Initial Nexus 7 (2013 edition) Impressions

After my first Nexus 7 (2012 edition) died, I have been waiting for the new (2013) version to arrive. It was announced a few days ago, and I lucked out and found a retailer willing to sell me one before the 'official' release date. What follows are my initial thoughts after working with the device.

First, I am coming to the 2013 Nexus 7 as someone who bought the 2012 model almost immediately and was initially skeptical of the form factor. It was the 8 Gig model as I only needed it for development and testing and didn't need additional storage for games/media/etc. Up until the accident, I was quite satisfied with it. While others reported issues with the device over time, I experienced none of the problems I read about. The worst thing I could say about it was that yes, the flash memory wasn't the fastest, and that writing large amounts of data could get a bit tedious. But the performance remained relatively constant for me since the first day of use. Other than the flash memory performance it was a quite capable device that experienced heavy daily use for almost a year and I had no complaints. However, with a shattered screen that no longer responded to touch input, it is now of limited utility. What the 2012 model sold me on was the 7" form factor which I now needed a replacement for as I expect many users of my apps will have... enter the 2013 model.

After unboxing the 16 Gig 2013 model, the first thing that stood out was the taller, narrower (in portrait mode) form factor. Where the old model could be comfortably held in one hand via a pinch of the thumb and palm on either side bezel in portrait mode, this new model is designed for one-handed cradling similar to how you hold your smartphone. In landscape mode, it still has wide bezels for use via one or two-handed thumb to palm pinching. The device depth is a bit thinner (by 2 mm), and a bit lighter (by 50g) both of which are nice improvements. I was very happy to see that the N7 continues to use the rubberized back which I quite enjoyed from the 2012 model. While I do miss the dimpled texture, I'll adjust.

There are two main areas of improvement that you will notice almost immediately: the improved display and sound. The display seems a tad bit brighter but the real story is the resolution improvement from ~200 to ~300 DPI. It is quite noticeable especially for text. Sound is similarly improved apparently both from the use of Fraunhofer Cingo technology as well as improved placement of stereo speakers (particularly when the device is placed on a hard surface likely due to the 'more' side-firing stereo speakers)

As far as other 'visible' hardware features: the back-facing 5 megapixel camera is a plus (note: there is no LED flash) and the front-facing LED indicator (similar to what is found on many Nexus phone models) is a big plus. My feeling is that once you've had a device with an LED indicator, you never want to go back to one without one. Wish list for next year's model: haptic feedback and an LED flash. Given the trade-offs that likely had to be made to both provide the included features and not significantly increase the price point, these missing features are understandable.

There are other hardware improvements that aren't quite so visible but you will feel their effect: the faster S4 Pro CPU/Adreno GPU and 2 Gig of RAM. I found both to be welcome improvements that provided the same zippy and fluid response I've experienced on the Nexus 4.

As far as the Jelly Bean 4.3 update, my main interest was in the drawing performance improvements which did not fail to impress: initial testing with an app I am currently working on showed significant frame rate improvements from ~5-40%. These performance improvements did not require any code changes to obtain. While 4.1 and 4.2 both provided significant drawing improvements without code changes, I had expected 4.3 to require at least some sort of manifest flag given the significance of the changes in 4.3 as was necessary in 3.x/4.0. It's nice to see the 'modern' drawing frameworks mature.

To summarize, the 2013 Nexus 7 improves an already good device. This new model provides significant incremental improvements but is not radically different. If you have the 2012 model and it's working for you... be happy and don't feel the need to upgrade. Otherwise, take a serious look at this new version.

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