Nexus 7: a perfect, low-cost, rugged, easy tablet that works for the whole family

My family have been using the Google Nexus 7 Tablets since they shipped in July. We've carried them on several trips, dropped them dozens of times, used them at home, work, and on holiday, and the unanimous verdict is that these are just delightful little tablets.

The Nexus 7 is the first tablet in the "Nexus" line (Nexus devices receive Google's official stamp of approval, ship unlocked, and run stock Android operating systems without any vendor crapware). Unlike the first highly trumpeted Android tablets -- particularly the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which I reviewed last year -- the Nexus seems to have been designed with users in mind first, and corporate profits second. Unlike the Samsung tablets, it uses a standard charging cable (something that's especially nice when you're travelling, as it means one fewer cable in the bag) that can be purchased from lots of vendors for cheap. It doesn't come with any crapware, and updates itself directly from Google when Android gets a refresh (mine refreshed itself yesterday).

I've used a lot of ~7" devices before -- Nooks, Kindles and Kobos -- and have always found that a couple weeks in my pocket or gear-bag were sufficient to completely destroy them. The ereaders don't have super-tough Gorilla Glass screens, and none is rugged enough for the kind of klutzy, overburdened travel I end up on. I reluctantly abandoned ereaders a year ago, after killing six in as many months. I say "reluctantly," because I'd really come to love the 7" form-factor, perfect for holding in one hand while on the go, perfect for bedtime ereading. It's also a great size/weight to keep in a bag all the time, rather than deciding on a day-to-day basis whether to pack it along. 7" tablets are in the grey-zone between a phone and a tablet, and I stopped bothering to remove it at airport checkpoints in the UK and US. About 90 percent of the time, no one seems to care, and I've got one fewer thing to fiddle with on my way through security. Finally, it's a good size for little hands as well as grown-up ones.

So I was happy to once again be in possession of a 7" tablet. I've found the Nexus 7 to be a breeze to use. Jellybean, the latest iteration of Android, has plenty to love about it, including the Google Now predictive search that uses your location and search-data to guess at the information you'll be needing. For once, this feels like a good privacy quid-pro-quo: if I let Google see some of my data, it will use that to actually feed me back useful information, including things like daily exchange rates while I'm travelling overseas, a pedometer that uses the built-in accelerometer to count my steps, and travel times to places I've recently looked up. I don't use a Google calendar for most of my scheduling (I'm uncomfortable with giving the company this information), so there's some functionality I'm not seeing, and I'm happy to be making that trade off.

The Google Play store -- where apps and entertainment can be downloaded either for free or money -- is pretty good. My wife deals with both iOS and Android (she's co-founder of a startup that needs to work on both) and tells me that the Play Store's apps are up to anything in the Apple App Store. Even better is the fact that I can easily and legally opt to buy apps from rival stores, including those operated by Samsung and Amazon, or from independent developers. iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad are designed to thwart efforts to install software that Apple has not blessed. Apple doesn't just reject apps due to quality concerns, either -- for example, the company forbade its users from accessing an app that reported on US drone-strike deaths overseas. Whatever your feelings about the politics of drones, I think most of us would agree that it's none of Apple's business if you want to find out more about this subject. Worse, it's illegal in most places to jailbreak phones and tablets to allow for unauthorized installations (a temporary reprieve for this regime exists in the US, but it only covers phones and not tablets, and does not legalize providing jailbreaking services, which means that iPhone owners must use illegal, unregulated software to liberate their phones, and have no practical way of knowing if the jailbreaking programs are leaving their phones in insecure states). And Apple has spent lots of money lobbying regulators to keep jailbreaking illegal. As a creator who earns his living from copyright, I want to use and encourage platforms that don't give mere electronics companies a veto over my right to sell my products to my audience (this is such a no-brainer that it's amazing that governments keep getting it wrong: it's a triumph of lobbying over common sense and simple justice).

The specs on the Nexus 7 are great. The high-resolution touchscreen is crisp and responsive. The battery life is exemplary. The processor spec has hit that sweet-spot where the tablet always seems faster than the apps I want to run on it, meaning that I never feel like it is sluggish or delayed. The WiFi access is reliable, even on troublesome 802.11n networks -- in fact, when I find myself in situations where a laptop won't talk to an 802.11n network, I sometimes log my Nexus 7 into the network instead and then tether it over USB to the recalcitrant laptop, using it as an impromptu WiFi adapter. Tethering with all Android devices is so easy that it should be the model for the whole industry. I first discovered the joy of tethering when I was a MacOS user and discovered that it only took a few clicks to use a laptop to share a wired connection over Ethernet or vice-versa. This is still possible with MacBooks, as far as I know, but it came late to both Android and iOS, and the one time I tried it with someone else's iOS device, it was a cumbersome process involving Bluetooth pairing, and only allowed one device to share the connection. With Android devices, it's a matter of a couple taps to turn the tablet or phone into a WiFi hotspot.

The Nexus 7 doesn't come with built-in cellular data (there's a forthcoming version that supports HSPA+, one of the 4G "standards"). I usually get it online with WiFi (at home, hotels, the office) or by tethering it to my Android phone (a Samsung Galaxy Nexus -- I've figured out that I'm never disappointed if I just buy a Nexus-branded device). I don't find that to be a real drawback -- in fact, I prefer only paying one connectivity bill, using my phone as the cellular Internet hub for my laptop and tablets, rather than paying a subscription fee for each.

Getting set up on the Nexus 7 was very easy. All my apps were visible and trivial to download and configure, once I'd logged it into my Google account (I wish there was an alternative to using Google as the sole provider for the activation stuff, and hope that something will surface). I use Firefox for Android -- a fabulous browser, which I prefer to the built-in one supplied by Google -- and it synchs with my desktop Firefox, using an encrypted data-transfer that allows me to share passwords, history and bookmarks between devices without giving the Mozilla Foundation (or someone serving a warrant on them) the ability to read my data. I use K9 mail to access the POP-mail server I use, and NewsRob to read and manage RSS. The official Twitter client works well, too (though I really, really wish it would synch up a killfille of people whose tweets shouldn't be shown to me, even if they @ me -- other clients support this, but don't synch up across devices).

