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Google Nexus 7 Hands On

I know people say the iPad 2 helped tablets shed their novelty status, but the Galaxy Nexus 7 is the first tablet I've actually considered buying.

The Nexus 7 is lighter and more powerful than the Kindle Fire, easier to grip than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, and far easier on the wallet than any iPad. It also syncs seamlessly with my Galaxy Nexus smartphone.

As expected, attendees at Google I/O, where the company unveiled its new Asus-made tablet, were the first recipients of the device. As soon as I received mine, I rushed home to give it a spin.

First, the Specs

As its name suggests, the Nexus 7 a 7in tablet with a 1,280 x 800 LCD screen, Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip running at 1.2 GHz, 1GB of RAM and either 8GB (£159) or 16GB (£199) of on-board storage. Needless to say, the tablet performs pretty flawlessly and scrolling is buttery smooth.

The Nexus 7 looks and feels sturdy, too. At 340g, it's noticeably lighter than the 413g Kindle Fire. But with rounded, tapered edges, it doesn't feel like a brick. It's slightly thicker (10.45mm) than a Galaxy Nexus smartphone (9mm). I liked the sporty, slip-proof matte rubber backing, as well. And it's the perfect size for my hand, so I can grip with one and navigate with the other; note that my hands are fairly small. The Nexus 7 was clearly meant for portrait mode only, as most apps, apart from videos, don't orient to landscape mode.

Mmmmm ... Jelly Bean

And what about the software? This being a Google device, it will always run the latest version of Android. In fact tonight the device had already received one update to fix several bugs.

At Google I/O the company announced Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean," an incremental update to Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." Read all about the changes in our hands on with Android 4.1.

A Google UI designer I spoke to said Jelly Bean was designed with the 7in screen in mind, and I buy it. The sweet new features in 4.1, like resizable widgets, interactive Google Search engine, and intelligent drop-down notifications, are super responsive and fun to play with on the slightly larger mobile screen.

The Nexus 7 is also the first device to ship with a full release of mobile Chrome. Finally. Chrome's beta app for Android was like the prodigal twin to the stock Android browser.

Google Play Optimised

The Google Play store also appears to be optimised for tablet viewing; it now sells magazine subscriptions, movies, and TV shows, for which a 7in screen is the bare minimum viewer (to me). The magazines category is brand new to the Play store, which might explain why there are only five magazines available: Food Network, Family Circle, Conde Nast Traveler, Popular Science, and Esquire.

Straight out of the box, you'll find Google Play plastered everywhere. The home screen has Play widgets with recommendations for books, magazines, apps, videos, and music. There are also icon shortcuts to these things in your app drawer (of course, you can always delete the widgets and icons). My favourite new widget is "What's That Song?" which identifies ambient music and leads you straight to a purchase link in Google Play when tapped.

Play widgets sync to all your Jelly Bean-running devices; in other words, if you're reading an eBook and suddenly close the app, when you re-open the widget on either a smartphone or a tablet, it starts from where you left off.

When paired with Google's other unveiling at I/O - the streaming media player known as the Nexus Q—the Nexus 7 tablet needs no additional apps like it does on a smartphone. For more, check out our hands on with the Nexus Q.

No Native Camera App?

Oddly, although the tablet comes with a 1.2-megapixel, front-facing VGA camera, it's missing a camera app. Perhaps this will come in an update because it can take photos with a third-party app, like Instagram.

But hey, for £159, I'm not going to complain. The Nexus 7 is available to pre-order now via Google Play. It will ship in mid-July to customers in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.