Saturday, July 27, 2013

(28-07-2013) Sorry, iPad Mini Fans--Once Again, Google Has The Hotter Tablet Than Apple - Forbes - W4llppr

Sorry, iPad Mini Fans--Once Again, Google Has The Hotter Tablet Than Apple - Forbes Jul 28th 2013, 04:46

At an event in San Francisco, Google announced an updated version of the popular Nexus 7 tablet which first appeared at last year's Google I/O. The big new features update the Nexus 7 platform with inclusion of a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) SoC, 1920x1200 display by JDI (Japan Display Inc), as well as 5 MP rear facing camera, 1.2 MP front facing camera, stereo speakers, dual band WiFI, wireless charging (Qi) and a thinner and lighter chassis. It's a major update that keeps the competitive price point that made the original Nexus 7 appealing (the lineup starts at $229 for the 16 GB model) while bringing numerous much-needed improvements that people have asked for.

Read on for our initial review bits and impressions.

At an event in San Francisco, Google announced an updated version of the popular Nexus 7 tablet which first appeared at last year's Google I/O. The big new features update the Nexus 7 platform with inclusion of a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) SoC, 1920x1200 display by JDI (Japan Display Inc), as well as 5 MP rear facing camera, 1.2 MP front facing camera, stereo speakers, dual band WiFI, wireless charging (Qi) and a thinner and lighter chassis. It's a major update that keeps the competitive price point that made the original Nexus 7 appealing (the lineup starts at $229 for the 16 GB model) while bringing numerous much-needed improvements that people have asked for.

First off, it's shocking how much of a difference the change in thickness and weight makes. The new Nexus 7 feels considerably lighter and thinner in the hand than its older counterpart. Gone is the textured rubberized (almost driver glove-like) material on the back, in its place a flat, uniform soft touch material. There's Nexus emblazoned in landscape on the rear, which is a bit puzzling next to the 90 degree rotated ASUS down below. It irritates my OCD sensibilities seeing the two logos inexplicably perpendicular and right next to each other, but I suppose Google thinks this helps emphasize how much the Nexus 7 and Android platform are really tablet-friendly now, with landscape view support throughout the core apps.

The rear facing camera is in the extreme top left, next to the power and volume rocker buttons, and top speaker. The Nexus 7 build and finish does feel a bit more plasticky to me this time around, but that's almost expected given the price point, and it isn't a major dig on the hardware at all. That's not to say it isn't sturdy or well put together, but just that the original Nexus 7 left a stronger impression on me last time, and I've been spoiled by the ASUS FonePad since then. The edge chamfer also helps the Nexus 7 feel a bit more like the Nexus 4 with its rounded edge. The previous Nexus 7 came to a point that could be a bit sharp at times.

What's a little awkward is how tall the bezel at top and bottom looks on the Nexus 7, I'm warming up to it. On paper the new Nexus 7 is smaller in almost every dimension, in reality the elongated aspect ratio is definitely a bit pronounced here. There's also still a notification LED well hidden under the glass at bottom in the center.

On the back is the new 5 MP rear facing camera, buttons (which hug the edges), a microphone port, and speakers. The speakers fire out the back of the Nexus 7 and look like they have good separation (obviously the best that the device's size affords – top and bottom), but I don't have a good feel for just how loud they go quite yet. Having stereo is a dramatic improvement for the audio part of video and multimedia consumption, and Android does 5.1 virtualization out the speakers as well. On the connectivity side of things there's microUSB at the bottom with SlimPort video out, and a 3.5mm audio jack. I know a lot of people were hoping for inclusion of line in on the 3.5mm audio jack but I can confirm it isn't present.

Nexus 7Tablet Specification Comparison
  ASUS Nexus 7 (2012) ASUS Nexus 7 (2013)
Dimensions 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm 200 x 114 x 8.65mm
Chassis Plastic + Rubber back Plastic + Soft Touch back
Display 7-inch 1280x800 IPS 7.02-inch 1920x1200 IPS
Weight 340 g 290 grams (WiFi), 299 grams (LTE)
Processor 1.3 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L - 4 x Cortex A9) 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064)
Memory 1 GB 2 GB DDR3L
Storage 8 GB / 16 GB 16 GB / 32 GB
Battery 16 Whr 15.01 Whr
WiFi/Connectivity 802.11b/g/n, BT, NFC 802.11a/b/g/n, BT 4.0, NFC
Camera 5.0 MP Rear Facing w/AF
1.2MP Front Facing
Wireless Charging Yes (Qi Compatible)
Pricing $199/$249 $229/$269 (WiFi 16/32 GB)
$349 (LTE)

My only real complaint with the new Nexus 7's in hand feel and build is with the power button and volume rocker, which feel somewhat mushy to me. I had issues taking screenshots even at times. It's a minor gripe, but with only three buttons on the whole device, and generally good execution by ASUS with buttons on tablets, it surprised me. I guess I also do miss that racing glove-inspired texture in the soft touch on the back of the original Nexus 7.

