Pros: Small, light, affordable, full-featured.
Cons: "Overexposed" screen, poor Wi-Fi, poor audio through headphone jack
The ASUS/Google co-branded Nexus 7 tablet is Google's answer to the typical $499+, 10" tablets. The Nexus 7 is designed to be cheap, yet still fun and functional. This product is clearly NOT Apple's iPad, and it doesn't pretend to be - or try to compete directly against the iPad, rather it is targeting products such as the Kindle Fire. If what you really want is an iPad, you're unlikely to be satisfied here. If you're undecided, or considering a Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 is probably a better choice.
What makes it different from an iPad?
Other than the obvious - that it runs Google's Android platform - the Nexus 7 is about half the size of an iPad. Due to the different aspect ratio along with the way screens are measured, a Nexus 7 is almost exactly a half-iPad. Fold an iPad screen in half, and you have, roughly, a Nexus 7 screen. The Nexus 7 screen resolution is 1280x720 compared to the iPad's 2048x1536. 1280 is noticeably less than 1536 (comparing the side that is approximately the same length) meaning that the screen is slightly less sharp.
The biggest difference you'll notice is that everything is less - not just the screen. The Nexus 7 has no rear-facing (primary) camera. It's made of cheap plastic, not aluminum. It's thicker, and feels... cheap. Which it is. But, the 7" size is also a LOT easier to carry in a purse and a lot lighter to hold. The color on the screen isn't nearly as good as an iPad - but it's better than most PC laptops!
What makes it different from a Kindle Fire HD?
The Fire HD is somewhat bulkier than the Nexus 7 despite having the same screen size. Every aspect of the Fire HD is technically better. The screen has better color. The processor is similar. The Wi-Fi performance is far superior. The bulkier device can hold up better. But, the Fire HD is not a full tablet. It is an Amazon consumption device. Despite using the Android OS, the Fire HD does NOT support Google Apps. The Fire HD also does not support the Google Play store. It's a device to access Amazon content, and Amazon content alone. This results in a nice product for the target market - but something somewhat "less" than a full tablet.
Now, let's review the Nexus 7 on it's own merits
Now that you know what it is and isn't compared to the competition, let's look at it on it's own. I've had this device about two months and have a very good idea how it performs. I'm going to try and mix up strong and week aspects.
Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is featured on this device. It's very smooth - much smoother than most Android devices from the past. Ironically, the theoretically slower Galaxy Nexus (also running Jelly Bean) feels MUCH smoother than even the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 lags occasionally (but nothing like Android has traditionally been plagued with). The Galaxy Nexus almost never lags noticeably with Jelly Bean. Overall, the performance is excellent for Android - only possibly surpassed by Google's own Galaxy Nexus.
Terrible. Single-band (2.4GHz only) with extremely poor reception and one spatial stream. A huge step backwards from the very good dual band Wi-Fi performance of the Galaxy Nexus. Such a critical feature of the product, and such a major oversight. In a typical home this is unlikely to be a major issue - but you can't get into the 5GHz band to dodge interference from neighbors. Large homes may have reception problems. Corporate networks relying on dual-band systems will find the Nexus 7 using the 2.4GHz band - with fewer available channels and more devices, resulting in slower performance. In 2012 this is unexcusable. Yet, for the typical user, it's not going to be a deal-breaker.
Good. The black level is a little bright, and poor gamma and power management results in something of an overexposed/washed out look. Better than most laptop PC's. But not nearly as good as the iPad, and not even as good as the Kindle Fire HD. Still, it's better than most laptops. The display cover glass seems very durable and scratch resistant. Most of the problems could probably be fixed with better calibration, though nVidia's power management also appears to blame for some of the problems. One thumb up.
Google's products and services are superior even to Apple's in my experience. Google Now, while lacking the personality, is many times more useful than Apple's Siri - it's accurate and finds what I'm looking for enough of the time to be useful. Google Maps and Navigation are fantastic. Google's Wallet allows you to use the Nexus 7 as your credit card anywhere MasterCard PayPass is accepted (not very many places yet, but it's getting better). Gmail, Google+ Hangouts, Google Talk, and more make for an experience that is well-intergrated and functional. For a social bunny like myself, this integration makes this a better product than the iPad.
Often overlooked, but very important - it's okay. It'll easily get you through a typical day's use. Not quite as good as an iPad, but definitely usable. I'd appreciate a bit longer because with games it will not last a day. For the $199 price point, it's definitely nothing terrible.
Awful. Not just the mediocre built-in speaker (which is typical) but even the headphone jack. I actually exchanged my first one because the amount of electrical noise through the headphone jack was unacceptable. The replacement is... better. On the low end of the acceptable range. It's still noisy and low-quality. There just isn't any good excuse for this other than poor design and electrical isolation internally. This is a major oversight on a media consumption device!
This is obviously a low-budget device. But it's a low-budget device designed not to feel like it. And, on that basis, it definitely accomplishes it's goal. I love it. A lot. It goes with me everywhere and has proven very useful. Better screen calibration, better Wi-Fi hardware, and better sound from the headphone jack would be well worth an extra $50 though - and probably wouldn't need to cost anywhere near that. I hope Google listens to some of that feedback for the next device. But the overall value of the Nexus 7 is far above it's competition - it's small, light, affordable, and unlike the the Kindle Fire HD - it's a full featured tablet.