Google's first Nexus 7 made a lot of noise when it landed: it was a strong tablet, ran stock Android, and sold for an unbeatable price of $199. Now just over a year later, the company is back with an updated version that's slimmer, lighter, and has what Google says is the world's highest resolution display for a 7-inch tablet. The new Nexus 7 is going to be available for $30 more next Tuesday — but the story is going to be a lot different this time around. There are now better Android tablets in the market than ever before, and Google's latest will have to deal with the new tablet heavyweight, Apple's iPad mini.
The new Nexus 7 is about the same size, thickness, and weight as the iPad mini, but it comes in nearly an inch narrower. It also compares favorably to every other major tablet in its size class, coming in smaller and lighter in most regards than both the Nook HD and the Kindle Fire HD. While the iPad mini is wider, it's using that space to fit a 7.9-inch display — but size isn't everything. The iPad mini's display is decidedly low resolution for a tablet, measuring only 1024 x 768. That doesn't mean its display looks bad, but it is likely to pale in comparison to the Nexus 7's 1920 x 1200 resolution, which allows it to play back full 1080p video.
The Nexus 7's display beats out everyone else
The Nexus 7 also beats out its low-priced competitors like the Nook HD and the Kindle Fire HD. Both of those tablets have higher resolution displays than the iPad mini, but they can't match the Nexus' ability for 1080p playback. That should make it one of the best portable tablets for playing back movies and TV shows — not to mention just looking at in general. Samsung's two 8-inch tablets, the Galaxy Note 8.0 and the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, both fall about as hard as the iPad mini: they come in at $399 and $299 respectively, and both have lower resolution displays than the inexpensive tablets offered by Google, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Outside of the display, however, you might not be getting anything terribly special from the Nexus 7's hardware. It has the same megapixel count on both its front and rear cameras as the iPad mini and the two Galaxy tablets, it includes 16GB of storage by default, and its battery life claims — about 9 hours of HD video playback or 10 hours of web browsing — are on par with what those in its size class say you should expect.
That makes the big difference between the Nexus 7 and other Android tablets their performance, and it's possible that Google's new tablet will really stand out. In our testing, we found that both the Kindle Fire HD and the Nook HD ran a bit sluggish. They also both come with custom versions of Android that more-or-less hide the entire default operating system, and not in ways that we found particularly useful. On the Kindle, you also won't be able to tap into the Google Play store, limiting you to apps inside of Amazon's own marketplace. While the Nook used to be the same way, it's recently been opened up to allow access to the Google Play store.
Stock software should make for the best Android experience
Samsung's tablets don't fare so well either. We found performance to be somewhat lacking on the Tab 3 8.0, and while that wasn't the case on the Note 8.0, Samsung's custom software for it hurt the overall user experience a bit. That leaves the iPad mini, which runs fairly smooth and has access to one major thing that the Android tablets don't: a wealth of apps designed specifically for tablets. A lack of tablet-specific apps has continued to hurt large Android devices, and while scaled up phone apps don't look quite so bad on a 7-inch display, they don't provide the rich experience that apps on the iPad often do.
The iPad mini has been the biggest name in tablets since it launched. But its older processor and low-resolution display are starting to become just a bit dated, especially at $329. As for Android tablets, the Nook HD may not be the best around, but at only $129, it's a hard deal to pass up for those on a budget. That puts the $229 Nexus 7 right in between them. On paper, it should offer a great alternative for those looking to spend less and still have a strong experience — so long as they're willing to commit to the Android tablet ecosystem.