Gadget Review: Android KitKat 4.4 with New Nexus 7

NEXUS 7

I have the Nexus 7 for a week plus now and was ready to publish the article then lo-and-behold, the 7 inch tablet shown me something on the screen – Android KitKat is ready to be installed. The geek in me exploded with excitement and all the review thoughts on the Nexus 7 has to be rewritten.  It is a happy problem and at least there is something new!

That’s one of the perks of having a Nexus. You get to play the latest official Android OS fairly quickly as compared to official OS updates from the other manufacturers. In comparison, ASUS Padfone Infinity will get its updates by the 1st quarter of next year at the earliest (I single this out is because Nexus 7 is made by ASUS, maker of the FonePad 7 which is somewhat similar to the Nexus 7).

Let’s start with the Nexus 7 and see what’s been upgraded

  • slightly longer, shorter and thinner
  • It shed some weight (from 340g to 290g)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4Pro Quad-Core 1.5GHz
  • Increase to 2GB of RAM
  • Comes in 16GB or 32GB versions
  • Increase 7″ screen resolution at 1920 x 1200 pixels up from 1280 x 800 pixels
  • 5 MegaPixel Camera
  • 2 speakers – back facing
  • Battery size decreased from 4325mAh to 3950mAh


The Nexus 7 actually came with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and on the whole it performed well just as I have expected. What really got me was the super sharp screen. Although not as fantastic as iPad mini‘s retina display of 2048 x 1536 pixels, to find a huge fault in reading off the screen of the Nexus 7 is an anal exercise.  There is one change that is not that great – the back of the device used to be polka dotted as it gives a much better grip than the current version’s smooth back. Add to the woe, I feel that the suede back is actually more prone to finger prints than the previous 7. After a whole day’s use, the device certainly do look dirty.

Speaking about the whole day usage, despite the decrease in battery size, the Nexus 7 held up a good day of usage. Perhaps I am feeding off Internet via my mobile phone Internet Tethering and so the battery usage is not that high but still it was good performance all around.

For music playback, the 2 stereo speakers are placed at the back and each speaker occupy each end of the long side of the device. The enables a better separation between left and right channel and is great to use it while watching a video too. The sacrifice would be the much bigger bezel around the screen especially at the top/bottom areas.

I actually played the Dead Trigger 2, a First Person Shooter gunning down Zombies while trying to accomplish missions, has no major hiccups at all. Loading and running the game is pretty smooth even when one is doing a mad 360 turn in the game itself. The device reacted quickly to inputs and that is important to get out of the horde’s way before eaten alive.  If I have no problems with playing a 3D game, then doing the mundane such as reading off magazines and emails and updating Facebook or Tweeter is simply a walk in the park.

While I tested the Wi-Fi version, I believe the LTE version would perform just as well but all depends on the stability of the data connection which is definitely not the manufacturers’ fault.

The Nexus 7 is now available in 16gB Wifi Version (S$379), 32GB WiFi Version (S$429) and 32GB LTE (S$529)

ANDROID KITKAT

Updating the Nexus 7 is fairly simple. Either the device will prompt you there’s an update or you can go to the Android Settings>About Tablet (or Phone)>System Updates.

The first thing is I have noticed is the persistent Google Search bar right on top of the screen and also another horizontal bar right on top of the icons at the bottom that will show you exactly which page you are on the launcher screens. It certainly looked better than having dots. This has also been brought into the app drawer pages too so it gives a more consistent look. When in the App Drawer, KitKat has actually made it totally black instead of being transparent in the previous iteration. It is simpler to look at but it also feels as though the OS has regressed.

Generally the overall feel of KitKat is very similar and the only thing is different would be size of icons and/or colour schemes.

The main thing for me of course is the camera app.

At first glance it really has a simple interface so much so it cause more confusion than necessary. Perhaps when one is just a point and shooter the lack of controls would be secondary but I would love to have a wee bit more control. If one uses the front 5MP as a camera only then it shouldn’t be an issue but what if you need the camera facing you for video conferencing? It took me sometime to find it but it was easy after that. Just press any where on the screen and hold it and a menu will appear in the follow sequence (sorry. tried to do a screen shot but was unsuccessful).

  • Exposure Value Compensation/ Settings / change camera (front camera to screen camera and vice versa)
  • Under Settings- Location Off / Timer / Picture Size / White Balance / Scene Modes
  • Under White Balance- Incandescent /Flourescent / Auto / Daylight / Cloudy
  • Under Scene Mode – Action / Night / Off Scene Mode / Sunset / Party(or Indoors)

For shooting modes there is the Panorama mode, the video and of course the camera. What’s interesting was the Sphere mode and you can do a mini sphere by doing multiple stitches just like a normal panorama but is much bigger image. Output wise it is really a hit-and-miss affair. General Image Quality is quite similar with most smartphones but is not anywhere near to camera-centric smartphones such as HTC One, Nokia Lumia 1020 or ASUS Padfone Infinity Pixel Master.

Generally, Android 4.4 worked as advertised. However there seems to be some questionable changes when it comes to Wi-Fi connection notification. Below are the screen grabs of the quick settings system tray and notice the Wi-Fi notification icon.

Android 4.1.2 Padfone Infinity 1.0. Once I have Internet connection, the icon changes to blue.

Android 4.2.2 Padfone Infinity 1.1. Once I have Internet connection, there are two mini arrows to indicate up/download connectivity

Android 4.4. Wi-Fi connectivity is up. Internet confirmed worked but the icon still remains the same. Not helpful.

The 4.1.2 Quick Setting System tray.

Android 4.2.2 on PFI 1.1. Nothing changed much except for the inclusion of Miracast and can broadcast images on the phone to the Miracast enabled screens.

Android 4.4 Nexus 7. Much cleaner and it has an Owner button (is it necessary?). FonePad 7 might be different.

Conclusion

The original Nexus 7 has some rough edges and the latest iteration seems to have ironed off the issues quite a bit. Add in a sharper screen and 2 speaker system good for movie viewing and the 7 inch Tablet meet expectation of what I would look for in a simple tablet. Once it updated to Android 4.4, everyday use was not affected though there are some niggling questions about fixing things that are not spoiled in the first place.  On the whole, you won’t go wrong with getting a vanilla Android tablet from ASUS. Other possible alternatives include Samsung Tab 2 and ASUS own Fonepad 7.

 

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