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Google’s new Nexus tablet review: 7 tons of fun

The new Google Nexus 7 tablet surprised me much more than I thought it would. I’ve played with Android tablets before and even own an iPad, but I have never spent much time with one of the seven inch models. As soon as you take the 7 out of the box, plug it in and turn it on you’re in familiar territory. At the same time, the feel and responsiveness of the device is a bit shocking.

There is a nice rubberized backing that made me immediately wish more phones and tablets came coated with the same material. I can’t tell you how many time I have set my phone or tablet down only to discover that some miniscule grain of something had scratched the surface. I can safely set the 7 down anywhere without worrying about scratches. That rubber backing also makes the item feel sturdier and easier to hold. Granted, it can be slightly awkward to hold it with one hand while typing with the other because your thumb might reach out and press something on the screen, but it’s a minor worry.

After a while I was running the same apps from my Android phone, thanks to Google’s wonderful syncing. That can also be a slight problem if you had a lot of apps you would rather forget, but even with only the eight gig model I still had room left for games. Some of the default apps can be a little less than perfect, such as the calendar. I ended up going with Business Calendar Pro, a fantastic and customizable app. The greatest part about my initial purchases on the 7? They came out of an bundled 25 dollar Play store credit. So far I’ve bought a few games and apps and still have some left for later.

So, how’s the hardware? Does the Quad-core Tegra 3 processor really make a difference? Well, I can only compare this experience to other 10 inch tablets, the iPad and my Android phones, but so far this little thing flies. Not only can I open and close games and apps with a snap, but it just keeps taking whatever I throw at it. I bought the new Mass Effect Infiltrator game (review coming soon) and was blown away by the graphics. Unfortunately during a storm of attempted screenshots, the game locked up on me. I thought I was doomed to restart the device to start over. Instead I was able to switch to other apps, including my browser, and forgot about the game. Later on the game just ended and I started it again. Did the game fix itself, like magic? It sure felt that way. There are some slight control issues with Infiltrator. The game offers an auto-target feature that helps make shooting easier, but you have to touch the specific enemy you want to fire upon. It can be a bit of a pain to stretch out your thumb to do that, but moving the camera to a better angle helps.

Other games, like Amazing Alex, feel perfect on the smaller screen. It would be more accurate to describe the screen as small when compared to larger devices, but the 1280 x 800 screen makes everything feel much larger. The bright colors make a game like Amazing Alex shine, and the physics puzzles are a blast to play with. I killed 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to shoot a dart at a balloon while catching all of the available stars. Again I was able to multitask by checking incoming email and Twitter messages, returning to the game after. No hiccups, ever.

Sleepy Jack is a neat little racing game — sort of like Sonic the Hedgehog on acid — that again seemed perfectly fit for the 7. Your job in the game is to race through outer space, capturing “Zs” for the sleeping hero Jack. It’s fantastically intuitive, especially when you switch to the accelerometer control scheme. Tilting is sensitive but tuned just right. I rarely had any issues with turning and steering my little space kid through hoops, blasting enemies or dodging objects. The responsiveness was flawless. Sleepy Jack is sort of mesmerizing and pulls you in with its easy charm and, well, bright colors. Hypnosis might be involved.

There are more games than I possibly have time to cover in one review of a single device. It’s easy to say that I pushed this little tablet really hard, maintaining email, Twitter and games all at the same time while switching between them. I rarely noticed anything more than a quiver or pause. While it would have probably been much too uncomfortable to write 1,000 words on it, I actually enjoyed filling out emails, Google Plus updates and Tweets while holding it in portrait mode. That silly thumb of mine did occasionally get in the way, but overall I actually enjoyed living my digital life on a smaller device like the 7. I often found myself sitting in front of my work PC while doing all of those desktop tasks on the 7. It’s just fun to do.

The lower price tag of $199.99 for the 8 gig model means you are skimping on some of the other bells and whistles other tablets can claim. Will you miss having two cameras? I doubt it. Your Android phone is still a better camera option, if only for the comfortable size. Some have complained about the lack of always-on connectivity through cellular networks. Look at it this way: you could buy three of these devices for your family for the price of one higher-end iPad and use your Android phone as a hotspot if you need one. Occasionally you might see an issue with the WiFi connection. Despite my fantastic internet, the tablet would sometimes dip down to fewer bars than maximum. It always passed quickly though, so it’s possible that my goofy hands were somehow blocking the signal.

For social living and even writing blog posts, the 7 is perfect. If you need to write a novel, stay with your desktop. Gaming is obviously where this device blows away even many larger tablets. The resolution is crisp and even older games look good. Read the comments before buying a game or, better yet, search for a review here. Overall you should have no issues.

The 7 is such a well-rounded device that you might find yourself making excuses to use it. I’ve been setting alarms on it, communicating with Skype, and generally picking it up every chance I get. Its smaller size is not an issue, and might just be the tablet to show that 10 inches is actually a bit too large for so much use. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a real game changer. Don’t worry about the smaller storage space. If you enjoy a game or movie, you can always delete it and download it again later if you feel like it. Or, in the case of the free included movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, you just stream it over WiFi.

Google and Asus have put out a wonderful little device. The price point is impossible to resist, and the gaming power is evident as soon as you start blowing away space creatures. Go get one, now.

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