Editors' roundtable: Weighing in on Android 4.3, Chromecast and the new Nexus 7

This morning during a (relatively) intimate breakfast in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood, Google unleashed what we'll call an Android fan trifecta. We got Android 4.3, an updated Nexus 7, and the Chromecast HDMI dongle, which takes the place of the aborted Nexus Q living-room media device. Not a bad summer haul at all.

Android 4.3 is available now on Google's Nexus devices, and we should see it hit others relatively quickly. The Nexus 7 goes on sale July 30. Chromecast is available now in several channels and should start shipping directly from Google by the weekend, if not sooner.

Today, Google announced three things. And we think things about these things. Read on for thoughts from myself, and editors Jerry Hildenbrand and Alex Dobie. Plus, we've got writer Casey Rendon, forum moderator leader Kevin O'Quinn, and our man on the west coast, Andrew Martonik — who covered the event for us on Thursday — on Android 4.3, the new Nexus 7, and Google's Chromecast.

On Android 4.3 ...

Phil Nickinson: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: There are no “minor” updates. Don’t look down on under-the-hood changes. Google’s got the basic UI fairly well dialed in. (Though I wouldn’t rule out some sort of tweak later this year.) It’s better at this point in time to improve how well things work more often than change the way things work. Bluetooth Low Energy could well turn out to be a game-changer, depending on how well (and how quickly) it’s implemented. And any overall improvement in graphics performance is a good thing.

And Googlers deserve some major props for getting it pushed out onto Nexus devices and AOSP — and Nexus factory images as well — in a matter of hours (if not minutes).

Alex Dobie: It looks the same, but it's faster and it does more stuff. Don't be fooled by the fact that it looks almost exactly like 4.2 — Android 4.3 gives away some vital clues about areas of future focus for Google and Android. Wearable devices — think Glass and the widely rumored Google Watch — are going to be huge in the next year, and Bluetooth Low Energy support means you can connect extra stuff to your phone without killing your battery.

At the same time, iOS continues to lead when it comes to high-profile games. And OpenGL ES 3.0 support will allow Android to gain some ground in graphical fidelity.

Besides those two major "behind the scenes" changes, Android 4.3 brings more buttery performance and the kinds of important little optimizations that lead to a more reliable, more mature mobile OS.

Jerry Hildenbrand: Plenty of folks will be saying that the Android 4.3 update is a minor one, because on the surface it looks much like Android 4.2 and 4.1 did. We’re at the stage where Google no longer needs to refresh the user interface, and focusing on what’s under the hood is what they’ve done with 4.3. The important changes to me are the OpenGL ES 3.0 support, which means better and more robust APIs for developers to build apps that look better and run smoother, and the new “Parental controls” in the tablet multi-account option. Nobody wants their kids or little brother to run up their credit card because Candy Crush Saga tempted them with extra lives, and this is going to help. Allowing parents to more easily control how their little ones can use a device like an Android tablet means that more little ones are going to be exposed to them. We need little nerds to grow up with Android-powered devices in their hands.

Andrew Martonik: Although I haven’t had my hands on Android 4.3 for long at this point, I’m looking forward to everything in this release. Building on multi-user support to add restricted accounts is a big deal for parents and those who lend out their tablet — and although it isn’t a feature that will “wow” everyone, the people who need it will love it. Back-end improvements in OpenGL and Bluetooth Low Energy also don’t mean a whole lot on day one, but they open up serious possibilities for developers (and device makers) going forward. Google took a lot of time at its event today to explain how much OpenGL ES 3.0 means for graphical performance on Android, something that hasn’t always been the greatest strength of the platform historically.

Best of all Google is pushing out the Android 4.3 updates to Nexus devices starting today, which is exactly how it should be done (if you know a Googler, buy him or her a beer this weekend). This update brings a nice bit of polish and tightening of the screws to Android, and I can’t wait to get deep into the new features of this platform release.

Kevin O’Quinn: While on the surface things look the same, under-the-hood changes should not be brushed off. Bluetooth Low Energy will be great for always connected devices, like Glass and the oft-rumored Google Watch. Historically Bluetooth Low Energy has been released only on non-AOSP devices, so seeing it in Google’s build of Android means it will probably be a standard feature for all future Android devices.

OpenGL ES 3.0 is a big deal for gamers. It should open up capabilities for developers to make even more immersive games than we’re currently seeing. Things like better shadows, more particle effects, and other eye candy that we all like to see in games. The UI getting even smoother is also a benefit here.

