Android 4.1

In the process of working on the Nexus 7 review I dusted off (literally) my Kindle Fire, powered it up and checked for updates expecting to find tons. I found none. The Kindle Fire is still running 6.3.1, released a few months ago, and more importantly it's still relying on the CPU for a lot of drawing, which means the UI isn't smooth. Scrolling in Amazon's Silk Browser is fast, but only because the Kindle Fire drops a lot of animation frames. The experience is jarring, and much better on the Nexus 7 by comparison.

While the Kindle Fire's OS looks like a polished, previous generation of Android, Android 4.1 delivers much of the smoothness of the iPad's iOS. Don't get me wrong, there are still some rough edges and hiccups. Project butter or not, Android 4.1's UI performance is still not perfect, but it's nearly so, and it's miles better than the Kindle Fire.


Nexus 7 running Kindle for Android (left) vs. Kindle Fire (right)

The Kindle Fire's carousel of previously used apps and media is smooth, but browsing the web on it is a mess compared to the Nexus 7. What's even more embarrassing for the Fire is even the Kindle app on the Nexus 7 delivers a smoother experience. Couple that with a warmer display and you actually have a better Kindle in the Nexus 7 than with Amazon's own device. When the Kindle Fire was released, its imperfections were easily overlooked since the Fire was so much better than any prior $199 tablets. The Nexus 7 dramatically raised the bar in the experience department.

Even compared to the Transformer Pad Infinity, the Nexus 7 feels faster thanks to UI speed improvements in Jelly Bean. The entire OS feels snappier, despite running on technically slower hardware.

What sets a tablet apart from a smartphone isn't just physical size, but also applications that take advantage of the size/resolution. Google attempts to deliver this with giant widgets that serve as portals to your content. The My Library widget automatically populates itself with books, magazines and movies you've purchased from the Google Play store. The result is quite impressive:

Start adding more conventional shortcuts to your home screen and the illusion quickly collapses, but I do believe the well laid out main home screen is what Google originally intended with widgets on Android.

As an eReader I'd argue the Nexus 7 is at least as good as the Kindle Fire. You can debate the pros/cons of books from Google Play vs. Amazon's Kindle store, but the fact is that both are available on the Nexus 7. The Kindle app for Android works well (as I've already mentioned), although for actual shopping you'll have to use Amazon's website. A small price to pay for a much better tablet experience everywhere else.

In all honesty, that's what you really give up when picking the Nexus 7 over the Kindle Fire - you lose the tightly integrated Amazon shopping experience. You also lose Amazon's video streaming service, which presently doesn't have an Android client.

Introduction The Display
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  • trajik78 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    my buddy at work just got his Nex7. it's great, but the speaker is REALLY REALLY bad. distorts even at low volume. Reply
  • rfdparker - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    I had the same issue. I tried a stereo audio test video from YouTube, and it seemed one of the pair of speakers had already blown on/before arrival, whilst the other was fine.

    So I'm getting it swapped today.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, July 28, 2012 - link

    If Google had to skimp somewhere, I'm glad they skimped on the speakers. Reply
  • klmccaughey - Wednesday, August 08, 2012 - link

    You still need *useable* speakers. If they are so bad you can't hear a thing then that rather detracts from the whole experience. Reply
  • lordsaytor - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    Well said. It really is a shame. The Nexus 7 is such a fantastic tablet to use. If not for these minor flaws (the speaker, lack of hdmi, lack of expandable memory) this would be a perfect product. It would have taken the gold editor's award easily.

    But having said that, I can't complain about the $199 price tag and I suppose you get what you pay for.

    But being the first ever tablet Google has made, I think things in the 7 inch market looks very promising. Other manufacturers (Apple, Amazon, Samsung) will have no choice but to make an even better tablet for the same price in order to take market share in the 7 inch category.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I'm disappointed that micro SD slots seem to be disappearing from high profile Android devices and frustrating reviewers seem to skip over it. I can see why manufacturers want to take micro SD slots off devices but losing the slot is no benefit to consumers and being able to add lots of cheap memory to a device with an HD screen prime for video and games is useful.

    John
    Reply
  • Wiggy McShades - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I'd imagine google wants to try and sell people cloud storage rather than let them go and buy a micro sd card. Reply
  • mcnabney - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Which makes no sense on a WiFi-only device. Reply
  • NoNeedForMonkeys - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    My N7 is wifi tethered to my phone when I am mobile. Reply
  • kmmatney - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Seeing how quickly my son's 8GB iPod touch filled up, I think they could have really used more memory. Web browsing and streaming is OK, but you won't be able to install very many games, or put a full music library on it. It can't be that much more expensive to add another 16 GB. Reply

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