Cheap and more than cheerful, the world of affordable tablets means now everyone can get in on a slice of slab action. Right now, the two tech big boys that are Google and Apple are fighting it out for the money in your pocket.
But which tablet should you go for - the Nexus 7 or the iPad mini? Pocket-lint has had plenty of time playing with both. Read on to find out which is best for you.
The iPad mini starts at £269, whereas the Nexus 7 is £159 - a big price difference. The Nexus 7 is getting close to a generous stocking filler, but the little Apple tab costs more than another £100.
In the iPad mini’s defence, pick it up and you still feel you're getting a lot for your money. The premium feel is definitely there in the Nexus 7 but it’s not in the same class as what Apple has come up with. Simply put, the iPad mini is a more expensive product and it feels it.
If you aren’t fussed, then the price of the Nexus 7 is very persuasive indeed. At just £200 for a 32GB version compared to the equivalent iPad mini at £349, and a 3G option coming to the UK soon, you are getting a lot more memory for your money. Worth considering if you are the sort who likes to carry about a lot of movies and gaming apps.
We’ve already mentioned the premium design of the iPad mini. The black version in particular, which looks like a big version of the iPhone 5, is a joy to pick up and hold.
Size-wise, the iPad mini is svelte enough to be slipped easily into a bag or rucksack. We want to say coat pocket too, but unless you have pockets 134mm wide, there isn’t much chance. As for thickness and weight, the tablet is thin at 7.2mm and light at 308g.
The Nexus 7, while slightly varied on the spec sheet, really is the same in terms of pocketability. It is 198.5 x 120 x 10.5mm and weighs 340g. Hold one tablet in each hand and you won’t notice much of a portability difference, apart from the taller shape of the Nexus 7’s 16:9 screen.
As for design, the Nexus 7 is still a very well put together product. Its dimpled matte back is grippy as anything you could need and the whole piece of kit feels very solid in the hand. There isn’t all the metal and shine of the iPad mini, but some will prefer that.
Processor and performance
We’re not interested in what either of these leisure devices can bench. In terms of real-world performance, neither is particularly slow.
Both the iPad mini and Nexus 7 handle standard tablet activities, like email or web browsing, absolutely fine. Project Butter and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean has done a good job smoothing out Android and iOS is as responsive as ever.
READ: iPad mini review
The differences come really when you take to gaming. In fact, this is the only time we found performance to be distinguishable in any way. If you run a really demanding app, such as Shadowgun, then the iPad mini can start to lag up. Pushing games over AirPlay to an Apple TV can also cause the odd frame-rate drop. The Nexus 7, however, with its class-leading Tegra chip, is very fast. Games are all a breeze on the tablet.
So, for day-to-day activities, the two are neck and neck. But if you're serious about tablet gaming, then the Nexus 7 is most definitely the one for you. Do remember though, that some of the big titles might come out on iOS first.
Content: Apps, films, music, books, etc
Android or iOS, that is the question. In terms of raw day-to-day performance, there is very little in it. Where the difference probably appears most regularly is with apps. Android is still a touch clunky in the way it manages applications on a tablet.
Let’s take BBC iPlayer as an example - it runs on every version of iOS. However, with Android and the Nexus 7, those who use Android 4.2 will find they have to sideload iPlayer to get it working; a complex process. The iPad mini guarantees support of every app on iOS; the Nexus 7 with Android, does not.
As for what sort of apps are on offer, we could argue all day about volume, but Apple still has a thin edge over Android in terms of the number of actually useful and exciting applications you can run on a tablet. However for most of the key app players, you really won’t notice any disparity between the two.
Alongside apps, the other real differentiator is availability of music, books and movie content. Defining exactly what media is available on Google Play and iTunes is impossible. Think about it this way: there's a lot. If you’re talking about in-house stores, then iTunes has it over Google Play. Google Music does launch next week (13 November), which helps, but there’s the odd annoyance with the Android system, such as it streaming rentals rather than anything you can actually download - potentially tedious if you’re out of range of Wi-Fi or 3G.
Of course, in real terms, there’s little difference for films, books and music because of the apps available on both systems in the shape of Kindle, Amazon MP3, Spotify, Netflix and just about anything else you would care to mention, along with whatever you’re prepared to sideload from your PC.
What is different, in terms of content, is what you can actually do with it. Apple has plenty of other products on which to play a track back, say, or if you own an Apple TV, your music or movie can be played on the TV too.
There’s an extent to which this is also true with the Nexus 7. Anything Google-running, and on which you can access the Play Store, is a place where you can listen to or watch whatever bits and pieces of media you bought or rented from there. So, that’s your PC sorted, but where the Nexus 7 it can’t quite keep up is with AirPlay music devices and AirPlay mirroring on your TV.
