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Google's Nexus 7 tablet reviewed

Raising the bar at 200 bucks

Tablets are kind of a big deal. They're not going to unseat PCs anytime soon, but in just a couple of years, they've become prized accessories for an awful lot of consumers. Right now, the hottest tablet on the market is Google's new Nexus 7.

The Nexus 7 is Google's first attempt at selling its own tablet, and the company has taken an interesting approach. Instead of targeting the $499 iPad and its 10" competition, the 7" Nexus starts at just $199. The smaller size and affordable price tag make Google's latest look like more of a rival for Amazon's Kindle Fire. Make no mistake, though: the Nexus 7 is an entirely different animal.

Unlike the Kindle Fire, which has a relatively slow processor, a netbook-like 1024x600 display resolution, and an old version of Android that's been heavily customized and locked into Amazon's ecosystem, the Nexus 7 more closely resembles a cutting-edge tablet. It has a Tegra 3 SoC, just like leading Android alternatives. The tablet's IPS panel boasts 1280x800 pixels, matching the resolution of most 10-inchers. Perhaps most importantly, the device comes loaded with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the very latest version of Google smartphone and tablet OS.

That combination of elements makes the Nexus 7 rather unique in the burgeoning tablet market—and a potential bargain. We've been playing with ours for more than a week now. Let's take a closer look.

The tweener of tablets
The first thing you'll notice about the Nexus 7 is that it's sort of a tweener, wedged between 10" tablets and new "superphones" with screen sizes in the 4-5" range. Modern superphones are really just miniature tablets, and the Nexus 7 provides an incremental step between them and larger slates. Here's how the Nexus' 7.8" x 4.7" footprint looks next to Samsung's Galaxy S III and Asus' Transformer Pad Infinity. I'm sure you can guess which one is the 10" tablet and which is the handset.

Yep, there's your mid-way point. The Nexus 7 fills the gap between the Galaxy S III and Transformer Pad Infinity quite nicely. However, at 10.4 mm thick, it's a little beefier than those devices. For reference, we've stacked all three on top of Asus' first-generation Transformer tablet, which is a little thicker than the Nexus.

Really, you're only looking at differences of a few millimeters. While the Nexus 7 may not be as svelte as some other touchscreen devices, it's lighter than most tablets. The Nexus tips the scales at 0.75 lbs, or a little more than half the weight of the Transformer Pad Infinity. The difference is immediately noticeable, especially when holding the device with one hand.

Whether the weight savings matters when the Nexus 7 is slung over a shoulder with a bunch of other gear is debatable. The smaller proportions should make the tablet easier to stuff into a bag than its 10" peers, though. My girlfriend tells me the Nexus is small enough to be purse-sized, but only just. It will surely slip into hipster man-purses alongside a Moleskine notebook, and one could probably squeeze the Nexus 7 into an ironic fanny pack. The tablet's a little too long for the pockets of my cargo shorts, though.

Google seems to expect folks to tuck the Nexus 7 into the back of their pants. At least that's the message I get from this bizarre promotional video, in which UFC star Georges St. Pierre fights off a trio of ninjas with a Nexus 7 pressed up against his underoos. Hope he didn't break a sweat.