Google’s Nexus 7 (vs Apple’s iPad)

Mark Hattersley
9 August, 2012
View more articles fromthe author
AAA

Google Nexus 7

Google, play.google.com/store/devices/

Pros 

Cheap; nice size; well-designed

Cons 

Not as good as Apple’s iPad; not sold on Android

$249 (8GB); $299 (16GB)

Reviews

Google has released a new Android-based tablet called the Google Nexus 7 which is making a few waves at the moment.

The iPad has seen off a fair amount of competition, even more so than the iPhone which despite its wild popularity has less market dominance than the iPad. Remember the BlackBerry Playbook and HP Touchpad?

Apple has this market pretty much to itself with 70% of the market all going for iPad. Still, that’s 30% of the market going elsewhere, and it’s largely not going anywhere good at the moment. Mostly on cheaper Android powered tablets that offer small screens, underpowered processors, poor screens, and the such.

Enter the Google Nexus 7. This has two aces up its sleeve: The first is price: an 8GB model is just $249; whereas $299 gets you a 16GB model. A teardown by iSuppli has indicated that component costs are around US$150 which means Google is probably just about breaking even, or perhaps taking a loss on each device.

This tells you much about Android’s position in the tablet market. Apple dominates tablets with the iPad, despite wide competition, and with Microsoft getting ready to enter Google has to do something before Android is completely sidelined.

The second Ace (or well King at least) is quality. Put your Apple brand loyalty to one side for a moment and you’ll see that the Google Nexus 7 is a well-built device, with competent internal components, fast enough to run the Android operating system smoothly, it has a good responsive multi-touch display.

All for $249.

Apple already has a budget tablet of sorts. Last year’s iPad 2 model which it still sells for $429. But there’s a big difference in take-up with consumer technology between devices that cost over $400 and those that go under $300, even more pronounced when the device goes under $150.

Does the price really matter?

You can’t dismiss price as a factor when releasing a device. Look at the chart for the iPod sales over history, starting in 2001 at US$399 for 5GB or US$499 for 10GB, sales were moderate right up until the point where Apple released the 1G mini in 2004 for US$249, then again in 2005 when it dropped the price to US$199; then again when Apple introduced the nano for US$149.

Apple typically avoids a business model that drives down the price of devices, in favour of introducing new models that justify the original price. However, price has a big impact on taking a product away from being niche, to one that’s bought by most tech enthusiasts, then bought by the general public. When you start to get sub $300 a device fully goes mainstream, and when it’s sub $150 it enters disposable income territory for most people.

At $249 the Google Nexus 7 sits comfortably enough in this area to be convincingly selling out in stores. We imagine a lot of people will be snapping these up as Christmas presents.

Aside from affordability there are good reasons to want a cheaper tablet to carry around. Loss or theft is less of a concern; as is damage from everyday usage. We’ve yet to see anybody using an iPad on a beach on holiday; but Amazon Kindle devices are pretty common for this very reason (it’s no great shakes if you get sand in the speaker grill).

Do you get enough bang for your buck?

On a surface level it’s fairly easy to compare the Nexus 7 to the iPad 2 and come to the conclusion that it’s half the tablet for half the price. It’s a fair assessment: the 7in screen it’s literally half the size of the iPad; and it’s half the price.

But the innards are high spec. It features an nVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, the same as found in many high-end tablets (and of comparable quality to the A5X). This is backed up by a healthy 1GB of RAM and the display is a backlit IPS panel with a resolution of 1280 x 800 for a 216 ppi.

It has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, but no 3G/LTE option for cellular connectivity. This strikes us as somewhat odd, as many people have suggested that they’d use this form factor as an alternative to a smartphone.

What cost cutting has taken place is done so smartly, there’s no camera on the rear, and there’s no Micro Sd expansion slot.

Having just 8GB or 16GB options is parsimonious too, especially given that Android itself takes up 2GB of that space. With content increasingly moving to the cloud and services like Spotify and iTunes Connect streaming media this may not be so much of an issue, although you’ll need to spend time carefully removing unwanted apps on the 8GB model.