Nexus 7 (LTE) Band Coverage
Model GSM/EDGE Bands WCDMA Bands
(HSPA+ 42)
LTE Bands
(UE Category 3)
North America Nexus 7 LTE Quad Band
(850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz)
HSPA+: 850/900/1900/2100/AWS(1700/2100) MHz (Bands: 1/2/4/5/8) 700/750/850/1700/1900/2100 MHz (Bands: 1/2/4/5/13/17)
Europe Nexus 7 LTE 800/850/1700/1800/1900/2100/2600 MHz (Bands: 1/2/3/4/5/7/20)

There's a version of the Nexus 7 with 32 GB of storage and LTE onboard for $349 which will appear 'in the coming weeks' and includes support for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon LTE in the USA on one piece of hardware. This is the first single SKU solution I'm aware of with coexistence of Bands 13 and 17 (Verizon and AT&T respectively) on the same device, which is awesome. There's a model with Bands 3, 7, and 20 for Europe as well, so they're not left out of the LTE fray. I had a chance to quickly get a look at the new Nexus 7 with LTE, which includes a microSIM tray and was working on one of the LTE networks in San Francisco just fine.

As far as I know, the Nexus 7 LTE solution is Qualcomm's MDM9215 with a WTR1605L transceiver inside, and doesn't necessarily include any of the new RF360 brand of front end hardware (like the power amplifier with integrated antenna switch or tunable front end), since MDM9x15 only works with QFE1320 (Bands 1,2,3/4,5,8,20). Still, that makes it all the more impressive, and Google deserves considerable kudos for further pushing such unprecedented interoperability, since in a tablet you do have more area to include discrete power amplifiers and filters.

The real highlight of the new Nexus 7 is of course the much higher resolution display. At 1920x1200 the Nexus 7 is now the highest resolution 7-inch tablet. This new IPS panel is made by JDI (Japan Display Inc) and boasts better viewing angles, 30 percent more gamut than the previous one, and of course better dot pitch of 323 PPI. Alongside that the new Nexus 7 also doesn't have the always-on dynamic brightness and contrast (NVIDIA Prism / smartdimmer) that many including myself found frustrating with the original Nexus 7. On the new version the equivalent functions are enabled only during full screen video playback. This is a huge improvement since with the feature enabled on the previous Nexus 7 I always felt that greens were undersaturated and some dynamic range clipped.

I did a lot of asking around about how Google calibrates its panels, and was told that in the case of the Nexus 7 there are two stages. The first is the calibration done by JDI on the panel at a high level, the second is an additional calibration at time of manufacture, per device. This sort of thing is relatively standard, but I've always been curious about what stages cost extra money – certainly it's a baseline expectation for the panel supplier to supply a close-enough LUT, but getting Delta E even lower I'm told requires additional expenditure.

CalMAN Display Performance - Gamut Average dE 2000

CalMAN Display Performance - Grayscale Average dE 2000

CalMAN Display Performance - Gretag Macbeth Average dE 2000

CalMAN Display Performance - Saturations Average dE 2000

CalMAN Display Performance - White Point Average

Display Brightness - Black Level

Display Brightness - White Level

Display Contrast Ratio

It turns out that the new Nexus 7 is actually very close to sRGB this time around, with overall gamut being just a bit bigger than the sRGB color space. In the GMB Delta-E and saturations Delta-E measures, arguably the two most relevant for color accuracy, the new Nexus 7 is second only to the iPad 4, and better than the iPad Mini in color accuracy, a significant step forwards from its predecessor.

The new Nexus 7 also goes very bright, up to 583 nits, with excellent contrast of 1273. This is again not achieved using any dynamic contrast cheating since those functions are thoughtfully disabled.

On the display side of things I'm very pleased with how far the Nexus 7 has come, and it's obvious that display quality was a big focus for the 2013 model.