Notwithstanding all of the above, there's still some room for improvement with the Nexus 7. First of all, Google needs to sort out MTP, the file-transfer system it borrowed from the defunct Microsoft Zune. Theoretically, this is superior to simply presenting the tablet as a USB mass-storage device because it allows users to load and unload files from the tablet using their desktops while continuing to use the tablet. This would be nice. But in practice, MTP just sucks. The Linux support is so complex and clunky that it might as well not exist at all (ironic, given that Android is a flavor of GNU/Linux). Mac user friends tell me the same is true for them. I've basically given up on using MTP to transfer files at all. Instead, I use Airdroid, an app that transfers files over the local network using a browser. That works OK, but it's a poor second-best to what we used to have, in the days before Android went MTP. It's been more than a year since that day, and it still sucks. That is inexcusable, and I imagine it's a dealbreaker for some users.

The Nexus 7's physical design is close to ideal, but the power and volume buttons are a little close together, and sometimes trying to turn it down results in turning it off. There's only one (front-facing) camera, which is great for Skype and recording yourself talking, but isn't up to much else, packing only 1.2 megapixels. The lack of a rear-facing camera means that you'll still want to carry around a phone or camera on holiday, since it's tricky to shoot with a device where the viewfinder and the lens are facing the same direction, unless you're shooting self-portraits.

The built-in software suite could use some tweaking. The "Gallery" app plays videos, but not many formats. I'm always forgetting which video app supports which formats, and I've often thrown a ripped DVD or downloaded YouTube video on the device to watch later (or as a last-ditch toddler hypnotizer), only to discover that I've got the combo wrong again. The Play Videos app (which accesses a DRM-crippled video store) would be a natural place to organize videos, and to play them back without hassle. Likewise, the built-in Play Books app is fine for buying ebooks (though it's very hard to tell which of these are DRM free), but it sucks as a hub for all the ebooks you toss at the device. Having to figure out which app is needed for which format has been a solved problem since the mid-nineties, when all the browser vendors finally started supporting all the different graphics formats in use. Format wars are stupid, wasteful and frustrating, and as Joshua learned, "the only way to win is not to play."

Google also needs to work a bit on the software updating process. If you use your Android device every day (as I do, with my phone), it's no problem to run app updates as they show up. But if you put a device away for a few weeks -- which happens with the Nexus 7 -- you might come back to dozens of waiting updates, each of which has to be tediously clicked through and approved. It would be much better to have an "update all" option.

But the Nexus 7 is not only a good device in its own right, it's also a huge step forward toward user-centric, innovation-friendly products that are both excellent in and of themselves, and part of a great ecosystem of developers, retailers, and creators. Best of all, it's relatively cheap: $237 from Amazon resellers or $249 from Google for the 16GB model (compare with the $329 starting price for the iPad Mini, its most direct competitor). They're selling well, too: Asus, who manufacture the Nexus 7, claims to be selling about a million of these every month.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet


  1. As with any device like this, I ask myself, what tablet will I still be using 2-3 years after purchase? And the answer is always the iPad with it’s consistent and useful software upgrades.

      1. Still using the iPad 1st gen right now, had it since it’s release. Some higher end games don’t work on it, and apps that need a camera will not install or have limited functionality but it’s still working great for me.

        1. Same here!

          Well, except I am still using an Android tablet running Froyo. It’s cool how we have so much in common!

        2. With the price that you paid for the ipad, you could have bought 2 to 3 Nexus’….therefore, you would be up to date and not have to sacrifice anything!…$199 for the 16gb version!

    1. I’ve already had 2 upgrades (4.0 -> 4.1 -> 4.12) on my nexus 7, and my Nexus S has gone from Android 2.2 to Android 4.12 over the 18 months i’ve had it. Based off this I would say the Nexus devices have frequent and useful updates and i expect them to still be useful in 2-3 years time.

    2. “… the answer is always the iPad with it’s consistent and useful software upgrades.”

      Yet you have an 1st gen iPad which means no updating to iOS6.

      Nexus7 doesn’t have the problem with many Android devices in that updates happen quickly and straight from Google. I can see it still being very useful 2 to 3 years from now and still on the latest version of Android.

      I own both a 3rd gen iPad & my wife has a Nexus 7 and I much prefer the Nexus 7. However, there are things on iOS itself that really annoy me in the lack of customization. One in particular is the iOS keyboard, which unfortunately because of Apple’s policies you can’t have any custom 3rd party keyboards like you can with Android.

          1. No reason? other than losing support of the Nexus One, like I did. That was Google’s own phone with pretty good specs, but lost support within 2 years. I’d bet iPad support before I bet Nexus support.

  2. I got the Nexus a few weeks back, and have been very pleased with it. As noted, video codecs and streaming seems to be the weak spot of Android. One thing I wonder about is what happens once the battery dies, is it at all exchangable?

    1. We opened one up. Its as exchangeable as any iPad battery. You should be fine when the time comes.

    2. Video apps worth mentioning: MX Player which seems to play almost everything and is free. And Vplayer which has played everything I’ve thrown at it including some MKV files with certain audio codecs which MX Player plays only silently.

      In addition, Cory says “you might come back to dozens of waiting updates, each of which has to
      be tediously clicked through and approved. It would be much better to
      have an “update all” option.”

      The solution, Cory, is to go to the Play Store app, click the list of your installed apps at the top, and there’s an “Update All” button there. It doesn’t work where an app requests new permissions, as the Play Store requires you to at least look at the new list of permissions before you ignore them and install the update. But I think that’s a Good Thing™.

      You can also set each app to update automatically from within the Play Store app.

