This week Google went and set the tech world abuzz by announcing their new Nexus7 tablet, the result of a partnership with ASUS. Recent success of Amazon’s Kindle Fire has given Google hope that the small screen, inexpensive tablet market is one worth pursuing. Anyone who has considered adding a tablet to their arsenal of tech gadgets but has balked at the price tag (or paltry performance of most low-end tablets) should take a second look at the Nexus 7.
While your first inclination is probably to compare it to the iPad, the dominant tablet on the market, in truth the Nexus 7 wasn’t made to compete with the iPad. Its $199 starting price tag and 7” screen puts it squarely in the ring with the major eReader hybrids on the market: Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet. It’s not going to stand up as well against the iPad or pricier Android tablets, but when its $200 less it would be like comparing a Honda Civic to a Mercedes. Some of the basic functionality is the same, but without all the bells and whistles.
When it comes to hardware, the Nexus 7 outpaces every other similarly priced tablet on the market. It’s faster to respond to your input, lighter weight, and has a better resolution display. It also offers a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera for video chat (through Skype or Google+) that the Fire and Nook lack.
The biggest complaint about tablets is that they typically lack the power to do much beyond surf the net and check your email. Google has put a lot of attention into getting this device capable of doing more. It’s got a faster processor (a quad-core vs. the dual-cores offered by Fire and Nook) and a dedicated graphics processor to allow images to render faster.
It’s the first mobile handheld gadget to ship with the new Android 4.1 “Jellybean” OS. They’ve added the tweak of “Project Butter” (seriously, who thinks up the names for these things?) which promises to throttle up the CPU to make the OS more responsive. It uses predictive algorithms to anticipate your next move and respond more quickly.
Since the core function of a tablet is to view media (be it streamed from the web or stored on the device) and play games, display quality is a huge factor. While comparative tablets share the same screen size (7”), the Nexus 7’s display resolution is superior. On the Fire or Nook, you’ll do a lot of “pinch-to-zoom” to get the smaller text on a webpage or online magazine large enough to read comfortably. The Nexus 7’s higher resolution allows for smaller text to be clear and easier to read, making the experience of paging through media or surfing the web more enjoyable.
My issue with all low-priced tablets is how content is funneled through their proprietary channels. They’re really just a tool to purchase content through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and now Google. If you purchase and stream content from these sources anyway, you’re going to be married to the device that supports your library. In my opinion, Amazon offers the largest selection of inexpensive content, so if you’re planning to start a library I would be hard-pressed to steer you away from the Kindle Fire. For example, while Google Play offers most of the same magazine’s as Amazon, many of them are more expensive. No one can yet compete with Amazon’s library of eBooks, music and movies.
If you want to watch your own content (movies or photos) or listen to your own music on the device, the Nook is the only low-priced tablet that supports an expansion SD card. For those that wonder why storage on a tablet matters, the first long flight without internet access to stream new material will leave you wondering why you bothered packing your 8GB Fire or Nexus 7.
Verdict? Wait a couple months for the rumored next generation of Kindle Fire to be released. If it’s closer to the Nexus 7’s hardware specs you may be glad you waited. If you don’t plan to purchase content and are just looking for a low priced tablet to surf the net, play games and check your email, the Nexus 7 is absolutely the best small-screen, low priced tablet currently on the market.