The lack of a rear camera on the original Nexus 7 was always a bit of a downer. It clearly had the space for a module inside, but including a camera didn't align with the efforts to drive that device into the price point that made it successful. With the new Nexus 7 we finally get a camera, and a 5 MP one with autofocus at that. Inside the camera is an OV5693 sensor, which best I can tell is a 1/4" format sensor with 1.4 micron pixels. It might not be the world's best camera, but it's no slouch either.

I took a handful of photos and videos with the Nexus 7 (2013) to gauge camera quality, and even if this isn't necessarily a device with focus on imaging it's not bad at all. I came away pretty pleased for what kind of camera it is. Even though I still strongly believe that you shouldn't be using a tablet to take photos you intend on using for anything more than sharing on social networks, in this brave new era of mobile devices it's a feature every tablet and smartphone does need.

I'll save you the discussion once again about how the Android 4.3 camera UI continues to present a 16:9 aspect ratio crop of the 4:3 image captured by the sensor, which results in a smeary looking, inaccurate preview.


Video on the Nexus 7 (2013) is 1080p30 at 12 Mbps, H.264 Baseline with 1 reference frame, and 96 kbps 48 KHz single channel AAC audio. I've uploaded a sample I took in SF to our servers as well as YouTube. Again I'm dismayed why more OEMs don't use the full encode capabilities of APQ8064 (20 Mbps H.264 High Profile) but that's what it is by default on the new Nexus 7.

Last year the Nexus 7 debuted with a Tegra 3 SoC, which for reminder consisted of a 4+1 architecture of ARM Cortex A9 CPUs, with the 4 A9s built on 40nm G, and the +1 "shadow core" A9 built on 40nm LP (TSMC's 40 LPG process), accompanied by ULP GeForce GPU with 12 cores running at a max GPU clock of 416 MHz. The exact SoC was NVIDIA's Tegra 3 T30L, which could run one A9 at up to 1.3 GHz and all A9s at up to 1.2 GHz.

Rather than the relatively logical upgrade path of going to NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC (I've heard all manner of speculation about what happened there), the new Nexus 7 switches to Qualcomm's APQ8064–1AA, a version with 4 Krait 300 CPU cores (yes, Krait 300, not 200) running at up to 1.5 GHz and Adreno 320 graphics. Rather than use a PoP and LPDDR2, this specific APQ8064 variant goes to PCDDR3L–1600 MHz instead, including 4, 4Gb discrete 1.35V SK-hynix DRAM devices off to the side (more on the opposite side of the PCB) adding up to 2 GB of RAM. Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro and Snapdragon 600 branding gets confused here, although Qualcomm is calling the APQ8064 inside the Nexus 7 (2013) S4 Pro, it's more like an underclocked or lower binned Snapdragon 600. 

At this point APQ8064 is probably the most well understood SoC in recent memory (so much so that I'm pining for devices to include something different just from an academic perspective) so I'll spare the very verbal discussion about its performance.

3DMark - Ice Storm

3DMark - Graphics Score

3DMark - Physics Score

3DMark - Graphics Test 1

3DMark - Graphics Test 2

3DMark - Ice Storm (Extreme)

3DMark - Physics Score (Extreme)

3DMark - Graphics Score (Extreme)

3DMark - Graphics Test 1 (Extreme)

3DMark - Graphics Test 2 (Extreme)

Basemark X (Offscreen 1080p)

Basemark X (Onscreen)

Google Octane v1

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark (Stock Browser)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Fill Test (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Fill Test (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput, Fragment Lit (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput, Fragment Lit (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput, Vertex Lit (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - Triangle Throughput, Vertex Lit (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD Fixed Time (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD Fixed Time (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Onscreen)GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen)

Suffice it to say, moving from 1.2–1.3 GHz Tegra 3 to 1.5 GHz APQ8064 represents a big jump forwards in performance. Google claimed 1.8x improvement on CPU performance, and 4x improvement on GPU, which gets validated pretty much consistently through the benchmarks. I never felt like Tegra 3 was a slouch by any means (performance was more I/O bound on the OG Nexus 7, which we'll talk about in a moment), but the new Nexus 7 has ample performance for the considerable increase in screen resolution.

It wasn't any secret with the original Nexus 7 that much of the real world performance was gated by storage I/O throughput – we wrote about it after all – and storage performance was a common complaint while multitasking on a few other previous and similar era ASUS tablets. Most of the time performance was acceptable, and for $200 you can't complain too much about things, the issue was that further on in the life of the tablet performance began degrading somewhat notably, leading to complaints.

