Google Nexus 7 – Review Round Up

google-nexus-7

Nine months ago Google released the Nexus 7 and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it changed the tablet landscape forever.

Before the Nexus 7, tablet owners had two choices: buy a rather expensive third party Android tablet made by Sony, Samsung or Asus, or buy Apple’s rather expensive iPad.

The whole concept of Nexus first started with smartphones, it’s where Google makes Android devices alongside a manufacturer of its choice – but crucially Google calls the shots.

Google’s masterstroke was to create a new line of Nexus tablets that would be sold a slight loss. The thought being they could recoup the money via Android users buying content from the search engine’s Play Store, and 9 months on it has been a massive success.

The second generation Nexus 7 has been made alongside Asus again – so does it still offer the most bang for your buck when it comes to a pure Android tablet experience?

Well in a word: yes. Somehow Google and Asus have managed to improve the Nexus 7 in every single area without compromising on price or build quality.

The main headline-grabbing change comes in the form of the new IPS screen. Whilst the previous Nexus had a 1280×800 screen running a ppi of 216, the second-generation Nexus 7 is sporting a 1900×1200 screen running a gargantuan 326 ppi, just for some perspective the current 4th generation iPad has a ppi of 264.

As well as the screen getting a major bump in specs, the Nexus 7 has ditched the Tegra processor is now sporting a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, and it has also seen a significant increase in onboard RAM, which has now jumped from 1GB to 2GB.

The Nexus 7 comes in two variants: 16 and 32GB, but unfortunately memory cannot be supplemented via microSD cards.

There’s obviously support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (including Bluetooth Smart support), and a GPS. Additionally you’ll find a gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass too.

Interestingly the battery on the new Nexus 7 has actually been decreased from 4325mAh to 3950mAh, but is said to last longer due to software optimisations made in Android 4.3, and should last you up to 9 hours of HD playback and 10 hours of web browsing or e-reading.

“Pound for pound, the Nexus 7 is the best small tablet you can buy […] It houses a ridiculously sharp, bright screen, its gaming performance is second only to the fourth-generation iPad, and as a Google-branded tablet it will always see the latest version of Android before any other tablet brand.” –  Cnet

“The new model trades up to a sleek, classy, all-black body that very clearly means business. […] The matte black back no longer looks or feels like Steve McQueen’s leathery driving gloves, but it’s still soft to the touch and much nicer to hold than some of the glossy, plastic backs on devices like the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. At 8.65 mm thick, it’s slightly slimmer than the last model, and at 0.64 pounds slightly lighter as well. It’s also about a credit card thicker than the iPad mini, and almost exactly as tall. Google shaved a quarter of an inch off the bezels on either side of the display, which makes the device fit much more easily into my hand as well. I can grasp it like a phone, holding the tablet in my palm and tapping on the screen with my thumb — the iPad mini requires two hands, one to hold the device and the other to use it.” –  The Verge

“Under the hood, the 2013 Nexus matches the original’s in total internal storage. […] When you flip over the Nexus, the first thing you’ll notice — aside from the lack of dimples, of course — is that ASUS added a 5-megapixel camera in the top left corner (sorry, no LED flash). There are also three machine-drilled speaker grilles: a long one up top and two shorter ones on the bottom. That means you’ll benefit from stereo sound, a nice step up from the mono setup on the original.” – Engadget

“Based on specs alone the iPad mini has some work to do […] the Nexus 7 is the first device in the Google Nexus family to use Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, an incremental software update with features like support for OpenGL ES 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0 LE support, and the ability to restrict certain user accounts. That last capability might come in handy if you plan to buy this tablet for yourself and your family. There aren’t many tablet-optimized applications available for Android yet, but Google is changing the way it showcases those particular apps, to make them easier to find.” – Tech Hive

Pound for pound, the second-gen Nexus 7 is easily the best small tablet you can buy at the moment. Google and its hardware manufacturer, Asus, have managed to do the impossible and improve upon an already proven recipe in every single area.

If Apple is going to quash the Nexus 7’s ever increasing dominance of the budget tablet market with its next iteration of the iPad mini, it’s got a lot of catching up to do as the Nexus 7 is almost the perfect tablet.

Stock Android: Pros and Cons

Nexus-Phone

The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, but now more phones are getting in on the act. Once the exclusive preserve of Nexus-branded devices (and rooters), the stock version of Android is set to appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z in the coming months (initially in the USA with a wider roll-out expected eventually). But what is stock Android, exactly? And why should you consider getting a phone with it installed?

Stock-Android

What is stock Android?

