Not long ago, it became clear that it was time to add a new tablet to the collection of technology here at the Laron household. There were a few reasons for that, but the main one was that my access to our existing Apple iPad 2 had become extremely limited. My wife, Maryanne, while not exactly a Luddite, is slower to "warm" to new tech than I am. However, she recently decided to find out what all this tablet talk was about, and once she spent some time with my, um, our slate, that, as they say, was that. So what did we get, and why? You'll have to follow me after the jump to find out.
From the preceding, many of you probably surmised that the decision of what to get was an easy one -- just get a second iPad, this time the newly released 4th generation version. On some levels, that makes perfect sense, but I wasn't sure that it would have been the right choice for us. For one thing, as much as I enjoy(ed) our iPad, I am operating system agnostic: My smartphone is a well-liked and constant companion as well, and it is Android based. Second, I was attracted to the form factor of a smaller tablet. The big reason why is that while the iPad is great for use at home, it actually is a little bit of a handful for travel, at least in my opinion.
Going through our latest report on tablet computers, I quickly narrowed the choice down to two: The Apple iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 is our pick as the top "cheap" tablet, and it's the only 7-inch slate to make the cut as a Best Reviewed selection. However, we had a pretty good comfort level with the iPad 2 we own, and the iPad mini is also well regarded by lots of reviewers. To make the final call, it was time to spend some quality time with both tablets.
In terms of first impressions, the iPad mini is simply stunning. It's thin and light, and just feels great in the hand. The Nexus 7 is no slouch in the looks department either, and the textured plastic back helps your hands keep their grip. Speaking of grip, the smaller size of the Nexus 7 also makes it a little easier to hold. Still -- and there's no way to sugarcoat it -- next to the iPad mini with its edge-to-edge glass front and brushed aluminum back, the all plastic (save for the screen) Nexus 7 simply looks like a more cheaply made alternative. In addition, the iPad mini comes in black or white, while the Nexus 7 is black only. Advantage: iPad mini
Of course, it's what's inside that counts. On paper, the Nexus 7 outclasses the iPad mini in most ways. Its processor is clearly more powerful; as noted in our report, the iPad mini rocks the same dual-core A5 processor used in the iPad 2, while the Nexus 7 uses the beefier and newer Nvidia Tegra 3 quad core processor. Ditto the screen: On paper, the iPad mini's 7.9-inch 1,024 by 768 pixel screen is a notable step behind the Nexus 7's 7-inch 1,280 by 800 pixel one.
The funny thing is that paper and the real world don't always perfectly match up. In use, the Nexus 7 generally lived up to its performance pedigree, but I found some "hold on a second" moments as well as we put the slate through its paces. For example, the stock Chrome browser was laggy enough to be bothersome. While the browser's performance was the exception to the rule (and the issue is rendered mute for those that use one of the other browsers available via the Google Play store), I didn't encounter similar behavior at all in tests of the iPad mini.
As far as the screen goes, I had few complaints with either device. Next to one another, the Nexus 7's screen is a tad sharper, but the iPad display was still largely a pleasure to work with -- and the nearly-an-inch larger screen can sometimes be an advantage. In the end, I decided that I would be more than happy with the performance of either device. Advantage: Draw
I'm not going to get into the whole iOS versus Android debate. Both are great mobile operating systems, with pluses and minuses that will impact different users differently. That said, one factor that argues in favor of the mini is that iTunes does have a larger library of tablet-optimized apps -- at least for now -- and makes it a bit easier to find them than it is in Google Play. Advantage: iPad mini
In the end, value turned out to be the factor that tipped the scales After trying each out, I concluded that either tablet would have nicely met my needs (and this was to be my primary tablet). That made it hard to justify the price differential between the two devices: $329 for the 16 GB iPad mini versus $199 for the 16 GB Nexus 7. Things seem even more out of line if you opt for the 32 GB version as I did ($429 for the iPad mini versus $249 for the Nexus 7). To be sure, those that value the high build quality, the iOS ecosystem and iTunes, or the cache of the Apple name will find the iPad mini to be worth its premium price, and for their needs, they won't be wrong.
For me, if the two tablets sold for the same price -- or even near the same price -- I'd probably have opted for an iPad mini instead. They don't, and I didn't. Advantage: Nexus 7