Nexus 7 (2013) - The good, the bad and the ugly

Since I have been using it for a few weeks, here's my short pictureless yet picturesque review of the Nexus 7 2013.

The good

  • The screen resolution of course. 1920x1200 is the minimum resolution I consider reasonable for a 7" tablet, period. Anything less is crappy DPI. It's 2013, we're not using pixelated DOS any more.
  • Plays any 720p mkv you throw at it without trouble, including Hi10 (at least with the excellent MX Player). Also seems to play a fair share of (non Hi10) 1080p mkv's alright, but more about this below.
  • This auto-brightness feature is great. It's probably been a feature of Android for some time, and most likely didn't originate from Android in the first place, but with the Nexus 7 being my first mobile Android device, I can only go "Of course, you'd want to use the front camera sensor to automatically adjust the screen brightness according to the environment!". 
  • Likewise, the independent new message notification light, is a another "Of course!"-type of feature.
  • Screen is actually readable while standing outside on a bright sunny day. Not that I care that much about using a tablet outside, but it's nice to know you should be able to do so if you need to.
  • Passed a few minor hurdles (unlocking and rooting), the device is very developer-friendly. At least, it's open enough to let run your own customized kernel in a reasonable amount of time, as well as configure the OS exactly as you see fit. Bite me, Apple!
  • Supports > 54 Mbps WiFi (a.k.a. 802.11n). This is likely to be useful if, unlike everybody else out there, you actually plan to keep using your Nexus in 5 years time or more. Yes, there exist consumers who don't go around and change their mobile device every other year!
  • Standard USB port for charging and data. None of this proprietary connector crap.
  • Supports wireless charging. Being able to rely on two options for charging your device could be a life saver in the long run, if the other option breaks down.
  • Can actually store and play mkv's that are larger than 8 GB. If it isn't obvious by now, I am quite interested in HD movie playout.
    I mean, it would be a shame to have a high resolution 7" screen, and not use it as an HD player wouldn't it?
  • Sleek design. This is my first tablet after all, and I do consider it as a direct "upgrade" from my last portable device, which was a PSP-1000 (bought in 2006), so I'll reserve the right to be pleased by the form factor. Oh, and I sure hope that tablet will last as long in terms of use as my old sturdy PSP.
  • Automatically recognizes USB keyboards and/or mice. Though you have to use an OTG adapter, this too could come handy.
  • Quad core CPU. Unless recompilation of a full Linux kernel on your device doesn't sound like a ridiculous prospect, your device is underpowered.
  • Decent battery life. Could probably watch a couple movies over a transatlantic flight, and have some power left. I like that idea. Of course, the real killer would be to have enough power to play a full game of Civ 5, should Civ 5 ever been ported (or portable) to Android. Oh well, a man can dream...
  • Storage can (awkwardly) be extended through the use of a cheap USB OTG adapter. Doesn't compensate for an SD card expansion, but makes the pill somewhat easier to swallow.
  • The Play Store is furnished with more than enough good free apps to find something that will appeal to you when it comes to performing common tasks.
  • From having used some of their hardware, I have at least some confidence that Asus do actually know a thing or two about designing devices that can last.
  • Awesome pick as a first Android device. It does feel polished and mature enough to be considered as something a consumer truly deserves, i.e. a device where a sufficient amount of thought and effort seems to have gone into designing the various core functionalities.