Obviously the first thing I did on the Nexus 7 (2013) was run Androbench with the same 100 MB settings to test and see what out of box I/O performance looks like. Things are much better with the new Nexus 7 than they were with the previous one, so at a high level all is good.

Storage Performance - 256KB Sequential Reads

Storage Performance - 256KB Sequential Writes

Storage Performance - 4KB Random Reads

Storage Performance - 4KB Random Writes

The story actually is a bit more involved however. One of the big problems was that the slowness which occurred with the prior Nexus 7 took device aging to appear – it was great for the first few months, but after you started loading it things tailed off. The new Nexus 7 (2013) with Android 4.3 includes support for fstrim, essentially idle garbage collection, which TRIMs the eMMC when a few conditions are met – the device is idle, screen off, and battery above roughly 70-percent. I'm told that TRIM support has been part of the eMMC standard since around version 4.2, it was just a matter of enabling it in software. The result is that the new Nexus 7 shouldn't have these aging affects at all. Better yet, fstrim support has also been added to the old Nexus 7 with as of the Android 4.3 update, so if you've got a Nexus 7 that feels slow, I/O performance should get better after fstrim runs in the background. I'm checking on whether the other Nexus devices have also had TRIM support added. I would consider the slow storage aging problem fixed as of now, and Google took the eMMC and storage I/O performance issues with the previous Nexus 7 to heart for this version.

One of the biggest complaints I had about the original Nexus 7 was connectivity, as it only included 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n support. The hilarity of that situation was only compounded by the fact that Google could only demo the Nexus 7 at that Google I/O plugged in through USB-OTG Ethernet adapters because 2.4 GHz is effectively impossible to use at conferences. With the new Nexus 7, dual band (2.4 and 5 GHz) WLAN is now included with a WCN3660, Qualcomm's companion WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, BT 4.0, and FM Tx/Rx combo (though FM features aren't enabled on the Nexus 7 2013).

iPerf WiFi Performance - 5GHz 802.11n

Performance is correspondingly improved, and if you're in an urban area where 2.4 GHz is congested beyond use, this makes the difference between an unusable brick and working tablet. Many have asked, why not WCN3680 (the 802.11ac enabled successor to 3660), the answer is of course, you're talking about a ~$200 tablet, stuff like this understandably has to be n–1 without making the bill of materials untenable.

There's also GNSS (GPS+GLONASS) on the WiFi only model which I tested, this goes through WCN3660 and into the baseband on APQ8064 in this configuration I believe. I've had nothing but great success with Qualcomm's GNSS being the fastest out there to 3D cold fix, that holds true with the Nexus 7 (2013), even walking around the urban canyon scenario that San Francisco poses to GNSS.

The Nexus 7 (2013) is Qi (pronounced: "chee") enabled, the de-facto wireless charging standard of the now. The Qi charger area is dead center in the middle, using a coil inside of the NFC one. That makes positioning easy.

I tossed the Nexus 7 on my Energizer Qi two-position mat when I got home, and it works perfectly, of course Qi can only charge at up to 5 watts. The in-box supplied charger is a 1.35 A variant, which isn't anything special. Connected to my special linear power supply and battery charge downstream port controller which negotiates the proper standard, I saw the Nexus 7 (2013) draw a max of 1.32 A (6.6 watts), which makes sense given the supplied charger. I don't have a 0–100 percent charge time number yet.

I hesitate to do quick turnaround reviews of products, that's why this is a short review and Anand is hopefully going to take a longer look at the Nexus 7 (2013). From the time that I've spent with the new Nexus 7 however, I think it's safe at this point to deem it more than a worthy successor to the tablet that not only dominated its form factor for its entire run, but proved that 7-inches was probably the right size for Android tablets. The display is excellent, and at present the best in its 7–8 inch class, beating even the iPad mini in terms of GMB Delta-E 2000 and resolution. Performance is great, build quality is great, and the whole affair runs stock, unadulterated Android 4.3.

The new Nexus 7 is everything a generational refresh should be – performance goes up dramatically, issues were fixed (storage), features were added (5 GHz WiFi, rear facing camera, Qi charging, high DPI display), and it's all in a thinner and lighter form factor. Everything about the OG Nexus 7 is better in the 2013 model, all while keeping basically the same price point, and we haven't even looked at the 4G LTE enabled version yet which adds the right kind of operator-agnostic LTE bands for two regions that I've been begging for. It's undeniable that Google is doing something right with the Nexus program, and along with it, hardware partner ASUS.