Simply speaking, stock Android is the plain, vanilla edition of the operating system, straight from the Google conveyor belt. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and HTC tend to add their own bells and whistles to Android, most notably when it comes to flashy camera functions and social network widgets. In the same way that computer retailers such as Dell and HP load extra utilities and shortcuts on top of Windows, the phone manufacturers do the same with Android, often providing easy links to their own services and stores. Stock Android is the purest form of Android without any of these extras added on top. Whether or not it’s the best Android for you depends on how attached you are to these manufacturer customisations and skins.

Quicker updates

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using stock Android is that you get new versions of the operating system as quickly as possible. Whenever Google releases a new update, it hits Nexus devices almost immediately. Owners of other phones and tablets must wait until Sony, HTC, Samsung or another company have had a play around with it, added their own layer on top, and shipped it back out to customers with all bugs fixed and scenarios tested.

This trend for customising Android has exacerbated the software’s fragmentation problem. Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3-2.3.7) remains the most common version of the OS in use today, with the most recent Jelly Bean release accounting for 28.4% of the Android phone and tablet market. By using stock Android, you’re less likely to be left behind.

More apps

Google has been steadily spinning apps out of the main Android OS for some time now — most recently the stock keyboard appeared on Google Play — but one of the benefits of using the pure version of the operating system is that it ensures compatibility with the latest apps.

Twitter’s Vine, for example, recently launched on Android and requires version 4.0 or above. If you want to use the lock screen widget built into Google Now, you’ll need Android 4.1 or higher. The more recent your version of Android, the more apps and features you have access to.

Fewer apps

Of course, at the same time you get fewer apps because you’re living without the customised add-ons and widgets produced by the phone manufacturers. In the case of the HTC One, you won’t get the social networking stream widget BlinkFeed; in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4, you’ll miss out on the Smart Pause utility that pauses videos whenever you look away from the screen. Whether these omissions will be of interest to you depends on whether you view them as useful add-ons or needless gimmicks.

Optimisations

These stock Android versions of existing phones have another disadvantage when compared with pure Nexus devices — the hardware and software haven’t been developed in unison, so you might not experience a fully optimised experience. Stock Android will certainly work without any major problems on the latest smartphones, but you might notice one or two inconsistencies (the HTC One doesn’t have a multi-tasking button, for starters).

Stock Android has much going for it, but the trend of slapping the vanilla OS on any smartphone isn’t without its problems. You’re also more likely to pay a premium for devices sporting stock Android, though LG’s competitive pricing on the Nexus 4 is an exception to that rule. Whichever version of Android you find yourself leaning towards, having the choice can only be good for buyers.

Chromebook Pixel Review Roundup: Google Goes Premium

google-chromebook-pixel

Slowly but surely, Google’s Chrome OS is gaining ground. Chromebooks – cheap, lightweight laptops featuring nothing but the Chrome Web browser – are beginning to sell in significant numbers, and within the last 12 months we’ve seen new models from HP, Lenovo, Acer and Samsung.

The Pixel is Google’s attempt to make its own flagship model (like the phone/tablet Nexus lines) – it is far more powerful, and far more expensive, than any Chromebook to date. The laptop boasts a stellar 2,560 x 1,700 display that supports touch; it’s powered by an i5 processor and includes 4GB of RAM; and you get 1TB of Google Drive storage for free for three years to augment the 32GB of local storage.

Despite these impressive statistics, the Pixel still runs Google Chrome OS and nothing more, just like the Chromebooks that cost a fraction of its price. Should you be spending over £1,000 on a Web-only laptop? We’ve rounded up some of the best first-look reviews appearing online.

The Telegraph: “It’s not the computer for right now. It’s the computer for what’s next.”

I really, really wanted to love it. But even London can’t quite offer the ubiquitous connectivity it needs, and Google’s apps don’t fill in the gaps where they need to at this price. You can do more in the cloud and via the Chrome Web Store than you think, but you can’t yet do everything.

Gizmodo: “It does what it was designed to do really, really well.”

The OS itself may be seen as restrictive — standalone programs are a no go — but for those of us that use our laptops primarily as online terminals rather than traditional desktops, these limitations are hardly noticeable.

The Verge: “You had best be as dedicated to cloud computing as Google is before you lay your money down.”

Google’s all-new Chromebook Pixel isn’t something we entirely expected, but it was something that Google absolutely needed to do: try to create a top-tier laptop that could conceivably become somebody’s main machine. We can’t say that Chrome OS is totally ready for that challenge yet, but the Pixel itself feels as premium as any laptop on the market today. It’s a solid, rectangular machine in a gunmetal gray metal shell, with an even thickness from the back to the front of the device.

Engadget: “The machine’s real star is its 12-inch, 3:2 display.”

Still, everything we did was comfortable, eye-catching and rather quick, thanks, no doubt, to the Pixel’s Intel Core-i5 processer. First impressions? Very solid, and possibly the finest Chromebook yet.

T3: “Gone is the budget laptop to be replaced by a power-lappy with a premium feel.”

