Google announces new Nexus 7, Android 4.3 and Chromecast

By Jose Vilches and Shawn Knight on

Google invited members of the press to a “breakfast” meeting this morning in San Francisco, where Chrome and Android head Sundar Pichai shared all the latest news and product announcements. Aside from actual breakfast, other stuff on the table included a new Nexus tablet, which was up for pre-order at Best Buy even before the event, Android 4.3 and the new Chromecast TV dongle. Check out our summary of everything announced at the event below.

By the numbers

  • Tablet sales expected to surpass PC shipments by the end of the year
  • 70 million Android tablet activations so far, up from 10 million by the end of 2012
  • 50 billion app downloads on Google Play, up from 20 billion by the end of 2012
  • Over 1 million applications available on Google Play
  • Revenue per user increased 2.5 times in the last 12 months
  • Nexus 7 alone has accounted for 10% of Android tablets sold

All-new Nexus 7

Following a string of rumors and leaks, Google officially unveiled its second-generation Nexus 7 tablet at the event. Among the many improvements is a thinner and leaner body -- about 2mm thinner than the original, smaller bezel and 50g lighter -- as well as upgraded internals across the board.

The device sports the same 7-inch display size as its predecessor, but bumps resolution to 1920 x 1200 pixels at a pixel density of 323ppi, and claims a 30% improvement in color range. A new 1.5GHz Sapdragon S4 Pro chip is said to deliver an 80% CPU performance boost and four times the graphics capabilities of the old Nexus. Other specs include front (1.2MP) and rear (5MP) cameras, 2GB of RAM, stereo speakers with virtual surround sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI out, wireless charging, NFC and optional LTE on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Battery life is rated at up to 9 hours of HD video playback and 10 hours browsing. Three models available: 16GB Wi-Fi, 32GB Wi-Fi, and 64GB LTE at $229, $269, $349 respectively. Shipping unlocked and running Android 4.3.

Android 4.3

The latest version of Jelly Bean also made its much anticipated debut today. Building upon Android 4.2’s multi-user support, Android 4.3 adds the option restrict apps at a user level, so parents can deny their kids access to certain apps or on in-app purchases. Another addition is Bluetooth Smart, aka Bluetooth Low Energy, which will help Android interact with fitness sensors and such while keeping battery drain at a minimum.

Game developers will welcome the addition of OpenGL ES 3.0 support, which should bring much more sophisticated shadows, better reflections and anamorphic lens flare to Android games.

Google also talked about a new set of DRM which will enable hardware-based encryption for video. Though that hardly sounds like something people would be interested in hearing about, the gist of it is that premium video content on tablets today is often in standard definition because of content protection limitations that exist on HD content, and the addition of these new APIs is expected to fix that. Netflix will be among the first to take advantage of this new feature to support streaming content in 1080p HD quality to Android devices.

Though Google didn’t go into details, other improvements in the latest version of Android include faster user switching, easier text input, background Wi-Fi location, dial pad autocomplete, and increased language support.

Over-the-air updates to Android 4.3 will be available today on the Nexus 7, Nexus 4, Nexus 10, and Galaxy Nexus. Google Play edition devices should start seeing updates "very soon”.

Google Chromecast

Google is set to try their hand in the living room once again with the introduction of a brand new product called Chromecast. The actual hardware is about the size of a USB flash drive and attaches to a spare HDMI port on your television. What it allows you to do is essentially push content from your phone, tablet or notebook directly to the big screen, virtually eliminating the need for a pricey “smart” TV.

In addition to simply pushing content to your television, Chromecast transforms your device into a remote control that can adjust volume and even turn on your set. Once you have a video loaded and playing, you can launch other apps on your device without interrupting playback. We’re told that several big names like Netflix, Pandora, Google Play Movies and Google Play Music will all support Chromecast.

The dongle is available for purchase as of writing for the low price of $35 which includes a free three-month subscription to Netflix. Chromecast supports Android and iOS on the mobile side and Windows 7 / Mac OS 10.7 and higher on the computer side.

Google Play

Google also took the time to go through some app updates, focusing on how they’re designed to take advantage of the Nexus 7’s increased resolution. Among them where the company’s Chrome browser with full screen and Translate support, a new tile layout and navigation drawer for Drive, new features in Maps, and collaborative editing in Google Docs with simultaneous group video calls on Hangouts.

Following up from the Play Games services announcement at I/O, Google is now adding the Play Games hub, which is basically the service’s front end and Android's answer to Apple's Game Center. The new app will be available today and includes things like leaderboards, lists of achievements for the games you're playing, discovering new games by peeking at what your friends are playing, and so on.

Lastly, Google announced a new textbooks category in Google Play Books. Arriving this August, just in time for the back to school season, Google promises bring a "comprehensive selection" of textbooks from five major publishers. You can either buy them or rent them for over six months periods, with discounts of up to 80%, and access them through both iOS and Android devices as well as a web browser.

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