    1.  Really?! That’s cool. I wish Amazon and Apple would let a married couple share their accounts and ebooks, audio books, apps, etc. I sometimes get a game for my iPhone that I like but hate the small screen, then I end up purchasing it again for my wife’s iPad so I can play it comfortably. So stupid…

      1. Just share one account. Everything in one place. The only reason we have two accounts is for facetime and the only reason we use that is when we can’t find the other ipod touch in the house.

        1. I thought of that but we’re too entrenched in our personal accounts and multiple devices and many previous purchases under separate accounts..

      2. You can log out of the store and log in with your account and re-download the app for free. no need to pay twice. You will need to remember both accounts passwords when updates are available tho. Also handy to do if you like to buy/use apps and music from other countries ITunes stores

    2. This is one of the features Apple is sorely missing along with a dynamic springboard. Hope to see it soon not that Forstall is no longer at the reigns.

    1. Yes, the Nexus 7 has a GPS antenna in it, and it does not have a cellular antenna, so it does not require a data plan. It has built in GPS Navigation software powered by Google Maps. It requires an Internet connection to get to initial driving directions, but it will continue to work after the Internet connection is lost. There is one slight feature-bug that I have noticed: if you close the Navigation program, you lose your driving directions and cannot get them back without Internet. (or I’m just using the app wrong)

      1. I’m sure there’s an app for that (with built-in maps). Thanks for replying,
        I bought my wife an iPad 2 not long ago. Then I “coerced” her in to purchasing a $30 GPS app with built-in maps. We tested it at home and it knew where we were, great! (it used our wifi for location info, maybe you see where this is going…). Then a few weeks later on a road trip I pulled it out and, it thought we were still at home. I did some research on my phone and found out the iPad doesn’t have a GPS chip in it (the wifi-only iPads, that is). Nice.
        I really like the idea of a GPS with a screen that is larger than a bottle cap. I will get a Nexus 7 when the new models ship this month. Thanks, again.

        1. One of the nice things about Google Maps on Android is that you can catch map data when you have wifi connection and then use it with the GPS when you don’t have a connection. You can even pick a point on the map and download I think up to 10 KM of the surrounding area.

          1.  Much more than 10KM. How much seems to be dependent on the amount of data.

            If you only cache the basic map data, which is vector based (as opposed to including satellite layers, etc with bitmap data) you can cache at least 50km square. And I’ve found it will cache an area bigger than you select.

            It’s all rather good and deals very well with its limitations.

  3. Google Nexus products are pretty good with updates, I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s the pure hardware makers you should avoid who make most money from actual hardware. Planned obsolescence is literally built-in.

  4. I love my Nexus 7. It’s the first tablet that has actually found a reason to exist in my life. There is an “Update All” button for software updates. The problem is this: If an updated app changes its requested permissions for some reason then you have to reapprove the new permissions, which makes perfect sense. You don’t want an app that you gave permission to move files around to suddenly, and with no good reason, have total access to your network settings and contact list.

    I’ve only encountered the problem a few times myself. Usually the update all button works just fine because most of the apps I’m updating aren’t changing their permissions. You must be using apps that change their permissions a lot (which seems odd to me). There was a slew of apps with new permissions requests right after the latest OS update, but aside from that I’ve always just hit update all and done all my updates in a batch.

    My biggest complaint so far is the lack of many decent email options. The built-in gmail app is pretty nice, if you’re using gmail, but the built-in email app for non-gmail is pretty crap. K9 doesn’t suit me at all. Kaiten is what I’m using right now, but I don’t really like it. I think MailDroid is really the only decent email client for the whole platform and it’s like 18 bucks (which is more than I paid for my desktop client). Even then, it doesn’t have a widget so I have to rely solely on notifications. Email is definitely a weak spot on Android right now. Wish I could just get postbox for Android.

    I didn’t think the lack of a camera was going to be an issue, but I’ve found that I do actually kind of wish it had one now. It’s come up more than once that I wish I could have taken a quick snap on the Nexus (which was in my hands at the moment or within reach). This is definitely a tablet designed for people who already have a smart phone. It’s not a deal-breaker (still miles better than an iPad mini), but it’s an annoyance.

  5. I’ve really liked mine. The iPad is a great product (my wife has one) and the Fire seems to be a great product, but I am very happy with the Nexus 7.

  6. Re: unlocked, etc
    The nexus products you buy direct from google are unlocked and get updates as fast as google releases them, the ones associated with a phone company (in the US anyway) are typically locked, can have some features disabled, and are updated whenever the phone company gets around to it.

    Re: updates
    I have found that automatic update works very well on my galaxy nexus phone.  You can set it to update only when on wifi and, I think, even only when charging.  If you are just going to click update all anyway might as well just have it do it without bothering you. :)

    Re: configuring
    On the phone the hardest part of configuration I found was getting the various notifications set up so the thing wasn’t bleeping trivialities at me all the time.  Audible notification that some app has automatically updated isn’t useful. :)

  7. I’ve got a problem since getting mine.  Looks like I’m going to have to sell my Thrive 10″ that was my solid companion to this point. I never use it any more.

    Re: MTP, forget it. Just use WiFi File Transfer Pro and Bluetooth File Transfer apps from the Play store. Fast and easy. 

    1.  Personally i would stick with The Thrive for as long as possible (i have one), full size SD slot (that i had to get repaired under warranty thanks to a freak accident) and full size USB make for a very flexible device (never mind the removable battery, tho finding a replacement down the line may be a adventure).

  8. been looking at 7″ tablets, i would like an sd card for offline videos, but i keep forgetting the galaxy tabs have that non-standard charger, seems to defeat the purpose of getting an android tablet.

    1. I too want an sd or micro sd slot for videos and moving my audio and ebooks around my devices. Will hold off on a new table until google wakes up on this

      1. There is a free app (Nexus Media Importer) that sort of lets you use flash media. You need a (Nexus Slot) to (Media Type) cord, and you can only copy/move files between the flash drive/memory card and the unit, not stream media straight off of it. A little kludgy, but you can carry around ten or so movies on a flash drive and delete ’em off the Nexus as you watch them. 

