The Google Nexus 7 is dead, long live the Nexus 7

A big week for Android hardware, plus Google getting bullish on the tablet market, Sony promising a lot of Android 4.3, Play Games, security news and Samsung still talking about some imaginary friend called "Tizen."

The best way I can think of to describe the tech press' moderated, polite reaction to the official release of the new Nexus 7 this week is that it reminded me of somebody who'd heard about a surprise party in advance, but didn't want to ruin things for their friends.

Pretty much every salient detail about the revamped Nexus 7 had leaked well before the official release, though some of it was in the form of rumors, so there wasn’t much that came as a genuine surprise.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the new devices look very nice. Full HD screen? Check. Substantially upgraded hardware? Check. Latest Android version? Check again.

[FIRST LOOK: Google's new Nexus 7]

But, to be frank, it’s just not as big a deal as its forerunner.

I got to play with the original Nexus 7 when it came out, and I think it’s fair to say I was pretty impressed – I found it functional, a pleasure to use and tough to beat at $200.

Along with the Kindle Fire HD, the original Nexus 7 helped jump-start the small tablet market, and pushed Android tablets into a more respectable position in terms of overall market share. The new one is an upgrade, for sure, but it seems unlikely to be as groundbreaking as its predecessor. It’s not as focused on offering maximum bang for the buck, and doesn’t cover any particularly new territory.

On the other hand, maybe it won’t get that horrific slowdown problem that older Nexus 7s reportedly suffer from.

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Speaking of market share, Android chief Sundar Pichai said Wednesday that Android tablets now account for half of all such devices sold worldwide, despite past dominance by That Other Tablet.

Still, wonders analyst Benedict Evans, how come That Other Tablet still draws the lion’s share of mobile ad dollars and uses vastly more data? He’s essentially not sure, though he does have a few interesting guesses.

(H/T: BGR)

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Chromecast, though not itself an Android-based device, is making enough headlines that I think it deserves a mention. If you were unaware, it’s essentially an HDMI dongle that you plug into your TV, allowing you to watch Netflix and YouTube (as well as Google Play Videos and Music) on a bigger screen. You can control it with an Android phone, a Chromebook, or even just a Chrome browser window on a laptop. Plus, it costs just $35, including three free months of Netflix service.

It impressed tech pundits enough that Google has already had to come out and publicly declare that its pre-existing Google TV service isn’t dead, and terms like “game-changing” are being used freely.

Although I am a cynical person, who tends to look on new gadgetry with a jaundiced eye, it’s difficult to avoid the opinion that Chromecast is a genuinely impressive achievement, particularly for the price. It could, at a stroke, make your home entertainment experience a lot more seamless than it likely is at the moment.

The only genuinely unpleasant thing about it, as the estimable Larry Magid highlights, is that it represents a still-greater level of ubiquity for Google in day-to-day life; another way of consuming media curated entirely by Google. Regardless of how valuable the resulting usage data will be to Google’s ad business, I’m far from alone in being leery of the Goog’s increasing control over my information. I’ll take my tin-foil hat in XL, please.

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Sony says it’s going to roll out Android 4.3 on a lot of its top-end inventory, including the Xperia Z, Xperia ZR, Xperia ZL, Xperia Tablet Z, Xperia SP and Xperia Z Ultra. (Version 4.3 was leaked in its entirety last week, though it officially launched Wednesday.)

Assuming the company can follow through, it’s heartening to see a major OEM put some emphasis on keeping up with the latest and greatest Android version.

(H/T: Phandroid)

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Google Play Games, the company’s app to “socialize” your Android gaming experience, launched this week, letting players connect with friends and then ruin those friendships by getting overly competitive about Temple Run scores.

I haven’t tried it out yet, but it sounds a lot like an Android version of Steam, the PC gaming platform that includes many similar features. More to the point, it also lets Android compete directly with That Other Phone’s Game Center framework, though TechHive’s Florence Ion says it’s got a long way to go to catch up.

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A really worrying hack that could let malicious actors modify legitimate Android apps without changing their security signatures has cropped up in the wild, according to Symantec.

The so-called “master key” vulnerability was discovered on third-party app stores based in China, which were modified to steal IMEIs, deactivate some mobile security programs, send premium-rate text messages and even remotely control infected devices, the security company says.

You should be safe if you stick to the Play Store, but third-party distributors can be vulnerable to this sort of thing.

(H/T: BBC)

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Despite being the undisputed king of the Android castle, Samsung continues to forge ahead on the open-source Tizen mobile operating system, announcing a developer conference on Tuesday scheduled for late October.

A report from Computerworld’s Matt Hamblen provides several viewpoints on why Samsung would be so eager to jump off the horse that it has ridden to smartphone pre-eminence, but they all mostly boil down to wanting greater control over the software part of the stack. Good luck with that, I guess.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold, though he hasn’t been very active this week.

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