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If you’re shopping for a 7-inch tablet, there’s absolutely no shortage of options. It’s undeniable, however, that the leading choices are Apple’s iPad mini and Google’s Nexus 7. We’ve reviewed both of these devices individually, but it’s time to put them head-to-head.
Some might say that comparing the iPad mini to the Nexus 7 is like comparing apples to oranges. They’re very different devices, with different ecosystems and an even more contrasting user base. So comparing specifications simply does not make sense. Instead, I’ll be comparing certain important aspects which matter in everyday use.
Price and storage
Let’s begin with the most obvious comparison: price. If you’re on a budget, the Nexus 7 is the clear winner. The 16GB model is available at just under $200; whereas the iPad mini (Wi-Fi only model) in the same capacity is $130 dearer. In fact, the price difference gets even steeper as we move higher along the product line.
- 16GB Nexus 7: $199
- 16GB iPad mini: $329
- Price difference: $130
- 32GB Nexus 7: $249
- 32GB iPad mini: $429
- Price difference: $180
- 32GB Nexus 7 (Wi-Fi + cellular): $299
- 32GB iPad mini (Wi-Fi + cellular): $559
- Price difference: $260
It doesn’t take much to see that the Nexus 7 offers better value. However, it’s important to note when making your decision that both devices do not have storage expansion slots. So if you need more than just 32GB of storage (actually less after taking into account the operating system) or if you think you might in the future, only Apple offers the iPad mini in 64GB configurations for both Wi-Fi and cellular models.
I’ve been criticising the iPad mini’s screen since I first heard that it wasn’t a Retina Display. Apple took a step backwards with that decision. The iPad mini is more expensive than its competition, so it’s only fair to expect a better display. Instead, the Nexus 7 packs more pixels into a smaller screen. To be more specific, the Nexus 7 has a 7-inch 1280 x 800 display, with a pixel density of 216 pixels per inch. As noted by my colleague James Bruce, the screen is “…bright and clear, with crisp and vibrant colours and text, even outdoors.” and I’ll have to agree with him.
The iPad mini, however, has a larger 7.9-inch display with a lower resolution of 1024 x 768 at 163 pixels per inch. With both devices side by side, the difference is quite apparent. The colours of the iPad mini seem more washed out compared to the Nexus 7’s vibrant display. As a result of higher pixel density, text is rendered more clearly on the Nexus 7, which makes it ideal as an electronic reader.
Another important point to consider is the fact that the iPad mini’s display is not only larger, it has an aspect ratio of 4:3 while the Nexus 7’s display carries an aspect ratio of 16:9. Basically, the iPad mini is wider — and that makes web browsing more enjoyable because more elements can be displayed.
But is it too wide? I had difficulty grasping the iPad mini in my hand, but then again, my hands aren’t that large. Ultimately, I’ll just say that it’s too wide to hold with one hand, but I’m happy with the trade off for a slightly larger screen.
In contrast, the display size and aspect ratio of the Nexus 7, coupled with the soft buttons, does hurt it slightly. The soft buttons at the bottom of the screen (back, home, multitasker) take up about 0.6″ when they’re visible, and that’s more or less all the time. I’ll admit the Nexus 7 is easier and more effortless to hold with one hand, and that’s partly attributed to its rubberised, dimpled rear panel.
Dimensions and design
The differences between both tablets in terms of dimensions is negligible. They weigh roughly the same, but the iPad mini is noticeably thinner (although longer and wider). The Nexus 7 doesn’t feature any hardware buttons on its front surface, which often begs the question, “Which side is up?” To answer that, you’ll have to search for evidence of its front-facing camera. On more than one occasion, I’ve picked up the Nexus 7 and fumbled around feeling for the power button, which camouflages with the rear rubberised panel. It’s not a device that you can easily wake from sleep unless you pick it up, unlike the iPad mini which has a home button on its front surface.
Between the two, the iPad mini, with its glass and aluminium construction, is slightly more appealing. It feels more expensive, if you get my drift. And because of that, you’re more likely to purchase a case for it and eventually, add a bit of bulk to the package. Not so with the Nexus 7, which gives off a sturdy aura — it can stand up for itself without a case. The iPad mini also sports a rear-facing 5MP camera, which you will want to protect.
Subjectively, I can tell you, even without any thorough testing, that the iPad mini’s battery life is more superior than the Nexus 7’s, despite having similar batteries (Nexus 7: 4325 mAh; iPad mini: 4440 mAh). On standby with Wi-Fi enabled, the Nexus 7’s battery will drain in just a couple of days whereas on the iPad mini, the battery meter wouldn’t have even flinched. If you think it’s weird, this is actually a known issue. As a result, uptime on the Nexus 7 is significantly reduced when Wi-Fi is enabled. Some users have reported that a system reset rectifies the issue, but that’s unproven.
As a seasoned iOS user, I’m more comfortable with using the iPad mini; simply because I’m able to download every purchased app from the iTunes Store free of charge to new devices. Prior to this, I haven’t used very many Android apps, and most of them were free. From my observations, apps from Google Play, more specifically free apps, aren’t really up to iTunes Store standards.
Take for example, the Facebook app. On the iPad mini, the Facebook application mimics the desktop layout as closely as possible. On the Nexus 7 however, it’s merely a blown up version designed for Android smartphones.
Admittedly, Google Play’s selection of books and magazines are pretty impressive, and most of them are significantly cheaper than the iBookstore. So again, the Nexus 7 wins the battle of electronic readers. As you can probably tell, I’m personally coming to the conclusion that the Nexus 7 is ideal as an ereader, disappointed only by the lack of great apps from Google Play. Unfortunately, that’s a shame because its Tegra processor is capable of so much more.
The bottom line
The Nexus 7 is a great, affordable 7-inch Android tablet, let down only by the lack of properly designed applications on Google Play. Before you decide on which tablet to purchase, you need to know what you’ll be doing with it: consuming or creating? Although the iPad mini has a superb selection of apps to fall back on, the Nexus 7 is a great all-rounder with excellent hardware specs.
Advantages of the Nexus 7:
- affordable price
- crisp, high definition display
- solid design
- capable hardware (including NFC)
Disadvantages of the Nexus 7:
- cramped display
- lack of hardware buttons
- lack of high resolution rear-facing camera
- needs better apps
- battery life could be better
For more in-depth reviews of either device, please read Apple iPad Mini Review and Giveaway or Google Nexus 7 (16GB) Android Tablet Review and Giveaway