So what we have here is a good, small, cheap, alternative to buying an iPad that is competent. You can quibble about whether Android is as good an experience as iOS (and we will, have no fear) but in this incarnation it’s not so howlingly bad as to be able to dismiss the device out of hand as clumsy and incoherent (as you could with a 7in tablet from last year like the Samsung Tab).

There is some debate to be hand over the size and portability of the device. At just 120 x 199mm the Nexus 7 still isn’t pocket friendly (for that you’d need an iPhone or Android smartphone); but it is a lot lighter and easier to carry around than an iPad. It’s also thin, at 10.9mm and very light at 336g; battery life matches the iPad’s 10 hours of regular web browsing and general usage.

In terms of design it’s spartan to say the least. The front is a single piece of glass with a 1.2-megapixel camera for video chat and a light sensor built into the metal frame. The rear is a black textured rubber. There’s a 4-pin connector for use with future accessories, and a 3.5mm minijack for earphones.

So what’s really interesting here is when you get a 7in tablet that doesn’t cut that many corners with build quality; the Nexus 7 is well built, is high spec, runs Android quickly and smoothly, and it does all this at half the price the cheapest iPad does.

Especially given that there seems to be huge demand for Apple to offer a smaller, and cheaper iPad experience.

So where things get interesting is whether it offers half the experience. Google has worked hard on Android, and regardless of where you stand on the “stolen product” debate, it’s hard not to look at the latest incarnation of Google Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ and see that it offers an operating system that’s pretty close to iOS. While Apple and Samsung wrestle it out in the courts, the general consumer may well decide that Android is good enough.

Much of the earlier interface issues have been smoothed out and Android on the Nexus 7 is a lot faster, snappier, and punchier than previous Android tablets (which have often felt clumsy in use).

Software and operating system

The Nexus 7 is a curious beast in that it’s running the latest version of Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ but in a manner that sits somewhat between the smartphone version, and the full-sized tablet version. Google’s promotional page compares it to the Google Nexus, rather than other tablet devices.

One real oddity is that you can only access the Home screen interface in portrait mode. So if you’re looking at an app in landscape mode and press the Home button, you suddenly have to flip the tablet around to use the interface. This is one of the key differences between an iPhone and iPad (the iPad home interface works no matter which way up you hold the device; whereas it’s assumed you’ll always interact with the iPhone interface while holding it upright).

There are other nods to the smartphone design too, the Apps button is at the bottom of the screen (as it is on an Android phone) and not in the top right (as on a Android tablet).

We’re not really sure what has brought about this design decision from Google. It certainly seems to give the device a smartphone-esque feel, which sits at odds with the tablet style.

Aside from that, Android is as Android does. It is, to our mind, slightly clumsier and more confusing to use than iOS, but it does offer a level of customisation that we’d sometimes like to see in iOS.

Looking at the Nexus 7 Interface

Having now had some time with the Nexus 7 there’s no doubt that halving the size of the interface has a big impact on the interface, especially the keyboard (which is pretty nasty to use). Everything else is a little cramped too, web browsing isn’t as good as an iPad (it often serves up mobile websites; mind you it’s better than a smartphone), and most app interfaces are a little busier.

Having said that, a lot of kick-back entertainment (movies, music, books, and so on) is perfectly good on a 7in screen. And it’s perfectly functional.

One thing we do like is that the interface feels a lot snappier than it did on old Android models. Android version 4.1 “Jelly Bean” seems to have fixed a few interface glitches and between the good hardware and new software it’s finally feeling as smooth as a first generation iPhone. Okay, so Apple engineers can chortle at how long it’s taken rivals to catch up, but they’re here now.

Apps and Google Play

Android lacks a lot of apps that really matter, is the upshot of it. And this is a big problem for Android.

On Android there are apps that are so cheap and popular they’re everywhere (Angry Birds) and apps that make it their business to be everywhere as they make money elsewhere (Amazon Kindle).

