Nexus 7 (2013) – Can It Dethrone My iPad Mini?

On a recent trip, I found myself packing two small tablets; the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini. I thought this was ridiculous. Packing two small tablets totally negates the point of portability. And I would switch between one or the other, which made things confusing. Apart from all that, it’s just excessive to have two tablets of any size. The iPad Mini came first and during its “tenure” in my possession, it has proven to be the perfect size for a travel, everyday, complimentary companion. The Nexus 7 came afterwards, and had some very big shoes to fill…


iPad Mini and Nexus 7

Build, Design
Despite being a 7 inch display tablet, the Nexus looks and feels slightly bigger than the Mini, which has an 8 inch screen (7.9 for the nitpickers). At HWD 7.87 x 4.48 x .34 inches , it’s the same height as the Mini, but the Nexus is narrower and thicker. Its awkwardly large top and bottom bezels are slightly off-putting and distracting, especially when the Nexus is held in portrait mode; it makes the screen look smaller than it already is. It loses out against the Mini in looks.

Nexus 7 (right) is a considerable smidge thicker than the iPad Mini

Nexus 7 (right) is a considerable smidge thicker than the iPad Mini

The entire front surface is comprised of scratch resistant Gorilla Glass and the back has a premium matte, rubberized plastic texture. It feels more comfortable and natural to hold than the Mini because of its narrowness, but that means sacrificing an inch of screen real estate, which makes a surprisingly big difference.

Performance, Android
Android 4.3 is silky smooth on the Nexus 7’s quad-core, 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB RAM combo. A 400MHz Adreno 320 GPU helps when the graphics get needy, too. However, all the cores, GHz and RAM in the world can’t resolve one of Android’s weakest links; 3rd party apps. Many 3rd party app developers haven’t gotten round to optimizing their apps for Android 4.3 yet, which make some apps behave slowly, drop frame-rates, crash, or not even show up in the Google Play store. In many cases, you can also tell developers pay more attention to their iOS versions, which often run better on the Mini’s ancient dual-core, 1GHz A5 chip and 512MB RAM combo.

On the Nexus 7 (right), whenever I wanted to go back to the Channel Guide, it would revert to portait mode, forcing me to pick up and move the Nexus from landscape mode, which is how most people watch TV, Netflix or any other media on their tablets.

App Devs not giving Android the love it deserves. In the Optimum app for the Mini (left), the Guide appears in landscape mode; the same mode I (and probably everyone else) use for watching TV on a tablet. On the Nexus 7 (right), it would revert to portrait mode to view the Guide, forcing me to switch between portrait and landscape modes. This sucks, in a first-world-problem kinda way.

The only game I actively play on tablets is Real Racing 3. Despite the Nexus’ superior display and chipset, RR3’s gameplay and graphics are surprisingly better on the Mini (a good example of how important OS optimization is). Car and track details on the Nexus (right) look jagged, blurry, and simply not optimized for the Nexus 7. Gameplay on the Nexus also felt very cramped compared to the larger screened Mini. It gets hot whilst playing this game, and only gets warm during other intensive tasks, such as Netflix streaming.

RR3 on Mini (right) is brighter, sharper than on Nexus 7. Also, the back functions keys at the bottom of Nexus 7 cramp and already tight display in RR3.

RR3 on Mini (left) is brighter, sharper than on Nexus 7. Also, the black functions key bar at the bottom of Nexus 7 cramp an already tight display in RR3.

Screen, Sound
The iPad Mini was berated for having such a low-resolution screen in a market that craves pixel density. The Google/Asus guild has made sure that would never happen. In fact, they made the Nexus 7 with the sharpest, most pixel dense display that exists on a tablet. With a 323ppi (pixels per inch), 1920×1200 resolution, 1080p HD IPS display, it saturates your eyes with deep, vivid and bright colors. It’s even better than the iPad Retina’s 264ppi, 2048×1536 resolution display, and it blows the iPad Mini’s measly 163ppi, 1024×768 display out of water. Netflix and YouTube videos streaming in HD look glorious; colors are deeper and more vivid than on the iPad Mini. Details and text are clearer and sharper, too.

The loudspeakers deserve a mention. Sound is projected from two speakers found on either side of the short edges, creating actual stereo sound. The iPad Mini’s loudspeakers are very good, but the Nexus 7’s are noticeably better. Also, if you put your hand anywhere near the speaker on any iPad, the sound muffles considerably. This is not the case with the Nexus; you can hold your hands directly over the speakers and the sound will hardly be affected at all.

The Nexus boasts up to 9 hours of active use on a single charge while Apple claim the Mini will last around 10 hours. These figures are rarely true, but I will say that the Mini does last a little longer than the Nexus 7 on my average day, which mainly involves Flipboard (screen), Real Racing 3 (heavy CPU and GPU), Netflix and the Optimum TV app (heavy GPU, screen and Wi-Fi).

The Nexus 7 is a fantastic tablet and you can’t argue against it’s $229 (16GB) price tag compared to $329 (16GB) for the Mini’s inferior screen and old-calculator-innards. Google has also just announced a 32GB LTE version for $349, by the way.

Android has become superior to iOS in many ways, such as multi-tasking, notifications, quick app glancing/management (quickly checking and managing emails, messages, calendar etc). However, some 3rd party apps for Android are still an issue, but not deal breakers; developers will start rolling out optimized updates for them in the very near future.

I always came back to my iPad Mini. I wanted to love the Nexus because I prefer Android over iOS these days, but the Nexus 7’s 7inch display is simply too small for me. It’s narrowness bothered me by making videos, games and apps feel cramped. And those bezels! That’s probably the price we pay for such a pixel-dense display. If I didn’t own an iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 would continue to orbit my personal space. But today, it goes back on the store shelf.