Thursday, July 25, 2013

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Out Of The Box: Google's New Nexus 7 Tablet And Chromecast Video Streamer

Google GOOG +0.03% introduced two new devices today, one expected and one a big surprise.

The new Nexus 7 tablet has been rumored for awhile. It features a raft of improvements, such as faster chips, a better screen, and front- and rear-facing cameras like most smartphones. The base model costs a bit more, at $229, than the current low-end Nexus 7, but it still comes in quite a bit below the chief competition, Apple AAPL +5.19%‘s iPad mini.

The surprise was Chromecast, a USB memory stick-sized device that plugs into a TV HDMI port and allows video, photos, and other content to be streamed easily from smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. At $35, it costs much less than other media streamers such as the Roku and Apple TV settop boxes that cost up to about $100. The latter still offer more content sources and may still be a bit simpler since they don’t require a smartphone or tablet to get content. But the Chromecast’s price seems sure to make it an impulse buy, unlike the other settop boxes.

In the videos above and below, I did the customary unboxing of demo models Google provided to the press, to show what they look like. I haven’t yet had a chance to try either out at length–especially the Chromecast, though Larry Magid has a good review of that. But both of them follow the Apple playbook, providing a clean, simple experience out of the box.

The new Nexus 7, which I did have a chance to try out for awhile, feels quite a bit lighter, slightly narrower, and very slightly taller than the current Nexus 7, and indeed it is as I hold them side by side. All that makes the new one easier to hold in your hand, also aided by a rubbery back that provides just the right amount of friction to avoid slipping.

Although our office network didn’t provide a great video experience, once video clips started, they looked fine on the upgraded, sharp screen. I must admit that when I played the same videos side by side on each tablet, I couldn’t distinguish which screen was better most of the time, so the quality may be lost on some folks. Switching between apps seemed snappy, as did the touchscreen.

For all the hardware improvement, software may make the difference on whether the new Nexus 7 is a hit. Tablet-optimized apps still are scarcer than they need to be relative to the iPad. One thing I do like a lot: It appears that all the apps I installed on my current Nexus have populated the new tablet. I just wish it would populate them in the same way on the home screen; I’ll have to move them around manually.

All in all, the new products indicate Google is getting better at putting out credible consumer devices. I’m still not convinced the company aims to make a lot of money on them, but they seem sure to spur Google’s Android and Chrome hardware partners to up their own game.
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