What Android seems to lack are the less high profile, but high quality apps that lift a device beyond its original intention. Some good examples are iMovie and Garageband (we can’t see anything remotely equivalent on Android); and apps like Omnifocus and Omnigraffle can’t be found either. There just seems to be a dearth of really good creative software on Android.

But does a $249 device need amazing creative software? Does the fact that it cranks out websites, books, movies, music and all the usual sit back and relax entertainment offer enough?

And both Android and iOS are introducing, and steadily improving, voice dictation services that make us all less reliant on the keyboard for text entry. There’s still some way to go for both Google Voice Search and Siri before they start to replace the keyboard; but their presence certainly makes it less prominent an issue.

Cloud Services

These days you’re not just buying a device, but buying into an ecosystem. So with iOS you get the App Store, iCloud, Documents In The Cloud and iTunes Match.

Apple has put a lot of effort into iCloud and it is really starting to show. You buy something on one device, it appears on the others; your contacts, emails, and events all sync seamlessly; you create a document on an iOS device and you can see the changes happen on a Mac (and vice versa); you can stream your music collection from every Mac to every iOS device.

Google really seems to us to have a lot of catch-up here. While the Google Play store (which can bounce apps pretty effectively to any Android Device) and Gmail and Google Calendar have always been effective cloud services, equivalents to Documents In The Cloud and iTunes Match just aren’t there (Google Play music player is only available in the United States, and is no substitute for iTunes Match by all accounts).

Interesting enough to buy?

What we have here is a really interesting device. Not interesting because it does anything inherently spectacular, or original, but because it does things competently for a surprisingly low price.

It’s not as good as an iPad for a couple of reasons, mainly because the screen is half the size and it’s therefore half as good in many respects. It does also have a neither fish nor fowl feel to it in the sense that it lacks the portability of a smartphone, or the practicality of a full-size tablet. You still need to bag it to carry it around, and if you plan on still carrying an iPhone around with you we’re not really convinced that the extra screen size on the Nexus 7 makes it that much better a device than a current iPhone for many tasks.

Despite the larger screen, the lower resolution doesn’t offer the text or image rendering quality of the Retina Display on either the iPhone 4/4S or new iPad (although it is on a par with the cheaper iPad 2). We found it little better for reading books on the move than using an iPhone.

Web browsing isn’t noticeably better (for some reason it serves up mobile versions of websites like a phone), and we can’t imagine using the keyboard for anything other than a short burst message. Again, no better than a smartphone. So where’s the gain? Some people might even think it’d be better just to have an iPhone with the same case dimensions but with a larger screen, which seems to be Apple’s plan for the iPhone 5.

And what it lacks, above all, is 3G or LTE connectivity, so you can’t even replace your smartphone with a larger tablet/phone hybrid. This is something quite a few of the Macworld team have considered doing. We’re making fewer voice calls these days and having more portable, and cheaper device capable of text messaging, email and general communication could be a preferable option for some.

For all that there is something to be said about the price. It’s not that we don’t think the iPad (or other tablet devices don’t offer value for money), we’re just not that enamoured with carrying around a $800 smartphone and $500 tablet day in, day out.

What about the 7in iPad?

The tech market is increasingly of the opinion that Apple is ready to introduce a smaller, cheaper tablet device. Indeed countless rumours, supposed leaks, and general commentary all points to Apple creating such a device. Actual facts are thin on the ground (actually, non-existent but such is the way with Apple) but let’s surmise that Apple is going to introduce a device similar to this: 7in display, 8GB or 16GB RAM, no expansion capability,

We hope that Apple’s 7-in iPad (if indeed such a device does exists) includes a Retina display (quite likely) and there’s a 3G/LTE cellular option (less likely). Both of these would make it a much more compelling alternative to what Google has on offer here.

One thing for sure is that the rumoured device will run iOS and come with iCloud, Documents In the Cloud and iTunes Match functionality, so even if it matches Google’s Nexus 7 point for point and costs a bit more it’ll certainly be better. Just how much better and how much more it costs will be the rub.

