This is perhaps the most challenging aspect from a manufacturer’s point in building a really portable tablet. With a 10-inch screen you have enough canvas to experiment a little but with a 7-inch screen the margin for experimentation is practically non-existent.
With the 2012 Nexus 7, Google did a commendable job from a design perspective. The new Nexus 7 is better in almost every regard. The 7-inch screen, a diagonal measurement that has remained unchanged, dominates the front of the device. What has changed significantly though is the width of the tablet. The new Nexus 7 is 6mm thinner than its predecessor, all of which went into cutting down the bezels. You really need to hold both tablets in the hands to appreciate this change. Despite the same screen size the older Nexus 7 was pushing the boundaries of one hand usage. The newer version however fits in perfectly and it feels very comfortable. Google tried to justify the large bezels last year but I’m glad they’ve realized the fallacy of the matter.
Where the tablet lost 6mm in width, it gained 2mm in length. But it’s 2mm well spent because it meant Google could add a notification LED below the screen. I have always been an advocate of notification LEDs, no matter where you put them, so I really don’t mind the additional few millimeters of length for this purpose. It is incredibly useful when the tablet is in silent mode. On the top of the screen is your usual array of sensors along with the front facing camera. The larger bezels on the top and bottom of the screen means it’s easier to use the tablet in landscape mode, where you’ll generally be holding it with both hands.
Continuing on from the diet in length, the new Nexus 7 is also considerably thinner than its predecessor; 10.5mm vs. 8.7mm to be exact. On the right side you will find the volume rocker along with the power button. If I had one complaint about the design it would be these two buttons. I had an unusually hard time pressing either of the two. They are too far on the back for my liking, as opposed to running perpendicular to the screen. At the bottom is the micro USB port and on top is the 3.5mm jack.
The single biggest visual change has occurred at the back of the tablet. The older Nexus 7 had a heavily textured back that felt a little too plasticy for my liking. This has now been replaced with a flat, uniform soft touch material. It is still plastic, but it feels grippier and more reassuring. What’s interesting to see are the Nexus and ASUS logos perpendicular to each other. If there were ever an indication that Google intends this tablet to be used in both portrait and landscape mode, as opposed to the portrait mode in the older model, it would be this. This is further emphasized by the fact that all core apps support a landscape mode. This is also one reason why I really wished Google would just add a rotation lock button like on the iPad. You’ll also find a 5MP camera along with stereo speakers at the back. The stereo speakers are a welcome addition, but don’t expect miracles, as they sound rather tiny.
It’s quite amazing how shaving off a few millimeters here and there makes such a tremendous difference in overall ergonomics. That along with a 50g reduction in weight makes the new Nexus 7 one of the best portable tablets out there in terms of design and built. Let’s not forget that at the end of the day this is a $230 tablet, which means you won’t find any anodized aluminum or diamond cut edges. What you do get however is an all plastic built which is much less susceptible to scratches and dents. It might not be the flashiest looking tablet out there, but for all intents and purposes the new Nexus 7 is the benchmark for future 7-inch tablets when it comes to ergonomics.