iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 Tablet Smackdown Comparison
Yes, it's another iOS vs. Android tablet comparison, but this debate is about so much more. Super-affordable vs. super-popular, 7 inch portability vs. 8" widebody luxury and LTE 4G vs. 3G. The iPad mini starts at $329 for the 16 gig WiFi model, and for that you get a very compelling tablet that's very portable and more affordable than the iPad with Retina display. The Google Nexus 7 is a techie's dream since it's so customizable, but it's also the temptress of anyone on a budget since it starts at $199 for the 16 gig WiFi model. Both are fast, both have sharp IPS displays and aren't nearly as bulky as 10" tablets, so which do you choose?
Clearly, Google's Nexus 7 tablet (built by Asus) is the value leader in this comparison. When it comes to price, only the Kindle Fire HD 7" and Nook HD put up a fight. Google is willing to go with low margins to get you hooked on their lucrative ecosystem that includes Google Play apps, music, movies and books along with targeted ads in a variety of apps. Apple instead focuses on hardware as their main business, and their margins will always be higher. And Apple makes high end hardware with exquisite casings, cutting-edge designs and good quality components, so you pay the "Mac tax". But the WiFi Nexus 7 is $129 cheaper, which is very significant in products at this price range. The 3G Nexus 7 with GSM 3G is $299 vs. $459 for Apple's LTE 4G iPad mini.
Winner: Nexus 7
Hardware Quality and Design
C'mon, you know Apple's almost always going to win this particular battle, especially when pitted against a budget priced product. The iPad mini is the most attractive iPad yet: it's absurdly thin and light. The anodized aluminum back is gorgeous and the size bezels are incredibly thin. It feels like the future in your hand.
What's surprising is how much of a fight the Nexus 7 puts up. For a $199 tablet, it's darned good looking. Yes, the back is a soft touch plastic rather than metal, but it's still a thin and very good looking tablet with none of the chunkiness that Amazon's Fire tablets are known for. It's not as thin, light or stunning as the iPad mini, but it by no means looks or feels cheap.
Winner: iPad mini
Based on technical metrics, the Google Nexus 7 tablet should win. It has higher pixel density and both are IPS displays. But Google and Asus let things slide (the price you pay for a budget tablet?) and calibration is off, resulting in less rich color, especially in lighter areas of color, on the Nexus 7. It has 216 ppi vs the 163 ppi of the iPad mini, and text is a bit sharper (though not Retina or Nexus 10 level). But the iPad mini has better apparent contrast and bolder, richer colors. I much prefer watching video and viewing photos on the iPad mini as a result. When reading text like eBooks, I'd give the Nexus 7 a small lead. Also, the extra inch of screen real estate on the mini and the 4:3 aspect ratio make it feel more roomy when viewing webpages, documents and playing games. Yes, 4:3 isn't as suitable as the 16:9 aspect ratio when viewing movies (you'll see bigger black bars), but since the iPad mini display is larger, you're looking at the same size movie and sometimes a little larger (as measured with a ruler) as on the Nexus 7.
Winner: iPad mini
This is a double-edged sword. Tech specs and real world performance sometimes unexpectedly diverge due to OS optimizations, app behavior and software design philosophies. It gets even more complicated when it comes to the Nexus 7, a tablet that flew when released with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with its "project butter" optimizations that greatly improved user interface response (how quickly navigating the OS felt, how fast apps launched). The recent OS 4.2 update seems to have slowed down the zippy Nexus 7, and that's surprising because Google's pushed updates usually bring improvements rather than sloth and bugs. We're sure the folks at Google are working overtime to remedy some of the quirks in OS 4.2 (including the infamous disappearance of the month of December when trying to create birthdays and anniversaries in apps like People), so we won't focus too heavily on this.
On hardware alone, the Nexus 7 is far superior, at least when it comes to its quad core 1.2GHz Tegra 3 CPU. The iPad mini runs on the same CPU as the iPad 2, a 1GHz dual core Apple A5 CPU. The Tegra 3 is much faster and it scores nearly twice as fast on synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench 2. But Apple's graphics processor is extremely impressive and the OS optimizes to perfection for that GPU, thus the iPad mini scores significantly higher on synthetic graphics benchmarks like GLBenchmark 2.1 (90 fps for the iPad mini on the Offscreen Egypt test vs. 55 for the Nexus 7).
In real world use, my Nexus 7 running 4.1 was just as responsive when navigating the UI. After installing 4.2 and a bunch of apps, it's not quite buttery anymore or lightning quick like the HTC Droid DNA smartphone. The iPad never seems to falter and is just as fast a month in as it was on the day I first set it up.
Winner: tie. Nexus 7 for a superior CPU, Apple for quick real world performance.
You already know the winner here: it's the Nexus 7. With Android you can set up your multi-page home screen with a variety of useful widgets, throw app shortcut icons where you like and even install custom ROMs. The iPad? Well, it's going to look just like every other iPad out there, with only the selection of downloaded apps to tell them apart.
Winner: Nexus 7
Smaller tablets tend to have good battery life since they're not driving large displays. Both the Nexus 7 and iPad mini have good battery life, and I've averaged 8.5 hours of mixed use with my Nexus 7 over the many months I've owned it. With the iPad mini I average close to 10 hours when doing the same tasks.
Winner: iPad mini
There are many more comparison points, so be sure to watch our iPad mini vs. Nexus 7 Comparison video directly below!
iPad mini Review
Google Nexus 7 Review
More Tablet Comparisons
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