        1.  Nexus Media Importer is brilliant, but it’s not free (there’s a free version called Photo Importer that lets you test it out).

          I’ve managed to stream media from it easily, but I find it’s often more useful to copy to local storage because of the way some apps works, especially with playlists.

          The disadvantage is that without root, you’re limited to treating the ROM storage as ROM.

          Still, it works as a way to boost your storage easily.

  9. How did you break that many e-readers? I have a packed purse but the case has always protected it. Have had the same kindle for the past 2 years with daily reading and commute. You need to take better care of your electronic devices. That blatant disregard for an expensive device, treating it like a piece of tissue is kind of gross. 

  10. On codec compatibility, please note that the wonderful VLC is now available (in beta) for Android

  11. It’s cheap because Google makes no money from them which is pretty pathetic.
    It is ludicrous to say Google Play apps are up to app store selection and quality.
    I’ll take the much bigger usable screen space and build quality of the iPad Mini any day.  Plus the mini screen is not washed out looking like the Nexus 7.
    The Nexus 7 looks and feels like cheap plastic with a screen bolted on.  Not surprising when you are selling something at cost. 
    Amusing that Google was so desperate to get someone, anyone to use an Android tablet they killed the market for all their partners.
    I’ll take quality over slapped together anytime.  I can afford to pay a little more.

    1. Sure your iPad mini has a bigger screen, but because it’s packing far fewer pixels, it fits a lot less stuff. I think it’s pretty pathetic that despite the insane price and Apple trumpeting the importance of “retina” displays, the iPad mini screen has a lower screen resolution than my phone.

      1. It’s true that the ipad mini doesn’t have that awesome “animated glossy magazine”feel–text is blurry ’round the edges. That was disappointing.

        But you don’t just read the web. You interact with it. You click on links. With your fingertip. Which has a fixed   size that doesn’t really care about the resolution of your shiny new 7 inch tablet.

        Granted, I have a 10 inch tablet, and a 6 inch non-touch kindle, so I’ve been unable to compare 7 inch tablets side by side. I am, however, all too familiar with “pinch  to zoom to click”.

    2. Do you have sales figures profit/loss on profit or are you just going on what you heard? I do not believe they are making a loss. Their profit might be small but they make most of their money from advertising, user data, and the play store.

      At first I thought the iPad mini looked great, after reading about the resolution and low quality display panel they are using, I’m not so sure now. The tiny bezel impressed me at first as well. I thought to myself, I wish the nexus 7 had a small bezel like that. Then I realized when you are holding it you will probably be hitting the screen inadvetantly.

      I think the “washed out” effect you are referring to on the nexus 7 is actually just due to the collection of stock wallpapers. They are very pastel and don’t have any defined lines. When walking by or quickly picking one up at the store, I felt the same way but after looking at other pictures on it I realized it is actually nice.

    3. You might be right, but I lately haven’t really been finding myself saying, “aww, man.. that app is only on the App Store?!?” .. maybe I am in the minority

    4. It’s cheap because Google makes no money from them which is pretty pathetic.


      It is ludicrous to say Google Play apps are up to app store selection and quality.

      I use both devices and have never had an issue with being unable to find the same or a just as good replacement for an Appstore App in Google Play, plus unlike Apple, you are not forced to use one App repository (or to use iTunes *shudder*)

      I’ll take the much bigger usable screen space and build quality of the iPad Mini any day.  

      Looks like someone hasn’t done their homework.

      Plus the mini screen is not washed out looking like the Nexus 7.

      When did you see them side by side? The Nexus screen looks considerable better than the mini.

      The Nexus 7 looks and feels like cheap plastic with a screen bolted on.  Not surprising when you are selling something at cost.

      I think it actually looks pretty good. Why would selling at cost mean it should look cheap, i don’t understand the connection.

      Amusing that Google was so desperate to get someone, anyone to use an Android tablet they killed the market for all their partners.I’ll take quality over slapped together anytime.  I can afford to pay a little more.

      And there we have it, the usual Apple attitude, I paid more therefore mine must be better.

    5. “It is ludicrous to say Google Play apps are up to app store selection and quality.”

      Actually, Google recently announced it has over 700,000 apps which Apple just passed last week. So both stores right now have the same number of apps in their store. As for quality, that is harder to measure and likely differs from person to person. Definitely, the Apple App Store has more tablet based apps, however, Android continues to improve with time. Also there are likely few apps right now sized properly for the iPad mini. I imagine a number of small buttons set for full sized iPad resolutions.As I mentioned elsewhere the customization on Android is great and is sorely missing from iOS. Apple could fix this by allowing their users to do more, like using a 3rd party keyboard (I hate the iOS keyboard so much) but that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time in the future.

      1.  I think the Nexus 7 was Google’s push to encourage tablet app creation – ‘build it and they will come’, as it were.

        It seems like, along with the pretty spiffy looking Nexus 10, it’s going to make that happen.

    6. You’re right.  In the year 2012, it makes perfect sense to drop >$300 on a device with a 1024×768 screen.

    7. It’s cheap because Google makes no money from them which is pretty pathetic.

      Dude, I totally agree!  So fucking pathetic!!!  I fucking hate it when I buy stuff and I don’t feel like someone made a sizable upfront profit.  How are people going to know I am cool if something is sold at a low profit margin?  WTF!?!?

      This is what is wrong with companies these days.  Fucking companies are just sitting around competing with each other trying to sell the best product at the lowest price and never for one fucking second thinking about share holder value.  When I buy a product, it is really important to me to know that the share holder made a nice tidy sum.

      The Nexus 7 looks and feels like cheap plastic with a screen bolted on.  Not surprising when you are selling something at cost.

