The Nexus 7.
It's still tough to think of Google as a hardware company.
But in the last year and change, it's been surprising everyone with a string of great products. There's the Nexus 4 smartphone. The Chromebook Pixel laptop. The Chromecast video streaming dongle for your TV.
And now there's an update to its well-reviewed 7-inch tablet, the Nexus 7.
The new Nexus 7, which is built by Asus, improves on the original in every conceivable way while still keeping the price low at a very reasonable $229. If you're looking for an affordable, smaller tablet, the Nexus 7 is the first device you should look at.
The Best Tiny Tablet
Simply put, the Nexus 7 is a better overall tablet than Apple's iPad Mini.
It has a sharper screen, it plays full HD video, and it has better speakers that play in stereo.
And you get all that for $100 less than the iPad Mini. Even if you want to double the Nexus 7's storage to 32 GB, you only have to pay an extra $40, not the $100 Apple charges you. That's an incredible value.
Design-wise, the Nexus 7 has been slimmed down from last year's version. It's a bit lighter and has thinner side bezels, all wrapped in a nice-feeling rubbery case. My only problem with the design is the abnormally-large top and bottom bezels around the screen. They make the Nexus 7 look slightly out of proportion. Overall, the Nexus 7 isn't as eye-catching as the iPad Mini, but it's definitely not ugly either.
The Nexus 7 is the perfect size too. It's small enough to hold in one hand, but the 7-inch screen is large enough to enjoy videos, books, and games more than you can on a tiny ~4-inch smartphone screen.
The screen really is the best feature. It's amazing how much of a difference it makes to have a super-sharp display on a tiny tablet. Text is crisp, photos are sharp, and app icons don't look at all blurry or pixelated like they can on the iPad Mini's screen. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled after using so many smartphones with sharp displays, but it's nearly impossible for me to use any device these days that doesn't have one.
On the software side, the Nexus 7 runs a brand new version of Android called 4.3 Jelly Bean. This version is nearly identical to the last one, with most of the improvements under the hood. I won't waste too much time going over all the wonky technical improvements, so just know it's a very solid operating system for tablets.
However, there is one really useful new feature in Android 4.3, especially for those who share their tablets with family members. You now have the option to create separate "restricted" profiles for certain users, which is good if you have kids and want to stop them from looking at naughty things online or using certain apps. It's a feature many iPad users have been desperate for.
A Few Caveats
As good as the hardware is, the Nexus 7 suffers from the same major software problem as every other Android tablet out there. Most Android apps are designed for smartphones, not tablets with 7-inch+ screens. Most Android apps look awkward when blown up on a bigger screen.
Compare that to the iPad, which has tens of thousands of tablet-ready apps. There couldn't be more than a few hundred tablet apps for Android at most. Most of those aren't very good or useful, either. Other apps like HBO GO aren't compatible with the new Nexus 7 yet.
The good news: you'll still be able to do pretty much everything you'd expect to be able to do on a tiny tablet like the Nexus 7. Gmail, calendar, Netflix, magazines, Kindle books, etc. are all there and ready to go.
Next, there's the battery life. Google claims the Nexus 7 can get about 10 hours of battery life, but it sort of fudged the way it tested the battery by switching off the WiFi and keeping the screen's brightness very low. Under normal conditions, with the screen brightness at a higher level and the WiFi turned on, I found that the Nexus 7 only lasted about six or seven hours. I imagine most of the drain comes from the tablet's high-res screen.
Still, I think seven hours is more than enough battery life for most people. It may not be as good as the iPad Mini's 10-hour battery life, but it's still better than most smartphones and laptops. I doubt most people will have a problem with the Nexus 7's battery life.
So, there are a few tradeoffs you have to consider: Is having less battery life and fewer tablet apps worth the $100 in savings? For most people, the answer is probably yes.
The new Nexus 7 isn't just a great tablet for the price. It's a great tablet, period. Unless you're completely hooked on Apple products, you're better off with the Nexus 7 instead of the iPad Mini. It's an incredible value at $229, and it will suit most people's needs perfectly.
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