Macworld Australia’s buying advice

The Google Nexus 7 is a good alternative to paying for an iPad. It’s not as good as an iPad 2, and certainly not as good as a new iPad (third-generation) but you can’t really discount the $249 price tag as a factor. I think the key point would be to say “it’s not bad”. Sounds faint praise but it’s not. That’s the point. The Google Nexus 7 is half the price of an iPad is not bad at all. If you’ve got either an iPhone 4 or iPad you really don’t need one. Both devices to our mind are better than this. But in terms of widening the market for portable internet connected devices the Google Nexus 7 (if left unchallenged by Apple) will almost certainly soak up a large proportion of the general public; keen to own a tablet, not willing to spend $429 or more for an iPad. For early sales figures it seems that there’s a market for the Google Nexus 7, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this opens up a wider tablet market of people who are also willing to buy an iPhone, but unwilling to also buy, or carry around an iPad on a regular basis. Although we’ll wager that in the long run they find the iPhone serves a better purpose, and does so more effectively. What remains to be seen is how well Google’s Nexus 7 stacks up against either a cheaper full sized iPad (think iPad first-generation), or a smaller and cheaper iPad 7-in selling for circa $300. Apple must have considered both options but – again, only rumours – seems to be plumping for the smaller and cheaper device. While the $249 bargain price seems a good deal at the moment, we’ll wager it looks perhaps less attractive if Apple does roll out an alternative device.

 

17 Comments

17 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Adam says:

    You’re wrong on the pricing.

    16GB = $249.00
    8GB = $199.00

    https://play.google.com/store/devices/details?id=nexus_7_8gb

  2. Greg4662 says:

    I’ve been reading on the forums that people are playing around with the software on the Nexus 7. It’s already possible to root the device and make it compatible with an USB flash drive. Walmart sells a 64GB flash drive for 30$. (64GB will hold a lot of books)

  3. kevin says:

    the price of the 8gb is 199 and the 16 gb is 249

  4. bob says:

    All I really use a tablet for is to check emails, and surf the net the odd time when I’m away from the house…
    I have a “new” iPad, Blackberry Playbook and now the Nexus 7.

    After 2 weeks.. the iPad and Playbook are for sale.. the Nexus works fine.

    a very long time apple user

  5. oldman_60 says:

    Google now is better than Siri, Google Drive is better than iCloud, Google Maps is better than the Apple Maps, Google Hangout is better than Facetime, not to mention Hangout on Air integration with YouTube, etc. However iTunes is still better than Google Music but for how long since iTunes is not better by design but by volumes. It don’t see how the new mini iPAD can be an alternative to Nexus 7 if they will cost more. Android Ecosystem was Steve Job’s night mare and he was right.

  6. Mark Mar says:

    Google cloud offering are not as good as apples. Hahahahahaha.
    I guess you never heard of Google drive. Not only can you create and edit docs in real time and it shows up on any computer. You can have multiple edit that same document in real time. A person on a mac, another one on windows, one on chrome os, one on Android. Shows you know nothing on Google cloud offerings. icloud is a joke compared to king of cloud Google.

  7. Me Ted says:

    3 out of 5?

    Fanboy much?

  8. DJ says:

    This is one of the most slanted, biased, and smug reviews I’ve seen of the Nexus 7, then again what am I to expect from ‘macworld.’ The Nexus 7 does exactly what it was set out to do, negate further expansion of apples proprietary market with a powerful, cheap alternative. It does this with flying colors, in most part because of Googles decision to take a very small profit margin on powerful hardware to ensure higher market saturation with good quality. Something the HP Touchpad fire sale and kindle fire have demonstrated can be done.

  9. Todd L says:

    I own an iPad 2, Galaxy Tab 10.1 (mediocre), and Nexus 7. While I can somewhat see the comparisons, the Nexus 7 gets far more use from me for the 7″ design. I can’t really compare the 2 very well.

    The Nexus 7 also integrates with what I use easier than the iPad. The iPad is really nice for magazines, but that’s about all. After that the Tab 10.1 can handle a few extras that I can’t get with the iPad and the Nexus 7 is just too easy to bring with me to not have it.