      You are so right man!  Seriously, ARE YOU LISTENING GOOGLE!!!?????!?!?!  If those dumb ass would just sell it at more than cost, it would feel way less cheap.  Feel is so important these days, and for Google to just totally ignore the feel of it shows how STUPID they are.  SOme stupid nerds might be interested in stupid nerd shit, but real people know that the most important thing in a device is FEEL, and if something is being solid at cost, you just KNOW it isn’t going to look and feel cool.  It will just feel cheap because hello dumb ass, it is being sold cheap.

      So yeah, I totally agree dude, Google is dumb.  I think what they need to do is spend a lot more on advertising these things so that they seem “cooler”, then jack the price up at least double.  I would totally buy one of these if they did that, but until that, fuck Google, I’m sticking with Apple.

    8. It’s cheap because Google makes no money from them which is pretty pathetic.

      But ASUS make money from it. And since they manufacture it, it’s not really that pathetic now is it.

      I get cranky when I’m tired too. Have a little lie down, it always makes me feel better.

  12. Apparently how Android handles storage internally is the reason for both the abandonment of SD cards (with a almost condescending “it’s too confusing”  response when prodded about it) and the introduction of MTP.

    Orginially Android was designed with all user accessible storage being on removable memory cards. There is even a API call inside Android that allows any app to quickly locate the designated mount point for said card.

    But with the introduction of iPhone it suddenly became popular to make phones with big built in storage. And what the OEMs like Samsung did was to start partitioning the internal storage area, originally only meant for the firmware and apps, into two. This second partition, usually taking up the majority of the capacity (and why people found that installing just a few apps would deny them the ability to install more), would be presented to apps as if it was a SD card using the previously mentioned API.

    And adding to the mess, whenever the phone was plugged into a computer for transfer (Apple has in essence their own variant of MTP inside iTunes) Android had to unmount the “SD” internally so that it could be presented to the computer as a USB attached HDD. This could lead to a app crashing because Android do not shut down a app when you leave it, instead it is left running and could end up having the data it was relying on suddenly vanishing underneath it (onboard music player suddenly no longer finding the directory of music files you were listening to and so on).

    To get around all this Google quietly introduced MTP with one of the point releases of Android 3 (the version that only showed up on tablets). MTP works by talking to a database inside Android rather than directly to the file system. This means tho that if you use a file manager on Android and afterwards try to transfer those files via MTP the files may not be where you expect them, in multiple places, or not show up at all, because the database is not in sync with the actual FS.

    Additionally Google employed some powerful mounting options available in more recent version of Linux. This allows them to use a single internal partition, while making it appear as if it is two. This means that you no longer have a small space for apps and a large space for music, movies and such.

    And rather than extend or add an API that can allow a app to id multiple storage areas, Google has designated any removable storage as “second class” storage. You can only read from it, not write to it, if your running stock Android 4.x. Samsung and others hack around this by amending the rights setup inside Android on devices they ship however, so the behavior will be highly inconsistent.

    All in all it is a mess, and Google is taking a very paternalistic stance regarding the whole topic.

    1. I think the “too confusing” is inreference to the operating ssystems ability to handle it without problems. Not that people wouldn’t “get it” if they had it explained to them.

      1. Huh? My understanding is that is was squarely aimed at the human element. The example given elsewhere was users figuring out photo storage without having a FS to interact with.

        And that is honestly the whole business here. There is an attitude internally at Android hq there the file system is scary and confusing, and best hidden out of the way of the user. It is a very paternalistic attitude, and one i more expected from a certain other company.

        1. You could be right but I’ve always taken it as a “keep it simple stupid” strategy, rather than a “you’re too stupid to understand” response.

    2. IMO the lack of removable storage is really about the following things:

      1) Very few people use it.

      2) It makes the device bigger and more expensive, and almost everyone cares about size and cost.

      3) It puts a burden on app developers to support the api for storage that might be pulled and the mere fact that there are more than 1 storage blobs OR results in confusing user experiences for anyone who does try to use removable storage… or both as app developers fail to support it well.

      4) Alternative solutions have been developed for accessing bulk data.  Streaming services, cloud storage, portable wirelessly accessible storage.  Some of these have the problems from 3, but people expect less of them.

      But 1 and 2  are by far the most important.

      1. It is not only that. The internal storage is also too small for serious use.

        The true reason behind this is that Google wants you to use Google Drive, so they can scan your data and build your profile.

      2.  I can get 1, but 2 is just nuts as a micro-sd slot takes up no more space than a sim card slot. 3 is a huh, as any api can be pulled at any time. as for 4, not as reliable and fault tolerant as having the data on local storage.

        1. It’s still bigger than nothing.

          No, not the api being pulled, the storage medium being pulled, or put back in.

          Definately 4 is a step down, but it still tends to get the job done for the most part.

  13. Oh and another thing, it seems the Linux crowd has take to using Android usb debug tools as a replacement for MTP. You turn on USB debugging on the tablet and install the Android SDK and a program like aafm on your Linux computer. This and a bit of udev wrangling to allow users read write access to the tablet /dev entry and you have file system write access (and more).

  14. A workaround but slightly better than from browser over the air file transfer: go to settings/Wireless and networks/More…/Usb utilities and there’s the button to expose sd cards as external drives.

    not perfect, but still

  15. Ehh…I want to get a Nexus 7, but given that the next round of Nexus devices will be starting quite soon, a lot of me wants to wait and see who’s making what and how everything is.
    Plus I’m not so keen on the size…feels like it would be too small to read a lot of things on. But the few display models I’ve played with usually aren’t hooked up to store wifi so I can’t browse, say, Wikipedia and see how it goes for readability. (Given that tablets in general tend to lack the file-format constraints of eReaders, I’d say they’re worthy replacements if an eReader’s just not doing it for you.)
    Same with the Nexus phones, really; I’m waiting to see how the next round are, and praying my HTC Nexus One doesn’t manage to set itself on fire before that time. (And if the 2013 Nexus phone isn’t much good, I’ll probably go with the Samsung Nexus then. It’s close enough to new.)