Parental controls are also a welcomed feature, and one that any parent will tell you has been sorely needed on Android. Now we can just hand our tablet to our kids and not have to worry about them spending money, or watching shows on HBO Go that we don’t want them to see. This will make me far more comfortable as a parent when letting them use my tablets.

Casey Rendon: I’ve been waiting for Android 4.3 since Google I/O a few months back, and am very excited about this morning’s announcement. This time around, the release of the next version of Android seems much more coordinated and organized. Almost immediately after the announcement, the Android 4.3 factory images for Nexus devices were on Google’s servers ready for download. This saves Nexus users much scrambling and waiting for those slow OTA rollouts to begin. Instant gratification — thanks, Google.

As a Nexus 4 owner, I’m very happy about the touchscreen improvements in this release — my favorite phone just got better. Updated Bluetooth has been a long time coming; I’m looking forward to toying around with lots of Bluetooth accessories that can stay paired without killing my device’s battery. Also — full HD Netflix! The new DRM APIs will no doubt bring our mobile devices closer to providing the same experience as laptops and PCs.

While some things about this update and previous Android updates make the OS just more “up-to-date,” the new OpenGL ES 3.0 is Android leading the way into a new standard. Gaming potential for Android just got a huge boost. I can’t wait to get my hands on a new Nexus 7 and the games that take advantage of OpenGL ES 3.0.

On the new Nexus 7 ...

Phil Nickinson: A great tablet gets even better. I’m loving the addition of stereo speakers. That’s been sorely missed on the Nexus 7 (and any number of other tablets.) I haven’t ever wished I had a rear-facing camera on the Nexus 7 (or any other tablet, for that matter), but better to have it and need it than to need it and not have it. I’ll have to withhold judgment on the overall design of the thing until I get to hold it, but chances are it’ll be just fine. And LTE. Finally.

Jerry Hildenbrand: I love the 7-inch form factor. I use a tablet strictly as a content consumption device and have found that holding a 10-inch tablet while laid back in a lounge chair or in bed isn’t nearly as comfortable as holding a 7-inch tablet is. That being said, the thing I do most on my tablet is read e-books, so the bump in resolution will be a welcome change. I’ll miss some of my Tegra-enhanced games, but I think I’ll get a lot of use out of the new Nexus 7.

Alex Dobie: LTE has been a long time coming, and for me, the 4G version of the tablet will be the one worth waiting for. It's a significant step towards the next Nexus phone sporting unlocked LTE, as well.

A slimmer, lighter and sleeker form factor is welcome, especially when you see how bulky the old N7 is compared to the iPad mini. Google's conscious decision to make the new Nexus tablet "jacket pocket friendly" is a smart move too, as Apple's miniature tablet suffers from being just too wide to allow for easy portability. The combination of faster performance, a narrower body and LTE support make the new Nexus tablet a tempting proposition, and it'll be interesting to see how Apple responds.

Andrew Martonik: This is a serious update inside and out for the Nexus 7. Google knows how important the original N7 was for pushing tablet apps and expanding the Android ecosystem to larger form factors, and it is taking the new Nexus 7 just as seriously. On the hardware side Google (and ASUS, really) have stepped up its game in terms of fit and finish, with subtle touches like the screen glass that rolls off the edge to the sides — this is absolutely top-notch hardware. The device is also thinner, lighter and narrower — everything that’s important for one-handed use.

On the inside you basically have the Nexus 4’s internals, and together with a new 1920 by 1200 screen I have no issue with the $29 bump in price on the base model. Google also deserves a serious pat on the back for broad LTE support in one SKU, which has me hopeful for LTE Nexus devices going forward.

This is a device worthy of the “Google” and “Nexus” names printed on the box.

Kevin O’Quinn: Leading up to the announcement this is what had me most excited. I use the Nexus 7 all the time, for all kinds of things. Ok, mostly consumption and gaming. It’s far easier to browse the web on a smaller tablet, and holding it in front of me while sitting on the couch or laying in bed is just comfortable. Google has stepped it up with the new Nexus 7. A much faster processor, higher resolution display, and stereo speakers are geared towards those that consume media on their tablet. Netflix will be streaming in 1080p, so video and audio will be much better than the outgoing model.

Casey Rendon: I love my (old) Nexus 7. It was a huge deal when it was announced, bringing Jelly Bean with it. There were noticeable shortcoming with that tablet, however. Especially after using later Nexus devices like the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10, the original Nexus 7 began to feel sluggish.

