Apple iPad mini vs Google Nexus 7 (budget tablet showdown)

Ever since the first rumors regarding Google’s Nexus 7 tablet emerged online, a multitude of experts began to claim that Apple (the company that jumpstarted the tablet market with the introduction of the original iPad back in 2010) would bring to market a budget tablet of its own  – although the first iPad mini rumors started way back in 2011. Fast forward a few months and both rumors have finally materialized into hardware devices.

Before we start analyzing which one of these devices is the better budget tablet, it might be best to first explain why the battle between the Apple iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7 is of ultimate importance for the future of both Android as well as iOS. As representational tablets for their respective ecosystems (as in Android vs iOS), these two budget tablets will undoubtedly play an important part in the market share battle between Android (and all the Android OEMs out there) and Apple and its proprietary operating system.

So, which one is better: the Google Nexus 7 or the Apple iPad mini ? Lets find out, shall we?

Display

The ASUS / Google Nexus 7 uses a 7-inch display running at a 1280 by 800 resolution (16:10 aspect ratio), thus obtaining a Pixel Per Inch (PPI) density of 216. While it is not the best display currently available on a tablet, the Nexus 7 display is impressively crisp, bright, offers good color reproduction and decent viewing angles. Given that the most expensive component of a tablet is its display (not to mention that the display is also the main feature of a tablet), you’re probably going to be impressed by the quality of the display on the Google Nexus 7 (a budget tablet by definition).

In the other corner, the freshly announced Apple iPad mini features a 7.9-inch IPS display running at a 1024 by 768 pixel resolution (4:3 aspect ratio), thus obtaining a PPI density of just 162. The iPad mini uses the same resolution as the second generation Apple iPad, but has a smaller display, hence the minor improvement in crispness over Apple’s second tablet (the iPad 2 has a 132 PPI ratio).

Although the difference in inches across the diagonal might not seem all that significant, if we’re to add in the difference in aspect ratios, the Apple iPad mini actually has roughly 35% more screen real estate than the Google Nexus 7. On the other hand, if you want enhanced crispness, the Google Nexus 7 is the way to go.

Google Nexus 7

Image Credit: robertnelson/Flickr

Design and Build Quality

When it comes to build quality and design, the Google Nexus 7 is one sleek and sexy piece of hardware. You literally cannot believe that it is a budget tablet (priced at just $199 in its 8GB variant) in any way: a glossy black bezel surrounds the display in such a way that you have something to hold the tablet by when viewing videos or reading an ebook, while the soft rubbery material on the back mimics the sort of tactile feedback you get from a race car steering wheel.

On to exact dimensions, the Google Nexus 7 measures 198.5 x 120 x 10.5 mm (7.81 x 4.72 x 0.41 in) and weighs in at 340 g (11.99 oz). It’s not the lightest or the thinnest Android tablet out there, but the end overall product feels like nothing else in its price range.

When it comes to design lines and principles, the Apple iPad mini is, in many ways, the little brother that the iPad 3 never had. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Apple’s uni-body aluminum design has received lots of praise from both consumers and critics, but it sure feels like Apple tends to stick too much to what has worked well in the past. I’m probably being way too subjective here, but the Apple iPad mini looks a lot like Foxconn trimmed down on the iPad 2 with a scissor: it’s all the same, but smaller. The Apple iPad mini is just 7.2 mm thick and weighs in at just under 0.7 pounds, or 317.5 grams.

Hardware

Now that we’ve analyzed the outside of both these tablets, it is now time to discuss the internal hardware, so let’s dive in!

As plenty of rumors have claimed so during the past couple of months, the Apple iPad mini uses the Apple A5 System On a Chip (SoC). Even non-tech savvy readers are probably aware that this is the same CPU / GPU combination that was used by the Apple iPad 2 and the Apple iPhone 4S. This translates into a 1 GHz dual-core Cortex A9 CPU and a PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU.

In the Android corner, the Google Nexus 7 uses a slightly underclocked version of the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC: a 1.3 GHz quad-core Cortex A9 CPU, and an Nvidia ULP (Ultra Low Power) GPU.

The Google Nexus 7 uses 1GB of RAM memory, while the Apple iPad mini is said to have 512MB of RAM under the hood (Apple usually doesn’t mention RAM for its iOS devices during launch events).

While the Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU is generally faster than the A5 CPU, graphical performance should be a tad better on the Apple iPad mini since its GPU (although similarly powerful as the Nvidia GPU inside the Google Nexus 7) has to power up less pixels (33% less pixels to be accurate). I’m one of those guys that prefers extra detail over a few extra frames per second, so I obviously stand by the Google Nexus 7 in this aspect.

