Details of Google’s Nexus Tablet start appearing

Although not officially announced yet, some details of an anticipated Google(s goog) Nexus Tablet are surfacing online. Rightware, a benchmarking site, has records of what appear to be an Asus-built slate running Android 4.1(s goog) on Nvidia’s(s nvda) Tegra 3 processor. Server logs from various websites — including ours, which shows 92 recent hits from Android 4.1 devices in California where Google is based — show that such a device currently is being tested through web browsing. So what do we know about the Nexus Tablet?

Manufacturer and chip

The Asus-Nvidia aspects shouldn’t be a total surprise. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Asus showed off a 7-inch, $249 Android tablet powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip. To date, the company hasn’t launched the device and there were reports that Google was interested in it for a Nexus product. That makes sense as Google doesn’t have to start from scratch for a low-cost, small slate. The Tegra 3 should be more than capable for a 7-inch Android tablet; it currently powers the Asus Transformer Prime admirably. Short of Samsung, Asus may be the top seller Android tablets, particularly if you rule out the Kindle Fire(s amzn) and Nook Tablet(s bks), which hide Android under heavily customized interfaces. Simply put, Asus is a strong partner for Google to debut its first Nexus Tablet.

Screen resolution

Benchmark tests show the device name to be “Nexus 7”, indicating a 7-inch screen size, along with a resolution of 1280 x 768. Again, that’s a reasonable specification for a low-priced slate. The higher the resolution, the more costly the screen component would be. I wouldn’t expect a Nexus Tablet with higher resolution, at least not at a $249 or less price tag. Android 4.0 and supporting apps run perfectly fine on 1280 x 768 based in my experience.

My Galaxy Nexus uses 1280 x 720 while my Galaxy Tab 7.7 display is 1280 x 800. Based on our own server logs, there’s an outside chance the tablet will use the latter resolution. Either that, or someone is testing 1280 x 800 Android 4.1 smartphones on our site; perhaps the next Nexus handsets from hardware partners that Google will sell directly.

Which dessert is being served and who’s helping?

Google names its Android versions after tasty treats, but it appears that Android 4.1 isn’t Ice Cream Sandwich. Instead, it will be Jelly Bean, which Google is likely to show off next month at its Google I/O developer event.

Aside from further optimizations, I’d expect Google’s Chrome browser to become the default app for using the web and it’s possible that Google brings a true competitor to Apple’s Siri voice assistant, reportedly named “Majel,” says AndroidAndMe. Indeed, Google bought CleverSense, an artificial intelligence recommendation service, in December, which could boost Google’s Voice Search capability into a full-blown virtual assistant.

What we don’t know

Obviously there are more details missing, but we can make some fairly safe assumptions about the potential device. First, is the price: It won’t be greater than $249; I suspect Google will aim for $199 if it’s possible. A low price would mean some other limitations as well: Look for storage capacity to be either 8 or 16 GB. I suspect the former as the device will very likely have a microSD card slot in addition to an integrated Google Drive experience. Web connectivity will be limited to Wi-Fi as both price and the lack of carrier involvement would preclude 3G or 4G data. This will add a benefit in the form of future software upgrades as Google can push them directly to the tablet.

I do expect a pair of cameras on the slate, but the sensors won’t be impressive. Google could do away with a front-facing camera, but I’d think that would be the the more important of the two on a Nexus-branded device as it would be needed for Google Talk video chat. I anticipate Google selling a cable accessory to connect the slate to a high-def television. There’s an outside chance of a wireless solution to pipe content to a Google TV, but the company hasn’t had much success with its living room product, so that’s a long shot.

Can Google and its partners mount a tablet comeback?

If even half of what we know or think about the Nexus Tablet is correct, Google, Asus and Nvidia all stand to gain much. Android tablets simply aren’t seeing the same success that Android phone have; partially because Google was late to the tablet game and its first effort, Honeycomb, was rushed and incomplete. As a result, tablet makers have been reluctant to get Android 4.0 tablets to the market. A Nexus Tablet can help change the landscape, but I think Google will have to do more than sell the slates directly on the web. It will need retail partners so consumers get some hands-on time with the tablet. Asus has those retail relationships.

Nvidia could come out a winner as well: The company is losing chip sales to Qualcomm(s qcom) because of its difficulties integrating Tegra with its competitors’ LTE chips. The company is working on this and just last week announced successful LTE testing with AT&T(s t), but in the meantime, a Nexus Tablet can help boost sales.