The new Nexus 7 addresses this problem with a faster CPU, faster GPU, and double the RAM. Add to that a rear camera and dual speakers, as well as a thinner profile both in width and height, and you’ve got yourself a winner. One of the most popular 7-inch tablets just got its creases ironed out, and will be a strong competitor for some time to come. 

On the Chromecast ...

Jerry Hildenbrand: Goodbye Nexus Q, hello Chromecast! This is what I’m most excited about of all the things we saw Google announce at their San Francisco event. Being able to play movies and music from my Google account through my living room entertainment center is something I really enjoy, and it certainly looks like the Chromecast is an easy way to do just that.

I’m also pretty excited about the APIs that go along with it, and what cool things developers -- especially web developers -- can do with them. It may not be Android in your living room in a technical sense, but the features it offers are exactly the ones I’ve been waiting for.

Alex Dobie: This is the anti-Nexus Q -- ten times as useful for a tenth of the price. Unlike Phil, my own Nexus Q has gathered dust for close to a year, it's usefulness diminished by its insistence that I do everything through Google's services, even when some of those services weren't available outside the U.S.

Chromecast is an impulse buy, and it's low price, combined with the fact that it works with just about everything, could make this little HDMI stick a runaway success. For $35, every screen in the world can become an accessory for your Android, iOS, Chrome and Windows devices.

Andrew Martonik: Having never spent time with the Nexus Q in my own living room, I’m extremely excited by the potential of a cheap dongle that brings the best content from my phone, tablet or laptop directly to the big screen. At just $35 with Youtube, Play Music, Play Movies & TV and Netflix support on day one, the Chromecast is a no-brainer purchase even if you just plan to use it for one or two things.

I see huge potential for the Chromecast going forward. With such a low barrier to entry on the consumer side and simple ways for developers to integrate “cast” functionality in their own apps, we could see some really interesting things happen in this space by the end of the year.

Phil Nickinson: I think my Nexus Q has been looking at me funny, like it’s known this day was coming. For as much as I loved the Q — the function as well as the design — that little sphere was simply too expensive to be viable. That’s not to say it was a bad product. There’s a place for ridiculously high-end. Just not in this case. As exciting as it is to regain the Q’s streaming functionality, perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of the Chromecast SDK, and what other apps and services we might see take advantage of it. One-on-one Hangouts on TV, anyone?

Kevin O’Quinn: Leading up to today, the new Nexus 7 is what I was looking forward to. After seeing the event, this is what has me most excited. Google has taken what they started with the Nexus Q and made it better in every single way. It streams everything the Q did plus some, and adds a few surprises. Want to view a web page on your tv? No problem. And by-the-way, you can choose which tab to show. That’s really cool. Making playlists on Youtube to watch on your tv. This is most of what I want to be able to do with a media device built in to a single product. Netflix support is a bonus. The fact that it’s only $35 is icing on the cake. Since Google is releasing an SDK to complement Chromecast, it will only get better with time.

Casey Rendon: A Nexus Q for $35? Yes, please! At this price point, you really can’t afford not to buy one — especially those of us who love tech gadgets (which is probably anyone reading this). The seamless multi-platform integration is very likely to make the Chromecast a must-have tool in the average living room, bedroom, or any room with a television.

Not depending on a mobile device or computer to stream content to a television should be huge for functionality, and the “it just works” factor. That is the real key to reach a widespread user base, and Google know

