Google Unveils Nexus 7 Tablet, New Android 'Jelly Bean' OS

Software giant Google officially entered the tablet space Wednesday with the launch of its Nexus 7 tablet PC, a 7-inch device co-manufactured by Asus and poised to become one of the biggest challengers to Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Google's entry into the ballyhooed tablet hardware market comes one week after Microsoft unveiled plans to begin shipping its own tablet, called Surface, later this year.

As widely speculated it would, Google took the wraps of Nexus 7 during the keynote address of its I/O Developer conference Wednesday in San Francisco, along with the next-generation version of its popular Android mobile OS, version 4.1 "Jelly Bean," which will make its debut on the new tablet.

[Related: Can Google Partners Sell Chromebooks Against Microsoft's Surface Tablet? ]

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Nexus 7 will start shipping in mid-July, starting at $199, the same price point as the Kindle Fire. The lowest-end tablet currently sold by market leader Apple is its iPad 2, which starts at $399.

The Nexus 7 will also be the first tablet on the market to ship with Google’s home-grown Chrome Web browser included natively.

Director of Android Product Management Hugo Barra said Nexus 7 was built with media consumption in mind. An emphasis was placed especially on ease-of-access to magazines, books, movies and TV shows downloaded from Google’s own app store, Google Play.

"We wanted to design a best-of-Google experience that is optimized around all this great content," Barra told the crowd in an address that was broadcast on the Web. "We want to let you immerse yourself in all that media."

Nexus 7 has a 1,200-by-800 HD display and a front-facing camera, and it can deliver up to nine hours of video playback or 300 hours of standby time. The tablet also boasts a 1.3GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, along with an Nvidia GeForce 12-core GPU.

Weighing in at 340 grams, or about 12 ounces, Nexus 7 is a bit lighter than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which weighs 14.6 ounces.

The new Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, which will become available to other handset manufacturers next month, is said by Google to deliver a faster and smoother user experience compared to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and prior releases.

It will arm users with a slew of new input options, such as offline voice typing, which can convert a user’s speech into text without the need for a wireless connection, along with gesture control, which allows users to navigate Jelly Bean’s user interface with the swipe of a hand.

A digital voice assistant, similar to the iPhone 4’s Siri, is also available with the new OS, as are new Android Beam capabilities, allowing users to share videos and photos using built-in near-field communication capabilities. With Ice Cream Sandwich, users could only use Android Beam to share web pages, maps or contact information.

Microsoft unveiled last week the home-grown Surface tablet PC, which is based on its upcoming Windows RT OS and will compete directly with other manufacturers that already partner with Microsoft, such as Samsung and Lenovo, both of which are slated to launch Windows RT-based tablets later this year.

In addition to Nexus 7, Google also announced a media streaming device called Nexus Q, capable of streaming movies and other multimedia content directly from Google Play onto a user’s TV or PC screen.