Rumours had swirled for some time that Google was working on its own in-house tablet to accompany its Android operating system, but it wasn’t entirely clear if Google was looking to take Apple on directly with a premium unit at a premium price point — that being seemingly what Microsoft’s doing with its Surface tablets — or if it would take the budget route, and instead try to gain a market position purely through lots of sales. That’s the approach that Amazon took with the Kindle Fire, a tablet that never got an official Australian launch.
In the end, Google announced its tablet at its recent I/O developers conference, and it’s a mix of both approaches. It’s certainly low cost; the 8GB version of the Google Nexus 7 tablet costs only $249, while the 16GB version costs $299. That’s in Australian dollars; in a surprise move, Google’s announced that the Nexus 7 would be available for pre-order immediately with a 2-3 week delivery window; that means the first units should hit Australian shores by mid-July.
Tablets at that price point have usually involved compromises in terms of processors, screen quality and software, but here it appears that Google’s taking something of a hit in its own wallet, as the Nexus 7 features a seven inch 1280×800 pixel display, underneath which you’ll find a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor; that’s a pretty decent combination. Cheap tablets have typically lagged in terms of the operating systems they’ll run and the upgrades they get, but the Nexus 7 is also Google’s first official device running the next version of Android. In common with other Android releases, it bears a food-related codename; in this case, Android 4.1 is also known as “Jelly Bean”. Google’s been fairly persistent in sending updates through to its own-branded devices as they’ve become available.
What don’t you get for your money? Google’s own Nexus devices have typically not allowed for expanded storage via MicroSD, and the Nexus 7 is no different. It’s also a Wi-Fi only tablet, so while at its seven inch size it’d be easy to carry around with you, there may not be much access on it depending on your location. The Nexus 7 is a play for the Android ecosystem; while Google might make very little money on the hardware, it figures to make it back on apps, TV, movies and music, but here in Australia, there’s only a smattering of those services available here under the Google umbrella. Being Android, there are alternatives on offer there, but they’re still limited compared to Apple’s offerings.
Where the Nexus 7 makes things really interesting is for other Android tablet makers. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Kogan’s own inhouse Android 4.0 tablet. It’s a little cheaper than the Nexus 7 — but the Nexus 7 is a much better tablet in just about every respect, at least on paper. I’ve ordered one — because at this price, it still really is a bargain — and I’ll write up my observations once it’s in my hands. But even the high-end tablet makers — Samsung and the like — may find it tough going to get people to buy their Android tablets when there are cheaper alternatives such as the Nexus 7 around.