With the Nexus series of devices from Google, the company shows what happens when they control not just the operating system, but also the hardware design. Coupled with the much-anticipated Google Play for Education store, the device bolsters Google’s growing claim to the K–12 tablet landscape.
The Nexus 7 is less expensive than the iPad Mini—$229 vs. $329 for the cheapest models—and offers a higher-resolution screen. Pricing particulars: Nexus 7: $229 for the WiFi 16GB model; $269 for the WiFi 32GB model; and $349 for the 32GB LTE + WiFi. Ipad Mini: $329 for the WiFi 16GB and $429 for the 32GB WiFi. The Nexus screen is a 1920×1200 (323ppi) display, vs. the iPad’s 1024×768 (163ppi).
Is this enough to sway the iPad-loving schools and libraries?
The device, made by ASUS, feels good in the hand and the screen is excellent for reading. Google’s previous incarnation of the Nexus 7 was lower-res—slightly better than the current iPad Mini at 1280×800 216 ppi. Reading on the new one is just as crisp as on an iPad with the Apple Retina display (the iPad Mini lacks Retina). The Nexus 7’s smaller, seven-inch size makes it an easier tablet to hold while reading.
The Nexus 7 is light—.64 pounds—and seems durable, unlike some other Android tablets with a plastic feel. It has clean lines, and the larger top and bottom bezels make it easy to grip in landscape mode.
It also features a rear-facing camera, an important detail for the K–12 community. Teachers like using these cameras for documentation and digital image creation with students because they can immediately pair images with apps, speeding up the process from capture to end product.
Students, especially the younger elementary set, also prefer tablets to stand-alone cameras, since the on-screen controls are larger and simpler. The image quality won’t be as high, but tablets’ availability and ease of use trump that.
The Nexus 7 ships with the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system—no pesky skins from the manufacturers or annoying carrier apps. Other useful features for K–12 include multi-user support, allowing many people to have profiles on the device with different levels of permission; a great time saver. Each user account can link to a Google account, facilitating content backup on the cloud.
Setting up the device is a quick process. Once our Nexus 7 was powered on, we were told to insert our Google account info and connect to the WiFi network. It was simple, with clear instructions for each step. The Google Play for Education store and its deployment procedure weren’t live at press time, so we can’t speak for that experience here. Fingers crossed, the launching of multiple devices will be comparable to—or better than—Apple’s method of setting up iPads with Mobile Device Management software. At Google’s I/O 2013 event in May, spokespeople said the Nexus 7’s process would be easier.
What’s not to love about this tablet for K–12? The apps. Like all things Android tablet, apps are the biggest pain point. Most quality tablet apps are still made for the iPad. While Google hopes to change that with Google Play for Education and an active promotion of K–12 apps, the current selection is much slimmer compared to that for the iPad.
Is this a deal breaker for your school? That depends. Before investing in a Nexus 7 or any Android tablets, ensure that the apps your school uses are available on the device. New apps are constantly being added, but if 10 of your top 20 aren’t yet an option for this platform, consider putting the brakes on an Android deployment. The app ecosystem is the primary reason we rated this device a 3 for educational utility, despite its multi-user support. We hope that once Google Play for Education goes live, this will improve dramatically.
This is a great tablet on a solid operating system. If you’re buying an Android tablet, it’s a no-brainer choice. Now all it needs are some great apps.