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A touch of style
Then again, the Nexus 7's synthetic back looks like it might be somewhat absorbent. The material reminds me a little of pleather; it has a soft feel, and the black surface resists ugly fingerprints and smudges. There's enough texture for a good grip, too.

The back isn't quite leather, but the silver band running around the outside edge is real metal according to Asus, which manufactures the Nexus 7 to Google's specifications. There's no need to worry about holding the Nexus wrong. The metal strip doesn't seem to hamper the tablet's Wi-Fi or GPS performance.

The Nexus 7's only ports are located at the bottom of the device. There's a 3.5-mm audio jack for headsets and a Micro USB port for the included charger. USB peripherals and storage devices can be connected, as well, but only after rooting the tablet and installing third-party software. Google seems intent on users tapping into cloud-based storage, which may be why the Nexus 7 lacks an SD slot. The tablet itself comes with 8GB or 16GB of internal storage.

The speaker can also be found along the bottom edge of the device. It's located in the middle and shouldn't be obscured when you're holding the tablet in portrait mode. Switching to landscape mode can muffle the speaker depending on how the tablet is held.

The speaker's sound quality is only average, but we have to give credit to Google for the built-in microphones. There are two of them on the device, and they do a good job of picking up Skype chatter and input for voice searches, even when one holds the Nexus at arm's length. You'll want to be in a reasonably quiet environment to get the best results, though.

Note the lack of a lens on the back of the Nexus 7. Google elected to leave a rear-facing camera off the device, which suits us just fine. Taking pictures with a tablet has always felt awkward, and it looks supremely dorky. The front-facing shooter offers a 1.2-megapixel resolution and should be sufficient for video calls.

Processor Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L 1.2/1.3GHz with GeForce graphics
Display 7" IPS TFT with 1280x800 resolution
Memory 1GB DDR3L
Storage 8/16GB
Ports 1 analog audio headphone/mic port
1 Micro USB
Expansion slots NA
Communications 802.11n Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 3.0
Camera 1.2-megapixel front
Input devices 10-finger capacitive touchscreen
Dimensions 7.8" x 4.7" x 0.41" (198 x 120 x 10.4 mm)
Weight 0.75 lbs (340 grams)
Battery 4325mAh lithium-polymer

Under the hood, the Nexus 7 features the same Nvidia Tegra 3 T30L processor found in the Transformer Pad 300, which starts at $380. This SoC has a novel architecture that alternates between a single, low-power "companion" core and a cluster of four high-speed cores. All the cores are based on the ARM Cortex-A9. While the companion core tops out at 500MHz, the quad-core cluster can ramp clock speeds up to 1.2GHz with all cores active or 1.3GHz with a single core. The chip is intelligent enough to cut power to unneeded cores, and it can dynamically adjust clock speeds based on system demand.

The Tegra 3's five CPU cores are complemented by an integrated GeForce GPU boasting 12 "cores" of its own. Nvidia has revealed little about the nuts and bolts of this graphics processor, but it typically refers to ALUs as graphics cores. We do know the built-in GeForce has dedicated logic for video encoding and decoding.

A trio of wireless connectivity options round out the Nexus 7's spec sheet. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a given, of course, and Google has added Near Field Communication (NFC) to the mix. The tablet also features a GPS unit, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope. Despite the bargain price, Google has left few features on the cutting-room floor. It's worth noting that there's no option for cellular broadband, though. You'll need to tether or seek out Wi-Fi hotspots when on the go.

It might seem like a small detail, but I've gotta give Google credit for equipping the Nexus 7 with a tiny wall charger coated in matte plastic. Asus has been using glossy wall warts for its Transformer tablets, and they always seem to get coated with fingerprints here in the Benchmarking Sweatshop. Unfortunately, the Nexus' accompanying cable has glossy plugs on either end. I had to wipe those down with a microfiber cloth to make sure the accumulated smudges didn't show up in the picture above.