Google finally opened the curtains to reveal its shiny new tablet, the Asus Nexus 7, at its Google I/O conference in San Francisco. The 7-inch device is the search giant's maiden entry into the tablet hardware space, which is currently dominated by Apple's iPad and littered with third-party devices running slightly tweaked versions of Android software. How does the Nexus 7 measure up? Here, four key takeaways:
1. Google is going after the Kindle Fire
Google plans to sell the Nexus 7 starting at $199 for an 8 GB version (or $249 for 16 GB), putting it in direct competition with Amazon's similarly sized budget-version $199 Kindle Fire — not Apple's $499 iPad. The Nexus 7, which is built by Asus under Google's supervision, will run the newest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean, and comes with a 1280 x 800 back-lit display, an Nvidia quad-core Tegra 3 processor, and 1 GB of of RAM. When you look at the other available products in the same price range — Amazon's Kindle Fire, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 — "everything else basically looks like crap," says JR Raphael at Computerworld. But "this thing provides a first-class tablet experience at a budget level price."
2. The Nexus 7's quality is readily apparent
"The tablet looks and feels sturdy," says Sara Yin at PC Mag. It's lighter and more powerful than the Fire, and its "rounded, tapered edges" with a rubber matte backing give it a distinctly "sporty" feel. A Google UI designer says Jelly Bean was designed with a 7-inch display in mind, and the difference is noticeable: "The tablet performs pretty flawlessly and scrolling is buttery smooth."
3. The tablet takes advantage of Google's strengths
I think the OS improvements are merely incremental, says Dan Gillmor at the Guardian, "but they are impressive and keep Google at least [on par] with Apple's iOS in most ways, and ahead in a few." What really makes this particular Android device "truly compelling" is the resources of Google itself: Search, maps, and more, which are all a close approximation of their more robust desktop versions. Jelly Bean's ability to do so underscores why these Nexus devices are so important: They give users "the absolute latest operating systems on excellent hardware — and Google, not a carrier, keeps them updated."
4. It's going international
Believe it or not, $199 isn't the Nexus 7's most important price point, says Vlad Savov at The Verge: It's £159. The Nexus 7 will go on sale in the U.K. (and Australia and Canada) — places where it's been difficult for Amazon to eke out content deals for things like Netflix movies (which were only recently added) or U.S.-only services like Turntable.fm, which severely limits the Kindle Fire's appeal abroad. "In beating Amazon to a broader international rollout with its media tablet, Google is laying an essentially uncontested claim to three important English-speaking markets." That's the Nexus 7's real trump card.