Phil Nickinson
  • I know this could be the result of flashing the 4.3 rom just today,but i'm not so sure.Because i just got 4 and a half hours of on screen time on the original nexus 7,and that was with only using 55% of the battery.That is incredible.4.3 has made me fall in love with the nexus 7 all over once again.
  • Is that the very first original with the Tegra processor? I'd love if my Nexus 7 had better battery life!
  • It is indeed.
  • Chromecast is the killer hardware of 2013 in my opinion. As you guys said its as useful as any set top box for the price of a nice steak dinner (Actually the steak would be more).
  • The price is stunning. I've been looking to find a way to do what this does in some small way, and I just can't do it. Now let me buy it, Google! Posted via Android Central App
  • Does 4.3 finally play music through the usb cable in cars? THAT is a sorely needed improvement and was supposed to be here by now. So...does it, please???
  • No, and it won't happen. The iPhone and other devices with non standard ports (Sandisk Fuse, or even the original HTC G1) have audio out as part of the proprietary connector. But any modern Android device with standard micro USB only has data, power, and ground, so there isn't a way to do audio out through USB. This is why some devices like the original Nexus 7 have pogo plugs that can provide audio out.
  • hmm, my car has a usb plug, and when I plug in my GNex (to charge) I get 'connected as media device' in the notification area. I've not been able to play media from the usb on 4.2.2 but on 4.3 tpday the song info is displayed through the bluetooth (AVRCP). When i get home tonight I'll grab a usb lead and check the media...
  • "Connected as media device" has been around for a LONG time. It only means that your phone is connected to your computer in a way that makes the media files visible - similar to when you connect a camera to a USB port. You can access and open the phone's media files from the computer, but you can't do it from the phone.
  • I have the nexus 10. Why am I not getting the ota update Posted via Android Central App
  • Try going into updates and manually checking (if you haven't already) If that doesn't work, don't worry, its coming soon. Posted from my Samsung Galaxy tab with Android 4.2.2
  • If you have your bootloader unlocked you can use the wugfresh toolkit to flash the factory image, it was super easy!
  • ChromeCast is exciting. It really has the potential to be a catalyst of disruption, playing its part in shaking up tired incumbents. Now all I need to know is when the UK will see it. Love the new Nexus 7 and will be very tempted to wait for the LTE version (thanks Alex for highlighting that we are getting one in the podcast earlier ... I was a little worried in the announcement). As for 4.3 it all seems to be heading in the right direction, tightening things up and allowing for more improvements down the line, both from Google and the wider developer community. With so many major updates happening to key apps outside of OS updates, it is to be expected and welcomed that announcements like today will be focussed on the core OS fundamentals. Thanks for the coverage today, it was truly excellent.
  • Even though not a tons of things were announced today, it seems and feels like today was more exciting than this year's Google I/O...
  • OK thanks but I am confused the article posted says the ota update for the nexus devices are rolling out as we speak. I haven't gotten it yet and my buddy who owns a nexus 7 hasn't gotten it yet either. So what's the deal . does anyone have a detailed explanation. Thanks. Posted via Android Central App
  • Not everyone gets it rolled out to them at the exact same time, that would crash the servers. While it starts today it will take while to make it to all the Nexus owners out there, there are a lot of them. I have a 4 and 7 no ota yet, but I am patient. It's coming. Posted via Android Central App
  • Yes, the OTA is rolling out, which means that it won't hit all devices at once. It takes time.
  • Does anyone know if the Chromecast will play nicely with my receiver? I have one that does the Anynet service and so it should be able to run the Chromecast, I think..
  • I'm finding it hard to purchase a Chromecast when I already own a Roku that basically does the same thing. And I only have two HDMI ports which are already used by my Blu-Ray player and my Roku so it's really a choice between the Chromecast and the Roku. In the end, what can the Chromecast do that my Roku can't? However, for people that don't own a Roku, the price of the Chromecast makes it the best option. Posted via Android Central App
  • Google Play All Access out of my stereo with my device in my hand for one. That's worth $11 to me.
  • I'm finding it hard to purchase a Chromecast when I already own a Roku that basically does the same thing. And I only have two HDMI ports which are already used by my Blu-Ray player and my Roku so it's really a choice between the Chromecast and the Roku. In the end, what can the Chromecast do that my Roku can't? However, for people that don't own a Roku, the price of the Chromecast makes it the best option. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm finding it hard to purchase a Chromecast when I already own a Roku that basically does the same thing. And I only have two HDMI ports which are already used by my Blu-Ray player and my Roku so it's really a choice between the Chromecast and the Roku. In the end, what can the Chromecast do that my Roku can't? However, for people that don't own a Roku, the price of the Chromecast makes it the best option. Posted via Android Central App