As far as built-in storage is concerned, the Google Nexus 7 comes in 8GB and 16GB variants, while the Apple iPad mini comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB variants. Neither of these two tablets feature a microSD card reader, meaning you can only turn to cloud storage for expanding the internal storage.

On to the cameras and ports, the Google Nexus 7 uses a 1.2 MP front-facing camera for videocalling, the same resolution used by the sensor on the Apple iPad mini’s front facing camera. Since it is not recommended to use a tablet for taking pictures, I’m not all that into the 5MP primary camera used by the Apple iPad mini, so I’d advise against giving too much attention to this aspect.

Since NFC is still a young technology, you’re probably not going to miss the fact that the iPad mini does not use an NFC chip. If NFC is a thing that you need, go for the Nexus 7, since it does carry an NFC chip.

Battery-wise, the Google Nexus 7 has a 4325 mAh battery, while the Apple iPad mini uses a battery of currently undisclosed capacity. However, we should expect the two tablets to have similar battery life spans: roughly around 10 hours.

Operating System and Ecosystem

Although there are significant hardware differences between the Apple iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7 (and you should already be aware of them by now), a decision ultimately boils down to choosing the OS and ecosystem that is right for you.

The Google Nexus 7 was the first device to run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, an update that is notorious for its Project Butter, as well as the introduction of Google Now. Android is an open, fully customizable mobile OS that allows you to install apps from any source you want to, or even modify the OS itself by installing custom mods. Android is for people that generally know what they are doing and need the ability to do complex tasks without any restrictions from the manufacturer.

In the other corner, the Apple iPad mini uses iOS 6, the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, a version that was released for the first time on the Apple iPhone 5. Social media integration is somewhat better than what you get from Jelly Bean, Siri has a lot of personality, while the OS itself is designed around simplicity.

However, with the iPad mini, you can officially download and install apps only from Apple’s App Store, you cannot modify the OS, nor can you customize your device’s OS beyond a point (that’s really not that far off from where you start out of the box). In addition, if the map app is what you’re looking for, stay away from iOS 6 devices and get an Android device (Google Maps is light years ahead of Apple’s Maps app, and chances are that it will stay that way for a long tine from now on).

One popular discussion that has often surfaced when discussing Android tablets vs iPads in the past was the fact that iPad apps are generally better optimized than Android tablet apps. However, since the Nexus 7 came out, Google made major strides in enticing app developers to provide tablet-optimised versions of their apps.

At this point in time, I’m sure that each and every Android app developer with an intention to write apps that work on Android tablets are optimizing their code for the Nexus 7. Sure, there are plenty of Android apps that basically just stretch everything up so that the content takes up the entire real estate without properly arranging and designing it, but the number of non-tablet optimized apps in the Android ecosystem is becoming less significant each day.

Pros and cons

Apple iPad mini Pros

  • 35% more screen real estate than the Google Nexus 7
  • Just 7.2 mm thick

Apple iPad mini Cons

  • Lesser display
  • Lacks NFC
  • Apple Maps in iOS 6 are useless
  • Priced at $329 for the 16GB variant

Google Nexus 7 Pros

  • Better display
  • NFC capable
  • Cool design
  • Tegra Zone

Google Nexus 7 Cons

  • No 32GB variant… yet

Conclusions

While all of us can surely understand the fact that Apple’s iPad mini does not top off the Google Nexus 7 tablet in any conceivable way, some cannot begin to understand why did the Cupertino based manufacturer priced the 16GB version at $329, when the 16GB Google Nexus 7 offers better specs at $249, not to mention that an 8GB version of the Nexus 7 is also available for just $199.

The answer lies in the fact that Google did not aim to make money with the Nexus 7. Instead, the search engine giant copied the business model first introduced to the tablet market by the Amazon Kindle Fire: get the product in consumer hands at no profit so that you can increase your customer base, then make money by selling content (and ads). On the other hand, Apple’s business model wants you to pay extra moolah just so you can buy a device with an Apple logo. While this seems to work very well with high-end devices (such as the iPhone or the non-mini iPads), it remains to be seen how many people are willing to pay premiums on budget devices.

If you ask me, Apple’s premiums contradict the very principle of a budget device. What do you guys think? Are there any Google Nexus 7 owners that would like to switch to the Apple iPad mini? Let us know which way you swing in the comment section below!

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Apple iPad mini vs Google Nexus 7 (budget tablet showdown)

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