    So while I see some merit in this review, even with the improper pricing, I think it might be a little stray from utilizing the Nexus 7 for a proper review.

  10. Jeremy says:

    First off to the other people commenting on the price, the prices are AU, not USD. That is why the 16GB is $300 and the 8GB is $250.

    As far as the article goes, there are a few things I feel I should point out. This is a Nexus device, meaning it is 100% stock Android experience. There are no “unwanted” apps on it, only Google apps. Why would you buy a Nexus device only to not want the Google apps with it? I disagree 100% on the web browsing being not as good as the iPad. I use iPads at work daily, I use my Nexus7 daily, the iPad doesn’t even compare. I won’t even go into the fact that you can download endless different web browsers on Android.

    You say, “Despite the larger screen, the lower resolution doesn’t offer the text or image rendering quality of the Retina Display on either the iPhone 4/4S or new iPad (although it is on a par with the cheaper iPad 2).” How can you even compare a phone screen to a tablet screen? The are completely different types of mobile devices. Secondly, explain how it it is on par with the iPad2? The Nexus7 has a smaller screen, yet higher resolution. The iPad2 has 132PPI(1024×768) and the Nexus7 has 216PPI(1280×800).

    Cloud storage solutions? Did you even look at the Play Store? You might want to look into Google Drive.

    You don’t even mention Google Now, which trumps Siri. So maybe that is why you neglected to chime in on it?

    Basically all I took away from this article is that you think since the device is “half” the size of the iPad, it is “half” the device of the iPad. Last time I checked, 7″ isn’t half of 10″. Thanks for the laughs.

  11. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    The story uses Australian pricing, not American. For Australians the Nexus 7 is $249 for 8GB and $299 for 16GB.

  12. Callum says:

    “7in screen it’s literally half the size of the iPad” is wrong, the device is half the size (in total)

    Also I agree with @Jeremy, amongst all of his factual points the Google Now feature destroys Siri in all tests (especially in Australia). Just do a google / youtube search.

  13. X says:

    This review is hilarious! A died in the wool Apple fanboi trying his darnedest to convince himself that he doesn’t actually like the Nexus 7, while simultaneously trying to lay the ground work for a 7″ iPad.

  14. Jeff says:

    While technically correct that the size of the screen is half the area (7″ at 16×10 is 11 square inches compared to the 9.7″ 4:3 ratio of the iPad working out to 22.5 square inches) the author is incorrect on the resolution being comparable to the iPad 2. As others have pointed out, the resolution is higher than the iPad 2 at a smaller size, making for a higher ppi (213 vs. 150).

    Not sure how using the keyboard is supposed to be any better on the iphone, but most any semi-smart phone can be used as a tethering device for laptops and tablets.

    Compared to the similarly priced iPod Touch, I think I know which one I’d prefer, seeing as though the N7 has 4x the ram, an IPS display and a state of the art quad core gpu that is likely to keep it relevant for the next 2-3 years.

  15. nate says:

    @jeff

    oh you seem to have misread the google nexus 7′s specs. its not a quad core gpu, its nvidia tegra 3. this means a quad core cpu and 12 core gpu. let me remind you that apple is STILL only using a dual core cpu (@1ghz per core if tests are to be believed), and a quad core gpu. the only reason ipad games tend to look so nice is because they tend to cut corners where it counts and optimize the shit out of the device. dont get me wrong, that’s an excellent practice, but having a bit more to work with is always nice :)

  16. T5000X says:

    I noticed the incredible bias and poor attitude towards the google device in this review, but then I noticed it was on a site called “Macworld”. Jokes on me for thinking I could find a legitimate review here. If Apple made the exact same device, I would be willing to bet everything that it would receive a great review here.

  17. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    Really interesting reading the comments about our bias, when we cop just as much flack for saying that other products are better than Apple’s – see http://www.macworld.com.au/67719 for example.

    Either way, our reviewers/writers are allowed their own opinions – we never direct them to take a certain standpoint.

    Cheers
    Dave Bullard

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us