One of the main changes to the Chromebook is that it’s now fully touchscreen. Whether you’re browsing the web or flicking through your pics you have full control through the screen. We imagine that it will take a while to get used to and we didn’t find ourselves naturally using it during our quick test but a long term test could prove otherwise.

Google I/O Round-Up

With Google I/O developers now finished we take a look back at Google’s two big announcements: the world’s first ever Nexus 7 tablet and the latest version of Android’s Jelly Bean operating system.

Google made its intention to conquer the tablet market when it released a tablet-friendly version of Android Honeycomb in 2010 – its had some success with 10 million Honeycomb tablets sold since it’s release.

Nexus-7

But, during the same time Apple sold 30 million tablets – so Google has taken stock and is now seemingly changing tack and going after the both the budget and premium markets. Google’s showed off Nexus 7 tablet, which has been built in conjunction with Asus, and will be priced at just £159 for the base model – slap-bang in the middle of the Amazon’s Kindle Fire price range.

But what do you actually get for you hard earned? The tablet comes with an impressive IPS screen, boasting a resolution of 1280 x 800 – punching well above its weight for its price range.

While some might bemoan the size of the screen, it does achieve a ppi (pixels per inch) ratio of 216, which is impressive considering the cheap price.

Where the Nexus 7 does hit the headlines is Google & Asus’ decision to incorporate Nvidia’s quad-core processor, the Tegra 3, which is currently found in both the top-end HTC One X and Asus Transformer Prime.

You can expect to get 8 hours of active use with the tablet, and Asus reckon you’ll get up to 300 hours on standby. The Asus Nexus 7 tablet is very compact for its size, measuring just 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm. On top of that it weighs in at just 340g, around half that of the new iPad.

There’s a 1.3 megapixel camera on the front, but no camera on the back – although this isn’t that surprising considering the low price point.

Where things begin to fall apart is expansion and connections; there’s no HDMI or SD card slot – but you’re afforded the luxury of a micro USB – unfortunately there’s no 3G but there is of course Wi-Fi b/g/n.

Google is already taking orders on their Google Play Store, and it will begin shipping to the US, UK, Canada and Australia in July, priced £159 for the 8GB and £199 for the 16GB version.

Overall the Nexus 7 blows the competition out of the water for its price point. As well a getting a stunning tablet for a third of the price of an iPad – you’ll be getting the first device running Google Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.

Google has gone to great lengths with Jelly Bean to make sure there’s no lag when opening up applications, especially when switching between apps – those of you who own an Ice Cream sandwich handset will know the multi-tasking menu sometimes takes a couple of seconds to load, with Jelly Bean it’s now instant.

Perhaps the biggest change in Android Jelly Bean lies in the notifications drop down menu. Google has overhauled the existing Android notification system and made it even more useful. You can now see additional information on emails, including a list of your unread messages. By holding two fingers over an email and pulling them apart, you can get an expanded view, showing the contents of the message without even having to open up Gmail.

Google Now is another major addition; it’s Google’s attempt at creating a Siri-like concierge service, but with intelligence to surf the web for it’s answers.

As soon as Google Now opens, it tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. And the best part? All of this happens automatically; cards appear throughout the day at the moment you need them from a variety of context and location sources.

It’s still too early to say quite how good Android Jelly Bean is, this is because by the time it goes to other handsets with new skins and slight cosmetic changes it might have lost a bit of its sheen, but from our early impression it’s the best OS Google has ever made.

Samsung and Google team up to launch the Galaxy Nexus

The ever-competitive Smartphone market has just entered new territory with the immediate release of the Galaxy Nexus. The Nexus is the world’s first Smartphone to run Ice Cream Sandwich, the rather amusing name for the Android 4.0 operating platform.

Galaxy-Nexus

With power in mind, Samsung have given the Nexus a 4.65″ HD display using AMOLED technology. This gives a crisp resolution of 720p, making it one of the most vibrant displays on the market.
With a 1.2 GHz dual processor at its heart, the Nexus is well placed to shake up the market and take vital sales away from its competitors.

So how does the phone compare with its other competitors on the market? Well the raw spec can be found below, although when compared to its nearest rival, the Samsung Galaxy S2 (which represents great value for money whilst packing a punch) we will opt for its older cousin for now…

Processor: 1.2 GHz Dual Core Processor
Display: 4.65” 1280X720 HD Super AMOLED
OS: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich
Camera: Main(Rear) : 5 MP AF with LED Flash, Sub (Front) : 1.3MP for Video Call
Video: Playback / Recording 1080p
Google Mobile Services: Android Market, Gmail, Google Earth, YouTube, Movie Studio, Google 3D Maps, Google Calendar, Google + app
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 (2.4 GHz), NFC
Sensor: Accelerometer, Compass, Gyro, Light, Proximity, Barometer
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB/ 32GB Internal memory
Size: 135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94mm, 135g

As you can see, the power is certainly there and it ticks every box for a Smartphone, along with the fact that it comes complete with Ice Cream Sandwich to tempt you. However, we think the real competition will come when Samsung release their Galaxy S3 phone, which you can almost guarantee it inevitably will.
For more information, please visit www.samsung.com

Chrome OS preview

So what is Chrome OS? Not to be confused with Google’s browser of the same name, it’s a Linux-based operating system, which has been designed to work with web applications. It won’t be available to download, but will only be shipped on certain hardware from Google’s manufacturer partners.