    1. I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Nexus since february and i looove it. Previously, i had the first HTC Galaxy Nexus: not that good. So i’m kinda sold on Samsung right now. And their new tablets seem very interesting as well…

    2. I want to get a Nexus 7, but given that the next round of Nexus devices will be starting quite soon, a lot of me wants to wait and see who’s making what and how everything is.


      The Nexus 7 32GB has JUST been released, and the mobile data version is still a week or so away. The Nexus 4 has JUST been released. The Nexus 10 has JUST been released. WITIN THE LAST FEW DAYS.

      Next round of Nexus devices starting quite soon? They don’t release at the same rate Apple releases iPads you know!

  16. Now that Cory has found the world’s greatest 7″ tablet, would it be possible to do future reviews about the same tablet or similar Nexus devices without the same boring tirades about Apple’s App Store and how he found it confusing to tether back in 2009 with iOS? In other words, a review just on the merits of the device would be more than welcome.

    Ps: iPhone and iPad user but I like keeping up regarding other stuff. I knew before reading Cory’s review that he rips on Apple’s stuff given the chance so I guess I should have expected it and just read a review by someone else. *shrug*

      1. Not just Rob. Cory was the lone dissenter of the site regarding Apple a few years back (tho perhaps Maggie was silent on the whole topic).

  17. I’ve had an Nexus7 since August and I only miss “flash”. The hardware seems so capable it would have been nice to have it.

    Like the Cory, I wanted a versatile e-reader, which it is. I use navfree for gps purposes and that works great with no connection. This is a very capable tablet that will fit into a jacket pocket or the pocket of your cargo shorts.

  18. Yeah, really happy with my nexus 7 too. I would say – couple of things – MX player seems to be able to handle any video file I throw at it, and in terms of updating apps – when you get a notification about the apps that need updating, there is indeed an “update all” button.
    For me, the only downside is that bloody google play books app – it’s a lovely app, but needs to be able to let me import my own books to have alongside those bought from google.
    Apart from that though, liking it.

    1. Came here to mention MX player:

      Definitely the best video player for android – I’ve thrown files at it in dozens of codecs and containers and it has played every one without an issue.

      On a side note, it’s nice to finally see someone on the boingboing staff call out apple on it’s militant anti-consumer practices.  Usually apple gets nothing but blind adoration here, despite being the antithesis of open.

  19. “The Nexus 7 doesn’t come with built-in cellular data””Notwithstanding all of the above, there’s still some room for improvement with the Nexus 7.”
    “But in practice, MTP just sucks.”
    “the power and volume buttons are a little close together,”
    “The built-in software suite could use some tweaking.”

    But, of course, the fourth word in the review is the superlative ‘perfect’!

    This is also a real gem…

    “My wife deals with both iOS and Android (she’s co-founder of a startup that needs to work on both) and tells me that the Play Store’s apps are up to anything in the Apple App Store.”

    …so, even though I don’t use it, let me go on a rant for the next paragraph about Apple’s App Store.

    Come on…this stuff is getting old.

      1. The merits of MTP wasn’t my point. The point was that there seemed to be a lot of problems in this review for a ‘perfect’ device.

        1.  They’re more ‘annoyances that could be fixed’ than problems. They’re outweighed massively by all the device’s good points.

          Believe it or not, even Apple devices have niggles and annoyances.

  20. As observed, it’s a very competent nav device while travelling, no data required. Just remember to save your maps offline prior to leaving your home/hotel. 

    We were also affected by the lost direction list when closing the map app while on the road. Cut/paste direction list into a memo so it’s available offline should you lose it.

    1. That doesn’t match my experience. The map reader works without a data connection, but the *navigation* feature doesn’t work at all without Internet access. I’d have to either tether my tablet to my phone or get a tablet with a built in cellular modem to use my tablet for navigation. Either way, I’d be in for a substantial increase in my monthly cellular bill, either tethering (plus larger data plan, which they require for tethering whether you need that much data or not) or for a second device.

  21. We’ve also been using the Nexus 7 since they shipped in July. The kids (11 and 7) actually saved up and bought one for themselves! The only issue that we experienced was a cracked screen during a camping trip that effectively rendered the tablet useless. It could turn on, but the touch capability was lost,… sadly the replacement screen was $130, which seemed steep compared to the initial cost of the device. Long story short, we were able to use our credit card’s purchase protection plan to replace the tablet, and another Nexus 7 was happily delivered to the kids.

    I still have plans for the cracked Nexus 7,… I can hook up a bluetooth keyboard and mouse for a dedicated desktablet. Or even better, crack out the tools and take it apart (ifixit has a great tutorial video) and combine it with some of my other orphaned tech into a glorious Frankentablet.

  22. Hi Cory,

    You’ve got to help me out squaring the circle of your love for the Nexus 7. You mentioned the drone app being rejected from the iOS store, and I agree, I’d like to know when the government might be spying in my area. I’ve read your books including Big Brother which is a huge wake up call against surveillance society. Yet you’ve willingly bought a device purely built to act as a surveillance device and stuck it in your pocket. I don’t mean GPS, I mean thats what Android was built for.

    So please explain to me how you can approve of the Nexus, which runs Android. Googles entire, I mean all of it, business model is targeting ads to you. It stores, parses and resells everything you do on the Nexus or any Android device to the highest commercial bidder so it can show resell your information, and show you ads. 

    Google is against the do not track feature in browsers. Google has one of the largest lobbyist contingent on capital hill. Google has been repeatedly sued by governments for breaking their privacy policy. Google was just fined the largest single amount ever (22.5M) for them continuing to break privacy policy even after they promised not to. 

    You are worried about predator drones in the sky, yet you’ve willingly bought one to carry around, and are willingly entering all of your and your family personal details, including location. No need to put pebbles in your shoe to fool the gait monitors. I’m not being paranoid here, farming your data isn’t a side business of Google, it literally flat out is its sole business. 

    I don’t think Apple and Microsoft are angels, but at least my relationship with them is clear. They sell me stuff for profit, and then they don’t track and resell every single thing I do. You actually mentioned you can save $92 by buying a Nexus 7. Is your privacy worth so little to you? This is not the indication I got from reading your words. What was the point of the books ?

