The Google Nexus 7 tablet has landed, and it seems everyone loves it. Even die-hard iPad people have warmed to the Android-powered 7" tablet. It's not hard to see why: it's very speedy, has a gorgeous display (though it ain't no Retina), is pocketable, and is lighter than your average paperback. It is a near-perfect device for media consumption: movies, music, TV, magazines, and, yes, books. Near-perfect. Not perfect. Mostly, though.
It blows its nearest competitor -- the Kindle Fire -- out of the water (we've been lukewarm on the Kindle Fire since its debut), and just plain shames the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet. The Nook and Fire are heavier than the Nexus 7, and their interfaces feel clunky and hobbled compared to the zippy Nexus 7 experience.
The Nexus 7 is on par with the iPad in terms of the fluidity of its animations, how fast it opens apps, the crispness of its display, and its overall sense of polish. This is thanks to a quad-core chip and to Android 4.1 Jellybean -- the newest version of the Android OS, which was designed with an eye toward creating a faster, more nimble user experience. Jellybean anticipates what your next move will be, and boosts or chokes down on the CPU accordingly. As a result, lag is nearly nonexistent. The Google Play store, meanwhile, has most of the apps you'd expect to find -- Netflix, Evernote, Dropbox, Flipboard, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, Readbility, Hulu, and a ton of games.
Aha. But you have an iPad. You have a smartphone. Do you really need a tablet that does a bunch of the same stuff they do but is not quite one and not quite the other? A week ago, I'd have had a hard time believing it. Now that I've been playing with the Nexus 7 for all of a day and a half, I'm hooked. This is the first time the 7" tablet has been done well, affordably, and the Nexus 7 has already replaced my iPad in my briefcase. The smaller size and lighter weight really make a difference.
I do a lot of reading on my iPad. It gets the job done, but can also get heavy after holding it up with one hand on a jammed, overheated subway ride. The Nexus 7 is light and comfortable in the hand, and reading on it just feels right. Well, reading indoors on the Nexus 7 just feels right. It has a glossy screen, so trying to do anything on the device under the blazing sun is asking to blow out your corneas. To be fair, the glare factor seems to be a bit less harsh than the iPad, but it is still far from pleasant.
The screen's about the size of a trade paperback page, and you should have no trouble finding the book you want to read. Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook apps for Android give you access to any e-book you buy from them, and Google, of course, recently debuted Google Play, its overhauled media store where it sells music, movies, TV shows, magazines, books, and apps. While the selection of music, movies, TV shows, and magazines (you can't get The New Yorker in the Google Play store, for instance) is wider in iTunes and on Amazon, I didn't find any obvious holes in the available books.
The Google Play Books app (also available on iOS), is an easy, pleasant reading experience. Pages turns are fluid with a wrap effect that mimics a physical page turn, and you can add bookmarks. Text can be resized and reflowed, but, bizarrely, you cannot add notes or highlight text in Google Play Books on the Nexus 7 tablet. On iOS devices, text highlighting and margin notes in Google Play Books work fine: press your finger on a word, a highlight selection bar appears. You can choose to add a note, get a definition, translate, or search across the book by the selected text. For as long as there have been e-books, there have been calls for ways to highlight and annotate text like you can do in a physical book. Now that doing so has become standard, It's just plain silly that Google would choose to suppress this feature.
So, if you're a margin scribbler, stick with the Kindle app for highlighting and adding notes. Others, who are wary of the big brother aspect of what some companies do with data culled from the highlighting habits of e-book readers, will surely be glad to trade in this functionality.
The installed Chrome browser provides a zippy web-surfing experience, though those of us used to using an iPad-sized screen are going to have to get used to doing a lot more pinch- and double-tap zooming. Gmail (with its calendar and contacts) is native to the Nexus 7, but corporate users can also set up an Exchange account. Likewise Hotmail and Yahoo people.
The Nexus 7 is also wifi only. So, if you're going on a trip, you'll want to load it up before you hit the road. The base model ($199 for 8GB) will fill up very fast once you start downloading movies to it -- consider the $249 16GB version if you're heavy into movies and you plan on loading them onto the device rather than streaming them.
The Nexus 7 is compact and light, it has a snappy interface, is seamlessly connected to the expanding galaxy of Google products (Gmail, Google Drive, Chrome, Currents, Google+, YouTube, Maps, Play, and on and on), and will fit in your blazer pocket. It is king of the 7" tablets. It's not an iPad killer -- but it's not meant to be, either. My iPad is great when I'm kicked back on the couch, but when it's time to go, I'm grabbing the Nexus 7.