  • Yeah, if you already have a Roku, smart TV, or other streaming solution (I use my laptop) then it makes no sense to purchase this. But, if you're curious, the Chromecast is essentially $11; that price is hard to beat, especially, for some nice hardware. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm finding it hard to purchase a Chromecast when I already own a Roku that basically does the same thing. And I only have two HDMI ports which are already used by my Blu-Ray player and my Roku so it's really a choice between the Chromecast and the Roku. In the end, what can the Chromecast do that my Roku can't? However, for people that don't own a Roku, the price of the Chromecast makes it the best option. Posted via Android Central App
  • Google Play All Access Music with my device in my hands and not AUX cable. That's worth $11 to me.
  • Wow. Sorry about the insane repostings. I'm on a really bad data connection and things are just...happening. Posted via Android Central App
  • Don't worry. Sometimes things just... Happen. Like that capital H. Did I say I wanted it to be capitalized? No, I did not. But it just happened anyway. Posted via Android Central App
  • The next few articles for months to come will revolve around, "Chromecast out of stock on the play store", "Google claims manufacturer shortage to blame for Chromecast unavailability", "Chromecast back in stock at the play store. Get it now!", "Play Store sold out of Chromecast again". :-P This, of course, will be a good sign though. Can't wait! :-D Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm not so sure... With availability at Best Buy and Amazon, I can't imagine they wouldn't build enough of these. Plus, if you're alluding to the N4 shortages, I think the demand will remain a niche product at the beginning as I would assume that a vast amount more people are interested in a $300 superpower than an equally awesome priced "cord cutting" device. But we all know what happens when one assumes.... Posted via Android Central App
  • True, good points though. We'll see :-) Posted via Android Central App
  • No, I actually agree with you. More and more people will catch on, to using the Chromecast as a way to cut the cord. It may very well sell out and be sold out, as much as or even more than the Nexus 4. When the cheaper Acer and Samsung Chromebooks first debuted, they were consistently sold out, for months, at Best Buy, Amazon, and Google. Posted via Android Central App
  • Hopefully btlp will mean Google voice operation will finally include bt operation. Been a long time coming
  • This. That would be absolutely amazing. Posted via Android Central App
  • Chromecast looks so good, and that price pretty much made it an impulse buy for me.
  • Does Bluetooth LE need new hardware or would older devices support it? Ordered the Chromecast this afternoon from Amazon after being too late to get it from the Play store. Now the wait begins!
  • Any device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 can run Bluetooth LE. It was just a matter of Google doing their tinkering and making it available to Devs, which they have done with 4.3 Posted via George Foreman Grill
  • Cool! Thanks for the reply. Just found that the Galaxy Nexus actually supports 4.0. Now if Sprint would just get its act together and release 4.3 for mysidspr.
  • Two words for this excellent recap, "very nicely done" yup Posted via Android Central App
  • That's three words.
  • While I have already ordered a Chromecast, part of me really hopes they push out an update to the existing Nexus Q's and add this functionality. It seems such a waste to have a beautiful device die entirely.
  • Just ordered mine from Google Play! Posted via Android Central App
  • This is why AC is my source of choice for anything Android. The news, the information, just enough opinion, and the complete perspective. And Jerry's neckbeard.
  • "(if you know a Googler, buy he or she a beer this weekend)" Where did you learn to write, Andrew? Do you even grammar, bro?
  • Actually, that was a tired editor, gorked out on cold medicine after a long day. But thanks for playing.
  • And Phil raised his staff and said "Troll, you shall not pass!" Posted via Android Central App
  • You know the chromecast is a hot item when it sells out online at every place it's sold at and people on eBay are getting over $80 for a device that sells for $35. I can't wait to get mine. Via Android Central App from a Galaxy Note 2
  • Wish I bought two! Could of sold one for $80, clearing $70. Which would've made my net purchase $0 to have one chrome cast dongle with 3 free months of Netflix!
  • Any idea if this new bluetooth update gives us media info on our car stereo screens? I heard something like this was a feature. Right now, a connected android phone (via bluetooth) just says something like "media connected" on the screen. This would be sweet if this was true.
  • http://gadgets.ndtv.com/mobiles/news/10-new-features-in-android-43-jelly... Number 7 on this list
  • Our LG TV already does great with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. But what it doesn't do is Google's Services. For access to All Access, my music loaded on Google's cloud and especially Play Movies, it was well worth the $35 with Netflix subsidy! I've been wanting some way to get that content to the TV, and I love being able to use our phones, iPads/tablets to control it!
  • NEXUS 7 SCREENS CRACKING EASY My Nexus 7 Ver 1 screen cracked and I am not sure how it happened. I carry it in a front pocket and it was cracked near one corner when removed and touch screen was not functional. The device was never dropped. ASUS charge is $193 + shipping to repair it. Most of the comments are that it happens and most don't know how it happened. Does the new N7 use the same mechanical design. The plastic back just snaps in and does not add to the strength of the case to protect the screen. Be cautious before buying one. Anyone aware of this problem, please comment. Search: Nexus 7 Screen Cracked, to read 100's of posts on the subject.