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Tech reviews: Nexus 7 and Chromecast two worthy Google gadgets

Published August 19, 2013 12:20 pm

Review • Google's new tablet is a better alternative to the Apple iPad mini.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last month, Google introduced two gadgets that will likely ignite the passions of tech fanatics — a new version of its tablet named the Nexus 7 and a new device called Chromecast that allows you to view content from a tablet or phone on a television.

Here are reviews of both products, which are now on sale.

Chromecast ($35) • Chromecast is a small contraption the size of a flash drive that shows more potential than it initally delivers. It's a dongle with an HDMI connector that you plug into your television set. There's also a USB port on the other end to connect it to a power outlet.

With the Chromecast connected to the TV, you can then display apps running on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device to the television. It does this by connecting to your wireless network and then taking over the video streaming from your mobile device. Your phone or tablet then acts as the remote for pausing, playing, rewinding or fast-forwarding the video. Chromecast also can display the Chrome web browser on the TV screen from your computer, but that feature is still in beta (and I couldn't get it to work on my MacBook Pro because it requires the most recent version of OSX).

Chromecast was incredibly easy to set up. You simply plug it in and follow a few steps displayed on the TV screen. It requires a computer or laptop in the room for just the setup process.

Chromecast also performed well with most of my devices. Viewing Netflix through Chromecast produced the most detailed video I've seen compared to any other device I've used with the Netflix app, including the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It displayed a full 720 lines of resolution and looked crisp. Ironically, one of the devices it would not fully work with was my HTC One Android-based phone, a problem more with the Android operating system than with Chromecast itself.

But this is where Chromecast is more promise than actual usefulness: There are only a small handful of apps that work with it right now. They include Netflix, YouTube, and Google's movies and music apps. Developers have to program their apps to use Chromecast, and there is every indication that many will.

Chromecast will be much more valuable when other apps such as HBO Go, Amazon's Watch Instantly, Hulu, Pandora and more are updated to include Chromecast support.

There are already myriad of devices that do the same thing as Chromecast — the PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii U and the Roku box. Even newer Blu-ray players and televisions are sold with apps built in. So why would you get Chromecast? If you don't have any of these devices and are looking for something that can transmit Internet video to TVs, the big advantage for Chromecast is the great price and it's easy to use. In about six more months, it could be the best at what it does.

Nexus 7 ($229 to $349) • Since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, I've always recommended Apple's tablet as the device of choice. Not this time.

If you're looking for a 7-inch computer tablet for more portability, I'd hold off on buying Apple's iPad mini. Instead, look at Google's newest, the Android-based Nexus 7.

It's got a bright, crisp high-resolution screen that's much more detailed than the lower-resolution iPad mini. The Nexus 7 is also light and well-designed with a soft black back and curved ends that make it easy to hold. And at $229 for the cheapest model, it's $100 less than the least-expensive iPad mini.

Normally, I have not liked Android-based tablets because they're generally sluggish, buggy and not as simple to use as the iPad. But the Nexus 7 uses the latest update of Android, version 4.3, and it's much more stable than previous versions. The tablet, however, is still not as smooth when it comes to scrolling through websites.

A big disappointment is the Nexus 7's poor camera. The 5-megapixel camera produces pixelated lower-resolution pictures compared to much better camera phones such as the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the iPhone 5. And while Google claims the Nexus 7 has about nine hours of battery life, I found it to be much lower. An iPad can last at least three days on a single charge, but the Nexus 7 was only about a day, which is comparable to a smartphone, not a tablet.

Still, the Nexus 7's price and that beautiful screen are the best features that should push anyone into buying Google's latest tablet over the iPad mini. This is the mini-tablet to buy for people who want a light, powerful mobile device on the go.

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi