First off, physically, the 2012 and 2013 model could not be any more different from each other in spite of both being made by Asus. Dimension wise, the 2013 model is narrower, thinner, and lighter. It also possesses much more capabilities, but more on that in a second. The first thing I really noticed about the tablet is its thinness and build quality. The 2012 model wasn’t by any means neither cheap nor bulky, but the newer model is as thin as any modern high end smartphone. It also eschews the dimpled textured material on the back for a more matte finish. Overall, the build quality is very solid
On the front you have your front facing camera, light sensor, and new to this model, LED notification light. The bottom contains the charging port which is also a SlimPort giving this tablet the capability of hooking up to televisions, something the former severely lacked. The right side contains the power button, volume rocker, and microphone. On top you have your standard headphone jack. The left is barren and the back contains the Nexus logo etched into the case with a 5 MP rear camera and stereo speakers at the top and bottom respectively.
On initial glance, the tablet already has considerable bonuses compared to its predecessor. However, the most obvious noticeable thing is its 1920 x 1200 resolution IPS screen with Gorilla Glass. With a pixel density of 323, it was a first for a tablet at seven inches to have such a high-end screen and is crystal clear. Color reproduction is very accurate and brightness caps out at 583 nits compared to the meager 350 of the 2012 model. Although blacks are a bit truer on the 2012 model, its successor manages better contrast. Overall, it adds up to likely the best screen on any seven-inch tablet, perhaps even any tablet.
Internally, the 2013 model is a major step up from the 2012 model. It replaces the buggy, often neglected Tegra 3 processor at 1.3 GHz for a Snapdragon S4 Pro at 1.5 Ghz. This is a bit of a misnomer to be honest. The processor in the 2013 model runs Krait 300 cores with DDR3L RAM running at 1600 MHz. It’s more accurate to say that the processor is actually an underclocked S600, which most of the internet seems to agree on. This is obviously not to undervalue the chipset considering the massively low cost nature of the tablet.
Still, with 2 GB of RAM with 12.8 GB of memory bandwidth compared to the 1 GB and 5.34 GB of bandwidth on the 2012 model, the processor shows immediate performance improvement over the previous generation. This is even with the much denser screen, which is driven by the quad core Adreno 320 that absolutely tears through just about any game you can throw at it.
Outside of the immediate improvement in processing power, the 2013 model comes with several other benefits like built-in wireless Qi charging, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE support for certain models, GLONASS, and Miracast. Save for the seldom used POGO pins on the 2012 model, everything from the former returns such as smart cover support, NFC, GPS, etc.
Diving right in, I rooted my tablet as usual and jumped from the stock 4.3 to the latest version of my choice custom ROM on 4.4.2. Everything from opening apps, playing games, and general UI animations were buttery smooth. There was no lag in the tablet whatsoever owing to the doubled amount of RAM here.
Since it is a new addition, I feel I should comment on the camera a little. First off, don’t go into this thinking you’re going to take professional style photos. You’re barely going to get smartphone quality photos. Using the rear camera in sunlight gains relatively decent photos, but there is some distinct graininess to the edges and some noise.
|Outdoor shot with the rear facing camera.|
The front facing camera at 1.2 MP surprisingly fares better than expected. Colors were actually very vibrant with it, but sharpness and noise were at appropriate levels for a camera of its low resolution.
|Outdoor shot with front facing camera. (Ignore the hideous face I'm making, it was too bright for me)|
Finally, there is no flash on the rear camera like my son’s Hisense tablet had or any OIS here. So low light photos on the rear turned out about as good as you could expect. They were washed out in colors and filled with noise, but passable for a simple share on Facebook. I personally have not tested videos on the tablet, but one can assume they will turn out with similar results.
|Indoor shot with rear facing camera (Pictured: Captain America bear fighting for Truth, Justice, and Photoshoots.)|
On the custom side of things, my tablet personally proved strong. I was able to load a custom kernel and push the CPU as high as 2.2 GHz, the same my Nexus 5 runs at. I pushed the GPU from 400 MHz to 513 MHz with no problems. The custom ROMs have come a long way and I even have multi-window support (albeit with some occasional problems), theme support, and a several other benefits. I found the sound from the headphone jack a little on the low side, but with my custom kernel I was able to boost it to get much richer sound from my headphones.
In the battery department, the 2013 model has been reduced from a 4,325 mAh to 3,950 mAh. However, significant improvements in the processor and Android operating system have resulted in equal or better battery life. I left my tablet on with no actions at 94 percent one night to return later in the next and had only 3 percent. Its claims of equal battery life compared to its predecessor are likely true.
Finally, with a cost of $229 for the 16 GB model, $279 for the 32 GB model, and $349 for the 32 GB LTE model, the 2013 version of the Nexus 7 comes in at a higher cost. However, I think with the massive improvements from the processor to the screen to additional capabilities that the Nexus 7 (2013) is very worth it. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s possibly the best value to spec tablet on the market period. Even though it is ten months old now, there’s really nothing you can get close to it for an equivalent price. I managed to get mine for $30 off, making it $249, the same price I paid as the previous model and it has been worth every penny. If I had one gripe about the tablet, besides the lackluster camera, I only wished the stereo speakers were front facing. Other than that, it is hard to closer to perfection than this.
The Good: Significant step up from last year, excellent screen, great performance, good build quality, loads of new hardware features, very low cost for specs.
The Bad: Mediocre camera, speakers could have been front facing.
Final Grade: A