When we reviewed Google and Asus’ Nexus 7 tablet last summer, we called it a “fantastic $200 tablet.” That assessment still holds true today, but in the year since it was introduced, the 7-to-8-inch tablet space has gotten much more crowded. New Kindle Fires, the iPad mini, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0 are just a few of the high-profile devices that have risen to challenge the Nexus 7 in the last 12 months.
Google’s tablet is still a good value for the dollar, but we’re coming up on this year’s Google I/O conference, and the rumor mill suggests that the company will take the wraps off of a follow-up at its opening-day keynote. After a year of living with the first Nexus tablet, this is what we think should be introduced in its follow-up to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
The same low price
One of the things that made the Nexus 7 (and Nexus hardware in general) so easy to recommend was its $200 starting price, and it’s still one of the most compelling reasons to give the Nexus 7 a try. The iPad mini has a better tablet app ecosystem, but it starts at a higher $329, and the Kindle Fires start at $159 (for the low-res version) and $199 (for the HD version) but have much more limited software.
We wouldn’t be averse to a small price bump on the Nexus 7, especially if it meant that some of our other wishes could come true, but if Google and its partner can stick to something in the $200 to $249 price range, it will become that much easier to forgive shortcomings.
A need for speed
The most obvious improvement that we want from a new Nexus 7 is speed. Phone and tablet chipsare still seeing sizable performance increases from year to year, and both the Cortex A9-based CPU and the custom GPU in Nvidia’s Tegra 3 are starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. It’s a serious step down from the faster chips that come in both the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 10, at any rate.
Current rumors suggest that the new tablet will use one of Qualcomm’s chips, and though we don’t know the specific SoC, Qualcomm has many suitably speedy parts in its portfolio. Whatever’s on the inside, it seems like a sure bet that the new Nexus 7 will leave the old one in the dust.
An improved screen
The current Nexus 7’s screen is actually still pretty good—at 1280×800 and 216 ppi, it’s sharper than the iPad mini (which has both a larger screen and a lower resolution) and the Note 8.0 (which has the same resolution in a larger screen). However, it still doesn’t approach the 300+ ppi of the full-sized iPads or the Nexus 10, to say nothing of the 400+ ppi in this most recent crop of 1080p Android phones.
Are a 1080p screen and $200 price point compatible? Given how common the resolution is becoming in the latest crop of high-end Android phones, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to hope the answer is yes. If Google could work with its partner to reduce the size of the tablet’s bezels to increase the size of the screen without increasing the tablet’s overall size, so much the better.
Ars Associate Writer Casey Johnston would also like to see the shape of the screen change a bit. “I'd like a boxier aspect ratio, something closer to 4:3,” she said. “I just don't like 16:10 when the screen is so small.”
More noticeable notifications
There are a few simple features that are standard in the Nexus 4, Nexus 10, and many other phones and tablets that didn’t make it into the Nexus 7, possibly to reduce the price of the tablet—a notification light and a vibration motor. Both of these features give your phone or tablet a way to get your attention that doesn’t require you to actually grab the device and check the notification center (the vibrator motor also enables haptic feedback that vibrates the tablet slightly as you type, a feature I personally enjoy on other devices).
Neither accessory is essential to the operation of the tablet (and it may be that you turn off your notification lights and vibrations anyway), but in a follow-up, we’d like for Google and its lucky partner to work this stuff in, if only to bring some more consistency to the Nexus lineup.
A rear-facing camera
The current Nexus 7 only has a (low-quality) front-facing camera, and it includes no rear-facing camera at all. I’m often the first person to decry those who use their tablets to take photos, but that doesn’t mean that one wouldn’t occasionally be convenient.
“I know it feels more than a little conspicuous to be waving a tablet around to take pictures of something,” said Johnston, “but sometimes your cat is doing something cute in your lap and you can't reach your phone.”
Speakers you’d actually want to hear
It’s just about physically impossible to integrate good speakers into anything as small as a phone or tablet, but even so, it wouldn’t be hard to one-up the Nexus 7’s single, quiet, rear-facing speaker. The iPad mini includes a pair of speakers, and while the quality isn’t great, I can say from personal experience that it’s perfectly suitable for filling a small room with some background music. We like to hold the Nexus 7. We like to look at the Nexus 7. If we could like listening to it, so much the better.
Mobile broadband and more storage at launch
When Google launched the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 in November, the company also spruced up the Nexus 7: the $199 8GB model was tossed out in favor of a $199 16GB model, a higher-capacity 32GB model was added for $249, and $299 would get you a 32GB model with 3G connectivity.
That was all well and good, but these are all options we’d like to see introduced at launch, when the early adopters (the most vocal advocates for any ecosystem) can benefit from them. The 8GB of flash in the original entry-level Nexus 7 also had another adverse effect beyond its small size—the small amount of NAND also had a major impact on the tablet’s performance, as we outlined in our report about the updated Nexus 7.
That’s what we’d like to see in the next Nexus, but is there anything we missed? Let us know what you think, and if we can get enough input we’ll publish a follow-up article with your opinions next week before Google I/O gets going.