    Please explain this. Because I straight don’t understand it.

    1. Are you sure Apple and MS aren’t selling your data? (not being a jerk, I just don’t really know to what extent they do/do not sell data)

      1. Yes they don’t parse and sell your browsing history, email, apps you use, or location data.
        Both Microsoft and Apple also support the ‘do not track’ option (to prevent cookie tracking in browsers) in their latest operating systems. Google on the other hand is actively fighting the ‘do not track’ feature, it has sided with the advertiser group of America (its customers base, the people they actually care about) which is actively fighting the do not track proposal by lobbying in congress, saying it will destroy their ability to market to individuals. [ ]
        This is the kind of stuff I thought I’d be reading in boingboing. Instead we get editorial write ups pitching the worst offender of the invasion of privacy in the history of mankind, and it is by Cory Doctorow of all people. I’m sure we will get a post about how cameras in Britain don’t stop crime or something. Having a device in your pocket that removes all your liberties, somehow that is fine. And I look up to Doctorow.

    2. The drone app referenced isn’t about drone surveillance in the US, its about drones killing people overseas.

      But sure, the clear relationship you have with Google is that they are going to data mine you and use it to aim advertisements at you and show advertisements to you.

      1. And hand the private data out to governments. To be fair, Google is forced to do that and publishes these privacy violations, but to us the result is that our private data goes where we do not want it to go. Collecting private data is fundamentally evil, because nobody can keep such data absolutely safe from governments and from hackers.

        Data collectors also sell such data to advertisers, where the data is again unsafe.

        I admit, this is a general problem, and I know of no good solution. As long as many people willingly hand their own and also my private data (photo, email, telno, address, family, friends) to Facebook, Google, etc., we will have to live with this problem.

    3. Throwaway Play account or sideload APKs, alternative browsers galore (with actually different rendering engines), even fully cleaned firmwares if you are so inclined.

  23. Great tablet! I’ve had an 8Gb one since launch and love it to bits…
    It’s NOT rugged. the screen is NOT gorilla glass (as touted by many review sites in the early days) but corning scratch resistant. As I found out to my cost the other day. Small drop onto hard floor and BAM large crack in the screen. my Samsung Galaxy S2 with GG has taken an absolute beating, being dropped on concrete and tarmac with only slight scuffs to the body, but the screen has been solid.
    To make matters worse, I can’t even use it as it’s borked the digitiser and won’t respond to touch events. Even tried plugging in a USB mouse and kbd, but after 15 mins, the screen started registering phantom touch and drag events all over the place so no go.

    I will be replacing it with another (or a nex10 if the insurance pays out cash instead of repairing it) but to say i’m annoyed about the gorilla glass situation is an understatement.

  24. Loving my Nexus 7 too. The form factor allows me to take it anywhere (it DOES fit any large pocket!). So much that I realized something: I am using my Galaxy S phone less and less. I stilll have model I and am in love with S III (and the Note too…) but I realized I only need a phone for tethering now (and phone calls, I’ll be damned), so I am not compelled to upgrading.
    Some things that could be improved on the Nexus 7 are the connectivity and storage options. It should allow MHL-HDMI through USB (it doesn’t, I believe) and an external microSD card would come in handy.
    These two items lead me to believe the device is not so “corporate profits second” as you believe, as this is definitely a tablet that locks some of the content. I travelled overseas and could not access the (awful) Transformers movie that came with it.
    And finally, one thing that bothers me in tablets (and smartphones) in general is the move away from the hardware upgrades. I used to keep my desktops up to date by adding RAM and changing the processor, or adding new graphic boards. Now I have to buy a whole new device…

    [update] Yep, notebooks have a similar problem

  25. “Firey the Openess fell, deep thunder rolled around the shores…”

    “You’re Nexus huh?” 

    “Questions…morphology…incept dates…”

    “Copyright…he’s the big boss…he knows everything.
    Patents…he’ll take you there.”

    “I just do i’s.”

  26. I ignored all of the online complaints about bad quality control and horrible Google Play customer service, and bought one a couple of months ago, directly from Google Play. The first one I got was defective, and I returned it. After two weeks Google was still unable to replace the unit, even though they authorized my credit card for it. Finally, I just said I wanted my money back, and that I would buy one locally. What followed was, in my opinion, the worst customer service experience in my fifty years of existence. So far I have i) no unit, ii) no refund, and iii) no replacement unit, although they continue to threaten to send one out to me, over a month after I told them, and they agreed, that I was going to get a full refund and no replacement. I’ve filed a complaint with my credit card company, will probably have to file another (because they are threatening to charge me for a replacement I don’t want), I’ll probably have to file a complaint with the BBB (Google has more complaints filed against them with the BBB than any other company I’ve ever seen),  and might even have to take them to small claims court. The experience has left such a bad taste in my mouth that there is no way I would ever do business with them again, or buy another Nexus 7, even locally.

    1. Wow, I had a similar experience – worst online customer support ever.

      Bought a Nexus 7 in August. Neat device. But half the screen would become unresponsive to touch after a while – seemed like a heat issue. Fine, s*** happens. I filled out the online exchange form, clicked the box saying I wanted to exchange it. I got a confirmation email with a UPS label. Cool. Sent it back. Got email receipt a couple days later that UPS had delivered my return to Google. Cool.

      Then I waited. It wasn’t a huge priority to me so a couple weeks went by before I started to wonder what was up. I checked the confirmation email again, and there was this link that I apparently was supposed to click to request a new one. Why was this? I had already given them all the information they needed to handle the exchange.No other online retailer I know of has this weird extra step, so I did not expect it.

      Fine, my bad – I should have read the confirmation email closely I guess. Click the link. Server error – “try again later”. Later… next day and next after that, same result. Email support. Four days later, receive response explaining the link had expired. They “reset” the link for me. Click the link. It’s a form where I can fill in my credit card info to buy a new one. Why do I have to pay for a new one?

