The EVGA Tegra Note 7 Hardware and Features

The EVGA NVIDIA Tegra Note 7 is a 7-in class Android tablet that will start at $199 in the US.  While it isn't the best tablet I have used to date, this NVIDIA option has a lot of compelling features and stunning performance for Android gaming.

The Tegra Note 7 is powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC which includes a 4+1 CPU configuration.  This design, which we detailed in a previous article, uses a set of four ARM Cortex-A15 cores for high performance uses and then takes advantage of a single, lower power A15 core for background tasks and simple processing.  This 4+1 configuration helps to save power in idle and standby scenarios and is very similar in theory to the ARM big.LITTLE configurations that are becoming popular.

Graphics processing is handled by a 72 core GPU, though we are still waiting for the true “NVIDIA architected Kepler” cores that will arrive with NVIDIA's next Tegra design, Logan.  Until then, Tegra 4 still boasts some of the best mobile graphics performance of any device we have tested ,and the company’s push for game developers to optimize for Tegra is proving to be successful.

The display is a 1280×800 IPS panel that actually looks quite good at all viewing distances and angles.  The Google Nexus 7 obviously has the advantage here with a 1920×1200 resolution display, but I didn’t have any complaints about the quality of screen on the Tegra Note 7.  Text was sharp even up close and photos and movies are bright and clear.  Gameplay showcases a great color range and the 1280×800 resolution means that slowdown in frame rates is minimal to non-existent. 

The back of the Tegra Note 7 is all plastic, but the middle of the rear panel is rubber-ish and facilitates easy and slip-free handling of the tablet in both portrait and landscape positions.  The EVGA branding is added in just this single location, while the Tegra Note logo is prominent and distinct.   Compared to Nexus 7, the Note 7 doesn’t feel quite as polished of a device. For example, there are some plastic edges that you can feel the seam on. 

Unusually placed at the top of the Note 7, NVIDIA has included a micro-USB port for data and charging, a headphones jack, power/sleep button and even a micro-HDMI port for video output.  NVIDIA put a pretty strong curve on the bezel of the device and as a result the connections here are not ideally placed.  The headphone jack leaves part of the metal exposed (above the third ring on the connector) though I didn’t have any problems using headphones for move playback or gaming.  The USB connection is on the same angle which also leaves some of the metal exposed and also makes it difficult to plug in. 

The rear facing camera is 5MP and supports HDR, while the front facing camera is standard VGA resolution.  Taking pictures with the Note 7 was painless and produced good quality results in day light conditions.  Low light photography was a bit subpar compared to my Galaxy GS4 and the Nexus 7, but NVIDIA thinks that will improve once the HDR changes are made later this year. 

One of the features showcased during the Tegra 4 launch event at CES last year was the always on HDR capability.  Thanks to the GPU processing, HDR processing can be offloaded from the ARM cores. NVIDIA says they will enable always on HDR in a push update by the end of the year for the Tegra Note 7.

The Note 7 includes 16GB of on-board flash storage which should be enough for many users ,but the microSD slot is easily accessible for up to 64GB of additional storage.  Just below it are the volume buttons that control the audio output levels.

Speaking of audio output, the front facing speakers on the Note 7 are impressive to hear in person and are better than any other tablet or smartphone I have held.  Bass is substantially better than on the iPad Air or Nexus 7, and the stereo effect in a front facing configuration sounds great.  In my view, speakers should always be placed on the front of a device that is in any way meant to be used for media consumption without headphones.  How many times have you cupped your hand around the back of your tablet or phone while watching a YouTube video?

For communications and networking, the Note 7 is limited to Wi-Fi only, and 2.4 GHz frequencies at that.  Though it does support 802.11n, the lack of 5 GHz support (like the SHIELD already has) is definitely a letdown as the 2.4 GHz spectrum continues to get more and more crowded.  Miracast is supported for wireless display connectivity, as is Bluetooth 4.0 LE for low power connections to external devices. 

One of the most interesting features is the inclusion of a stylus with the Note 7, a feature lacking in most tablets in this price range.  Even though this is a passive stylus, NVIDIA claims that the DirectStylus technology they have developed offers active-like features at a much lower price point. 

The Tegra Note 7 is able to handle palm rejection for when you rest your hand on the screen while drawing, has very low latency drawing, and also can support variable width inputs with the same stylus.  The stylus includes a softer rubber tip that actually spreads out on the screen to allow for wider strokes.  Active devices use the pressure of the active stylus to change drawing width, but that adds cost to the device both with the stylus and the internal controller.

NVIDIA integrates the stylus well by popping up a menu with configurable application shortcuts when the user removes the stylus from the holster.  Android is modified to include shortcuts to the lasso tool when the stylus is out as well, which allows you to do things like circle a collection of text and images on a website and easily share it via email, etc.  Though I am no artist, I have used my fair share of stylus based devices and the Note 7 easily has the best passive integration I have ever seen.

Speaking of Android, just like the SHIELD, the Tegra Note 7 will be using a nearly completely stock version of the operating system and promises to get frequent updates to the latest version.  The Note 7 as we tested it included version 4.2.2 of Android, but 4.3 is on its way sometime in November.  With the SHIELD already running on 4.3, I see no reason to doubt NVIDIA’s timing here. 

To be clear: this is one of the key benefits of the Google Nexus product platform, and if NVIDIA wants to keep up in this area they are going to have a big advantage over other companies like Samsung.

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