mexico). These SIM cards usually come with prepaid plans, so you only need to pay for the day/week/month and amount of bandwidth you need—no contracts required!
When I go to Mexico, I’ll plan to use the Telcel “Amiga” prepaid data plan. Here in the U.S., since I already have a data contract with Verizon for my Mifi, I’ve just moved the SIM card from the Mifi and popped it into the Nexus 7. No additional activation/changes with Verizon needed!
The $349 LTE Nexus 7 is also significantly cheaper than it’s newest competitor, the new iPad Mini Retina LTE just announced this week (a 32GB iPad Mini LTE costs an eye-popping $629 -- almost twice the price of the Nexus!).
For nearly $300 more, you’d think the new iPad Mini Retina would blow the doors off the humble Nexus 7 with added features and performance..but it just doesn’t! Sure, it beats the Nexus in a couple of areas, but they are surprisingly few:
- it gives10 hrs of battery life vs. Nexus’ 8-9 hrs,
- a 7.9” wider screen vs. the Nexus’ narrower 7”, and
- it supports more legacy 2G/3G cellular networks than Nexus’ GSM-only legacy networks (so, if 2G or 3G Verizon and Sprint are necessary in your new small tablet and you don’t already have a Mifi or USB stick, the Mini Retina will be your ticket).
Besides that, the Nexus 7 is very much equal to the more expensive iPad Mini Retina. Both tablets have:
- High resolution screens that make text easier to read and photos/videos more “crisp” and colorful. (Both tablets have resolutions exceeding 320 ppi).
- Truly “unlocked” LTE cellular. Both tablets can accept SIM cards from dozens of cell carriers around the world. No need to buy additional tablets or phones when going to a different country—just buy a SIM card from the carrier you want and pop it into your tablet! Yes, there are a few caveats to ensure your tablet supports the carrier’s specific frequency range, and that you buy the properly sized SIM card for your tablet (the Nexus uses a micro SIM; iPad mini uses a nano SIM).
- Both LTE tablets offer “wireless hotspot” functionality to share the device’s internet signal with other devices (such as your laptop or phone).
- Nearly identical tech specs – very similar weight and thinness, both have dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, front and rear cameras, speakers and mic, and other tech performance features. Both are solid, well-built devices.
- The Nexus 7 offers similar cases and accessories as the iPad Mini. For instance, I’m using this really neat cover from Poetic that mimic’s Apple’s smart cover so that the tablet turns on/off automatically when I open or close the case cover. Cool!
But here’s where I like the Nexus 7 better:
- Offline (downloadable) Google Maps and Google Translate. This is HUGE when traveling to a foreign country where you might not know if/where cell coverage is present.
- Android’s voice assistant is noticeably faster and more useful than Apple’s Siri. I loved Siri when it first debuted a few years ago. The wise-crack jokes, and the novelty of being able to ask a question and get an spoken answer. But Siri seems to rely much more on network connectivity, and that connectivity can often be dog slow or non-existent. Google’s voice assistant seems to have quite a bit more intelligence cached right into the device, so it’s responses are often nearly instantaneous and network bottlenecks seem much less of an issue. While Siri might be great for a high-powered business executive checking appointments, creating new reminders and the like, Google’s voice assistant seems much more useful when actually out and about traveling—“where’s the closest Police Station or Hospital?” “what does ____ mean in English?” “ how much is ___ pesos in US Dollars?” “How many miles is ____ kilometers?” Google’s superior search engine and mapping win out here every time!
- A number of anecdotal reports say that Android GPS seems to often be more accurate when offline than Apple GPS. Not sure if that will be true with the new iPad Mini, but it likely will be as Apple made no announcements of any improvements here.
- I like the narrower 7” screen of the Nexus. It’s easier to hold in one hand and easier to slide into my purse or backpack.
- I also like the fact that just about any generic micro USB cable/adapter will charge the Nexus. No need for proprietary, overpriced Lightening cables!
- And last but not least, Nexus 7 is already shipping! The new iPad Mini Retina won’t be out until November and, likely too late before I leave for Mexico.
Now, to be clear, I’ve been a faithful iOS and App Store devotee for years now. Apple’s operating system is still a bit more refined and more “comfortable” than Android, the iPad still feels more responsive and accurate to handwriting apps with a stylus, and the App Store has millions of additional apps (many specifically designed for tablets) that the Google Play Store. But, when comparing all the more popular major apps, you’ll find them on both platforms. So, yes, the App Store may have 3,000 more “fart” apps than Android, but of the dozen or so “fart” apps on the Play Store, one should suit your needs just fine
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’m now using the Nexus versus my older iPad 2 (which now always feels too big and cumbersome), or my iPhone 4S (which I only seem to use for phone calls now, as it’s screen feels just way too small and difficult to use for apps compared to the Nexus).
This little Nexus is just right!