Chrome-OS

Since it was announced last year, the techie world has been anticipating the launch of the first laptop – but we won’t be seeing that until next year now. Instead a lucky few (developers, early adopters and users who are used to using beta software) will be trying the OS out in a pilot programme that Google says was aimed at people who “live on the web”.

What makes Chrome different to the likes of Apple’s OS and Windows is that it is aimed at those who spend most of their time on the web. “We think cloud computing will define computing as we know it,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive officer. “Finally there is a viable third choice for an operating system.”
Google’s Sundar Pichai said the software is not yet ready because there are unfinished features (Google Cloud Print, for instance, is not stable enough yet) and bugs that have to be ironed out.

Consumer devices are due from Samsung and Acer in 2011. They will be powered by Intel chips but no prices have been announced as yet.
Here’s a list of some of the browser-based operating system’s unique features:

* Cloud-based printing using Google Cloud Print
* Fast startup/boot time (less than 60 second the first time you fire it up)
* Profile sharing: A Chrome OS computer can be shared with others and accessed on other Chrome OS devices via guest profiles.
* 3G access: All Chrome devices will ship with 3G. The 3G is powered by Verizon and there will be no fees
* More security: Chrome OS will use OS-level sandboxing and data encryption. It can also detect malicious code and get rid of the bad code.

All very exciting stuff, however, Paul Buchheit, who developed Gmail and sold his own FriendFeed to Facebook, reckons that Chrome OS will die, or be gobbled up by Android. In a tweet he said: ‘Prediction: ChromeOS will be killed next year (or “merged” with Android)’.

Nexus S: Google and Gingerbread – just in time for Christmas

While mobile phone reviewers are still pleasantly surprised when they encounter a phone that incorporates Android’s 2.2 version, the Google Nexus S is taking things to the next level, offering Android 2.3.

‘Gingerbread’ as it is called, is not the only new thing on the phone – it also boasts new hardware, NFC. NFC you ask? It stands for Near Field Communications apparently, It’s a short-range wireless technology already used in Japan and lets you use your phone as a travel ticket, to make small payments and scan over adverts to get more information about a product. You could, for example, scan a film poster and view a trailer for the movie on your phone. Nifty. You can expect to see it filtering on to the likes of BlackBerry and Nokia handsets next year.

Google-Nexus-S

The Nexus S is Google’s second foray into the mobile phone market – its first failed to set the world alight, and as Google has chosen to distribute solely through Carphone Warehouse, which doesn’t have a huge slice of the market, we wonder if history is to repeat itself.

However, maybe customers will be lured by what its makers claim is the world’s first 4in curved touchscreen display, as well as front and rear facing camera. It has been built with the help of Samsung and is part of the Galaxy S range of phones.

Gingerbread is likely to appear on most Android phones in the next few weeks and months, so if you don’t want to splash out the just-under 550 quid, you might just wait for Gingerbread to hit other Android devices.

In the UK, the Nexus S will be free on £35 per month contracts or unlocked for £549. It is likely to be available after December 20, but pre-orders are being taken now.

Zeal Optics GPS Goggles: A James Bond gadget for the slopes

If you’re heading to the slopes this winter, the Zeal Optics GPS Goggles are the latest must-have accessory.

Now you can head down the black run and – just like something out of a James Bond movie – in front of your eyes will appear all the data about just how fast you’re really going, how far you’ve travelled, and indeed, where you are.

Zeal-Optics

The trick is in the goggles’ micro LCD screen, which looks as if it is hanging six feet in front of you while you’re moving and gives real-time feedback on your latitude/longitude, altitude and so on.

The goggles also have a chrono/stopwatch mode, so you can time yourself, a run-counter and a temperature monitor, in case your nose isn’t giving you the full information.

Of course, the goggles offer more practical features – they auto adjust to lighting levels, can reduce 99% of glare and have an anti-fog lens.

And the good news for anyone who doesn’t want to risk frostbite (and who does?) is that the buttons are big enough to use with your gloves on, so you can navigate through full-colour dashboard and screens.

The prize for all this hi-tech wonderfulness? £449.99 from Firebox.com from November 11.