READ: Nexus 7 review
Yes, a touch of DLNA is great for movie playback but it’s just not possible to mirror whatever is on your iPad desktop in quite the same manner - not without a fair bit of head-scratching. Likewise, with music, there are plenty of wireless pieces of kit for Android that work over Bluetooth, but the truly beautiful stuff is often at its most seamless with Apple.
So, if blending with your other devices and home set-up is key, and you want that to be easy and smooth, then it’s really the iPad mini that you’re after. Just don’t expect all that integration and accessorising to come cheap.
Pictures, video and VoIP
With the iPad mini, Apple didn’t go all out on the rear camera, which is a shame because at this size, taking photos feels a lot less ridiculous than it does on a full-sized tablet. What you get is a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 720p-capable FaceTime HD camera on the front.
For the Nexus 7, there is no rear-mounted camera. Instead just a 1.2-megapixel 720p snapper on the front for video calling. So the iPad wins here just on number of cameras alone. How good is that rear-facing camera though? Well from the test shots below, it isn’t bad by tablet standards. But if you are used to using any current-gen smartphone, it’s a big step back.
As for the VoIP end of the cameras, we tested some video calling on Skype on both tablets and the quality was good. There was no discernible difference between the two. Interestingly enough though, the picture was clearer on the iPad at our end. It’s quite possibly due to differences in connection quality at the time the calls were made but it’s certainly worth noting.
This is the other major difference between the two tablets. In terms of resolution, the iPad mini is 1024 x 768 and that equates to a 163ppi pixel density. The Nexus 7 is 1280 x 800 with a 216ppi pixel density. What do these numbers mean? Essentially that text, video and images are sharper on the Nexus 7.
However the iPad mini has a 7.9-inch screen and that’s larger than that of the Asus tablet. In practice, the 16:9 screen ratio of the Nexus means that watching movies on both tablets is nearly identical anyway. In fact, you also get higher-resolution video on the Nexus because of the cropping on the Apple screen.
With other activities though, where screen estate is key - say games, for example - Apple’s bigger tablet surface is a bonus. Whether it’s browsing the web or anything else, it’s just nice to have a bit more space.
In terms of screen technology, both are IPS panels. The iPad mini is LED backlit and the Nexus 7 is straight LCD. What that ends up translating to is a brighter screen on the iPad with better colour reproduction and we would say deeper blacks, although the Nexus 7 is definitely very good.
In terms of connectivity, don’t expect much. Apart from a 3.5mm headphone jack you won’t find a single connection on either tablet other than the one you use to charge it. For the iPad, this is a Lightning connector; for the Nexus, a Micro-USB.
The latter is simply more handy, just because most people are privy to a Micro-USB charger, should you forget your connector. Apple’s Lightning port means new accessories or an investment in the 30-pin adapter; a bit of an irritation if you ask us.
As for storage, neither offers an SD or microSD expandability, so whatever capacity you buy, you’re stuck with. As for mobile broadband access, at the time of writing, the Nexus 7 3G version was on the way but not yet available whereas the iPad mini comes with HSPA+ if you’re willing to pay anywhere upwards of £369. An LTE version is also supposed to be in the pipeline for some time soon.
Which one should I buy?
It really comes down to a just few differences between these two mini-tabs. Are you a gamer? If so, the iPad mini gives you more screen to play with and a bigger library of apps in general. But when it comes to processor-pushing games, the Nexus 7 will fly.
If you want to take photos with your tablet, then the iPad mini is your only choice. For movies, things are evenly matched, with the Asus arguably having the edge because of its higher-resolution screen.
The ecosystem and usability of the iPad is more straightforward. Things like AirPlay, iTunes Match and the compatibility of apps all make for a device that is much more pick-up-and-play, and perfect for those who might be making it their first tablet.
Then finally there is cost, which is tied in neatly with design and build quality. Simply put, you are paying extra for the Apple marque, but, with that, comes high-quality materials and a thin and light tablet that's a joy to pick up.
So, which is the one to go for? Well, if you're all about style and cachet, then it's the iPad mini that you should go for - but you will be paying quite the premium for it. If you're about watching films, then we'd plump for the Nexus 7. Despite the better processing power, we'd advise gamers to go with the iPad mini, and if it's just about all-round use then, if you can afford it, it's the iPad mini once more.
The only other reason to go for the Nexus 7 is if it's a question of budget. It's a fantastic piece of kit with a fantastic price, but is the iPad mini a better tablet if cost is to be ignored? The answer - probably, yes.