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Nexus 7 first look: It’s here to snuff Kindle’s Fire

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Being East Coast–based, I wasn’t able to attend this year’s Google I/O event(s goog), but our team was on-site to cover all the news. And there was no lack of it, either: I’m still processing the many moving parts that make up Google’s mobile strategy. While I ponder, Google sent me a few review units of the new devices, and the Nexus 7 tablet was the first I looked at. Make no mistake, this tablet is aimed squarely at low-cost consumption slates, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire(s amzn) and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet(s bks).

That may sound obvious based on the price: Google is selling the Nexus 7 in an 8 GB model for $199, while $50 doubles the capacity. However, if you had any doubts on the audience Google is targeting with the Nexus 7, they will disappear as soon you turn on the device for the first time.

A consumption-focused first impression

When I heard Google was going to use six dock icons on the Nexus instead of the traditional four, I wondered why. It makes sense now and not just because there’s room for six icons plus the Apps launcher button: Every one of the six is a shortcut to Google services, and five of the six are media items. You can move these around or replace them.

The leftmost icon is actually a folder of Google’s nonmedia apps: Chrome, Maps, Talk, Gmail and so on. After that, you’ll see, in this order: Books, Magazines, Movies, Music, Play Store. If you have used a Kindle Fire before, you’ll note the similarities, although Amazon accomplishes this with tabs on the main user interface. But there’s more.

Nexus 7 has five home screens, and guess what takes up the entire main screen? A widget called My Library. The widget automatically surfaces media content you have purchased or rented from the Google Play store. Like all widgets, you can move it, delete it or resize it, but it makes an interesting first impression. I recently rented but haven’t watched Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and it’s now a tap away. The device came preloaded with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and it’s there too in the widget.

I hit the Google Music icon, and all the albums I previously uploaded to my music storage locker already showed; there was no setup involved, because the device and your media accounts are linked by a synced Google account. I streamed some of Christina Perri’s lovestrong album, and the widget now shows the album cover so I can quickly go back to her music later. Again I’m reminded of the Kindle Fire. When you consume media on the device, a shortcut to it is added to the main bookshelf user interface for a fast return.

It’s a consumer tablet that will appeal to the geeks too

Of course, unlike the other small, inexpensive slates on the market, Google’s Nexus 7 is a full Android tablet right out of the box. There’s no hacking to be done here if you want access to apps in the market or to install the apps you want. I’m guessing we will shortly see custom ROM software for the Nexus 7 to improve the experience for the Android geeks like me. So with its $199 slate, Google is easily able to cater to both audiences: those who want a simple, easy-to-use consumption device with occasional tablet use and those who want a complete Android tablet experience.

I already like what I see here in the review unit, and I’m likely to get my own device; I preordered but can always cancel. But I’ll have a full review after using the device for a few days while on vacation next week. And I’ll be sure to hand it over to my wife, who uses a Kindle Fire every day. I would suggest that Amazon and Barnes & Noble be worried, but Google still has work to do on the media-store front.

10 Responses to “Nexus 7 first look: It’s here to snuff Kindle’s Fire”

  1. Mike Meyer

    Being sold essentially at cost, this device is solely a loss-leader to stimulate sales on the Google Play market. However, by driving down the price expectation on a good 7″ tablet, it clotheslines just about everyone else in the Android tablet market, which I think could hurt the platform in the long run. The announcements at Google I/O this year indicate that Google sees the importance of having a unified phone-tablet-settop-media ecosystem to compete more effectively with Apple and Amazon. (B&N really isn’t a factor here)

    • Travis Henning

      This is a really good point. If the Nexus 7 is selling at cost, other manufacturers won’t be willing to compete. Google has started down the road of becoming the primary source of hardware. Hope their customer support/service is up for it.

      • Agreed, but other manufacturers can take advantage of the low cost Nvidia platform as well, so I’m not counting them out of this market. Plus, they have retail store presence that Google doesn’t yet have.

      • Travis Henning

        Kevin, you’re right, but other manuf. will need to build in profit and the reseller’s markup. This will add at least $50 to the price. The large concern though would be Google’s history of providing end user support for non-technical users. Haven’t heard much of this recently so maybe it’s improved.

    • Good point, but from a wider perspective I don’t see it as that much of a problem for other manufacturers. I doubt Google has the marketing and retail presence to make this a truly big hit, and I doubt they intend to. I see it as a halo product, just like the rest of the Nexus line – it doesn’t NEED to sell millions, it needs to show everyone the direction that Google wants the platform to go. I’d say a secondary goal is to appease developers and geeks who actually care about getting a pure Android experience, but let’s face it – we don’t even make a dent in the big scheme of things.

  2. marbo100

    I’m wondering why everyone is saying that the home screen doesn’t have a landscape mode. Is there a rotation lock that is toggled on by default? While I may use my 7″ tablet in portrait mode when I’m holding it, I usually set it on it’s stand in landscape mode and would find it awkward to use sideways.

  3. Jeremiah Owen

    I pre-ordered too, and depending on the time of day I waffle back and forth on whether to cancel….. Love my iPad, have a Playbook floating around, will the experience really be any different? Vs. Playbook yeah probably but not sure where it fits into my use case….

  4. Jack C

    Looking forward to more on this. Am particularly curious to know if the 16gb is enough and/or whether or not a thumb drive (or similar) will work for extra storage when an internet connection isn’t available (like when I’ll be at our cabin in August).

    The elephant-in-the-room sized question at the heart of all of this is, what is the sweet spot, in terms of price and performance, for the future tablet customers?

  5. No help needed to snuff Kindle Fire. As long as the core Google apps are not available through Amazon’s Appstore, and Fire can’t reach Google Play, the whole product line will remain a partial product.

    How long before Amazon capitulates on their forked (read: neutered) version of Android?