      Then I receive an email from a different department saying that 21 days had passed and they have not received my return. I sent them the tracking number for the UPS label *that they had issued me* to show them it had been returned. After a couple back-and-forths over the next week with no sign of them shipping me a new device, it was becoming clear that my best option was to just cancel the whole thing.

      1.  I always opt for refund instead of replacement, if the option exists.

        Replacement seems to give the retailer more power, refund allows you to consider your options, walk away or start again from scratch.

  27. I’d love to see what Android tablet apps folks are using and recommend. The one thing I need is something equivalent to Paper by FiftyThree (the simple sketch app — AutoDesk’s is way too powerful for my needs).

    I’ve been very pleased with my 7″ Android tablet, too. I haven’t yet splurged for the Nexus (waiting to see what the next gen might bring, especially in terms of camera), but I got an old first-gen Kindle Fire as a hand-me-down and installed a Jelly Bean ROM (4.1). It’s a great thing in the ways Cory describes. 

    The home-screen widgets are what really, for my usage, truly distinguish the Android OS from Apple’s (I haven’t used Windows Mobile or Surface yet). Having a notepad (seNotes), a calendar (Google’s stock app), and toggles (wifi, brightness, volume, etc.) are fast making this a highly useful device for me.

  28. There are a ton of defective Nexus 7 units out there.  

    My Nexus 7 screen cracked in my hand, under my thumb.  And this device was barely used.  It never left the house, never rattled around in any bag.

    $230 for a device that lasts only a couple of months of light usage.  As far as I’m concerned, the Nexus 7 is the poster child for cheap plastic disposable junk electronics.

  29. Something you may not know about the 7″ form factor: it fits perfectly in the outer pocket of a suit jacket or sport-coat (though the flat rigidity is definitely noticeable).

  30. Number one son also endorses the Nexus 7.

    I use a yellow legal tablet, or a pad of graph paper, for my own tablet needs.

  31. I am starting to get the feeling that there must be something wrong with my personal, up to date, Nexus 7 because I’ve never seen anyone else complain about it.
    Start Chrome.
    Into the Search bar, type ‘’
    You might be able to, I can’t.
    The UK keyboard it presents to me doesn’t have an ‘@’ key.  It has delta and yen and pi and copyright and trademark and restricted and a bunch of other (obviously critical) Google related insignia, but no actual ‘@’ – still, who ever wanted to search for a Twitter handle, or an email address?

    (I hate the way this email widget won’t let me type ‘@’ without insisting on turning it into something else)

    Sure, I could just go to and then type into the actual search box.  I guess that’s one way to ensure I see any ads they put on their home page.

    1. You’re misreading the code. Perfect = barely adequate. iOS = perfect? No. iOS=square root of minus 1.

      This is the Boing Boing way. Adapt or go to io9 – it’s like here but more hopeful.

    2. Why would you even need to go to

      Just tap the google widget seach bar at the top of every screen and type it there which is on the key with “/” beside the space bar.

      I’ll tell you what, it’s a damn site easier typing the “at symbol” in on the nexus 7 than it is in this goddamned BoingBoing post.

      It seems to me you’re trying to find obscure problems that don’t really exist in any practical sense.

    3. It’s kludgy, but you could try using another keyboard app? There’s a bunch in the store, some of them rather decent.

  32. It really is an enticing device as a geek – I was on a fence until mini rumors cropped up, and am glad I waited.  I still like how it looks (I can’t say the same for N10), but iPad mini got my vote this time.

    I’m gonna hold from jumping ship for couple more years until app quality reaches parity with iPads.

  33. Excellent and comprehensive article on the genuinely useful Nexus 7.
    I am getting one of the new 32 gb Nexus 7’s which is a really good deal at $250.00.

    The combination of the Open Android and really good specs and reviews were the deciding factor for me, your article just reinforces what I had already found.

    I had one of the original Kindle Fires and while it and the access through Amazon Prime made it a pleasant enough device, I really wanted more true functionality and a reasonable ability to do my own thing with it.

    Good excuse for learning Java and Android.

    One small thought, our government these days is pretty much controlled by and always sides with business interests versus peoples interests.

    They have been entirely subverted to this end.

    And on a political note if Romney becomes president, what little importance individual rights still have is sure to be entirely displaced by corporate interests.

    Contrary to popular Republican belief they are not the same thing.

  34. Good post, Cory. I like my Nexus 7 a lot. I bought it when the model first came out, and I spend hours a day on it. 

    Thanks for the NewsRob recommendation. Nicer than the default Google Reader app, which I had been using, or GReader. I’d love to see a post from you on your favorite Nexus 7 apps. 

    Do you do any writing on the Nexus 7? What app do you use for that? Do you use an external keyboard?

    For a Twitter app that supports muting, try Tweetings.

  35. I’ll add to the list of people who think the build quality blows. The one I bought had screen lift, but I mostly ignored it because it didn’t seem all that bad compared to many (many many) stories I read on People liked the unit, but so many complaints about build quality. Also, rugged? Are you kidding? I’m trying unload mine now because my cat knocked off my desk, landed sent a few cracks across the top of the screen. 4/5ths of the screen was not cracked, but the device is completely worthless now, it does not respond to touch.

    $217 down the drain. I really like having a 7″ tablet around, but now I’m torn between spending the extra to get an iPad mini or chancing it on the 16GB Nexus 7 that is now $200. 

    Side note: had it not broken, I would be pretty pissed about the price drop after only 3 months [well, less than 2 months for me since I bought in September]. I recall Apple upgraded a product really soon after a previous version [can’t remember what off the top of my head], everyone was pissed and they sent people refunds of like $100. I don’t see Google doing that for people who bought in July. Caveat emptor early adopter, sure, but 3.5 months is ridiculous. I doubt they can afford to refund people, though, since most tech analysts seem to agree they are making barely if any money off the thing.

    Customer service and build quality are still worth something.

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