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Examining Google's Nexus 7 tablet

Posted: 20 Jul 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:processor? power management IC? wireless transceiver?

Last year, Amazon shook the consumer electronics industry when it launched the first sub-$200 tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire. Many were skeptical of the online vendor's foray into electronics, but some saw it as a stroke of genius. By leveraging its vast library of online titles, Amazon set itself up to compete on content with industry leader Apple.

The Kindle Fire was an instant hit by combining Amazon's library of e-books, music and movies with one of the lowest tablet price points featured quality technology. In the fourth quarter of 2011, IDC reported over 6 million units of the Kindle Fire were sold, making Amazon the No. 2 tablet maker with 16.8 percent of the overall market.

Hence, it was strange then that few companies tried to replicate Amazon's model. Tablet manufacturers are still trying to compete with Apple, releasing products with specifications close to or better than the iPad. The result has been that few tablets under $400.

Perhaps only one company, Google, possesses the resources and the content to offer a tablet capable of taking on the Kindle Fire.

The first Google-branded handset, the Google Nexus One, was manufactured by HTC and was the first to be sold directly by Google to consumers. It served as the template for other Google devices like the Nexus S, the Nexus ONE and the Galaxy Nexus. With each product, Google partnered with an established device manufacturer, focusing its own efforts on the user-interface and optimizing its Android operating system for a particular device.

Google finally introduced its first branded tablet, Nexus 7, at its I/O conference last June 27 with a price tag of $199, meaning it will compete directly with the Kindle Fire. The Android OS, particularly Honeycomb, had long been used by iPad competitors. The Nexus 7 tablet also included the latest version of Android, 4.1, or Jelly Bean.

Like Kindle Fire, Nexus 7 offers specifications comparable to other tablets while also taking advantage of the rich library of applications that were available through Google's Android Market. Featuring a 7-inch display, Nexus 7 also uses Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor while also sporting 1 GB of internal RAM and the option of up to 16 Gb of storage.

What's inside?
Since the Tegra 3 processor's first design win inside the ASUS Transformer Prime, it has been steadily grabbing more socket wins. According to our IRIS database, Tegra 3 has at least five design wins, including a major win in the new Microsoft Surface tablet.

The 1.3GHz, low power SoC was the first mobile applications processor to incorporate four cores each in the CPU and GPU. The Tegra 3 features "Variable Symmetric Multiprocessing" that uses a single low power core for tasks requiring less power consumption.

Front side view of the Nexus 7 communications board.

New vendors
Among the chip suppliers in the Nexus 7 are familiar companies like Maxim, providing the main power management IC (MAX77612A), and Texas Instruments with two design wins also related to the power management. Hynix also won a socket for memory with its 2 Gb DDR3 SDRAM modules on the main board. We also found a 8-Gb memory module from Kingston manufactured by SanDisk/Toshiba and a PN65 NFC secure module from NXP. The latter device was recently found in the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Broadcom was another notable design winner with it BCM4330 802.11n with Bluetooth wireless transceiver and BCM4751 integrated GPS receiver. The BCM4330 is paired with an AzureWave AW-NH665 802.11n Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM radio module.

Among the chip makers not usually seen in tablets is ELAN Microelectronics, which provided controllers for the Nexus 7's touchscreen. We have previously seen ELAN microcontrollers in handsets manufactured for the Chinese market, so the Nexus 7 represents a major design win for the Taiwanese vendor.

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