 The bad

  • Uses a micro-USB connector #1. I cannot seriously see this connector last. Just like with mini-USB (and boy have I seen mini-USB connectors fail...), there's nothing sturdy about it, and the more you use the connector, the more you feel like it's gonna break like a twig and render your device close to unusable the day you inadvertently yank a cable or an OTG extension, or insert the plug in an odd position... which is apparently what all USB plugs are really designed for.
    Having seen the allegedly more sturdy USB 3.0 micro connector rendered worthless from a cable mishap, as well as having probably performed more than a hundred plugs/unplugs in the few weeks I got the device, I can only dread the day the connector will break. A meagre consolation will be that, when that happens, you're not going to be stranded with a complete paperweight, as you'll be able to use a wireless charger. But then you can kiss goodbye to USB debugging, device reset and any form or development...
    As an aside, were they actually listening to end-users' woes, the USB committee would have devised a sturdy small factor connector, that could be inserted either way, long before Apple did. Then again, that would take letting representatives of the general public have a say in the committee's agenda, which, as we all know, is pure unadulterated heresy!
  • 32 GB max internal flash max is way too small!! 32GB was already too small in 2010 for crying out loud! In 2013, 128GB should come as standard, with 256GB for high end. I can only imagine how ridiculously limited a tablet with "only" 32GB will be in 5 years time... This is all the more incomprehensible as anybody can purchase 64GB micro SD cards off Amazon for less than $50, ergo this is neither a question of technological limitation nor price.
  • No SD slot for you! Google and its minions can lie as much as they want, but everybody knows there's just one reason not to have an SD card slot on a portable device, and that is to force users to get their multimedia content from the restrictive cloud. :(
  • Uses a micro-USB connector #2: The lack of an SD slot above means you pretty much have to use a micro to regular USB OTG adapter, for anything that involves expanding the ridiculous amount of internal flash, which is both awkward and uncomfortable. That is unless you are using a micro SD card with meenova Mini MicroSD Card Reader (which, while a bit pricey, is well designed and well worth the satisfaction of sending a big fat "screw you and your stupid restrictions" message to Google)
  • I've seen a bunch of artefacts (banding in gradients) when displaying pictures, which I haven't seen when the same picture is shown on a regular monitor. That makes me think that the screen is not actually able to display 16M nuances of colours. I have waited 8 years to upgrade from the lousy screen that Sony decided to ship with original PSP (Oh, the remanence!), and this is this only as far we've been able to make the technology evolve? That is a (small) letdown... 
  • Uses USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0. I don't care if the read and write speed of your flash can't reach USB 3.0 speeds, the RAM can, and one might want to use the device in the future for applications connecting to an USB device where high bandwidth is a must (software oscilloscope, software radio).
  • The default picture and movie viewers from Android are severely lacking functionality. Thankfully, the free QPic and MX Player can be installed, that do a much better job. Still, having a default picture viewer that you can't set to display pictures in alphabetical order is unacceptable.
  • Can't play Hi10 (a.k.a. 10 bits) 1080p mkv's (unless you consider a 2 FPS rate as acceptable). I don't think even a fully optimized video player will ever be able to so on this device, because the GPU and CPU are unlikely to be that powerful. Sure hope the future will prove me wrong though...
  • Video playout of some 8 bits 1080p mkv can be very jerky too, if MX Player decides that the HW+ decoder cannot apply, and, besides Hi10, I have no idea what decides whether HW+ can be used for decoding or not. Thus, depending on how the video file was produced, 1080p playout can be a bit of a hit and miss...
  • Touch screens suck. Having to wipe finger smudges all the time, and wonder where the OS will have decided the tip of your finger went is annoying. Oh and don't even get me started about trying to play arcade games using touch controls. At least for gaming, it shouldn't be that hard to add two 4+1 positions knobs (think microswitch joystick) in a very shallow depressed speaker-like shape, at the rear of the device, to at least allow some acceptable [game|arrow-keys]-like input.
  • As with any tablet, there's no "good way" to get a firm yet relaxed grip when using it.
  • When you try to raise the volume past a completely arbitrary point when using headphones, you get a MOST ANNOYING POPUP about listening at high volume for a long time being potentially damaging, that you have to accept EVERY FRIGGING TIME. The problem is, if you are using a high quality headphone with relatively large speakers, the volume at which this message appears is way too low! I think I'll have to figure out a way to disable this little sucker, because this chronic nagging is really degrading the whole media player experience.
  • No pouch? My old PSP came with a pouch! A portable device whose screen isn't expected to survive a 1.5m drop should come with a pouch for transport and (minimal) protection. What's more, if it has a touch screen, it should also come with a microfibre cloth, that's at least as big as the width of the device. This may sound like a trifle, but it shows that you might actually value your customers.

The Ugly

  • The Android community.
    Trying to find information that is actually of interest for development is such a massive ordeal! You have to go through page upon page of ill-informed posts, as well as scores of people jumping on the Android bandwagon to try to make a quick adversing buck, before reaching anything of actual substance... And don't get me started on Google's "Welp, that 5 line overview of the development process'll do". I'd like to remind Google that, as opposed to most Open Source projects, they do have paid employees that could take care of providing comprehensive documentation...

I guess that will do. This should be different enough from any other review of the Nexus 7 2013 you've seen. And I know some who have made a small jump from a 2012 Nexus 7 to a 2013 Nexus 7, and have been all ecstatic in their review about it, whereas here I am, having jumped leaps and bounds from an outdated portable device, yet with loads to complain about. Still, by my standards, this is a fairly positive review, and I would recommend the device (even over the new more powerful Amazon Kindle for instance), especially as I can't really fault Asus and Google for some items I have a gripe with, such as the USB committee being led by a bunch of monkeys...

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