The latter half of 2012 has seen a lot of tablet action, predominantly coming straight out of two of the biggest names in the industry: Apple and Google. Sure, the new Nexus 10 has a lot to offer when sparring against the well established 9.7-inch iPad, but today we’re looking at these tablet’s smaller, more compact siblings, bring on the Apple iPad Mini and the Google Nexus 7 by Asus. Ding Ding!
It only takes a moment of close inspection to see that the iPad Mini is a luxury product, price tag and hardware aside, the distinctive precise Apple fit and finish is available in spades throughout the Mini’s construction, particularly with its expansive glass frontage, satin finish metal back and carefully milled chamfer bordering the display.
By comparison the Nexus 7 maintains a sturdy design that although utilising plastics in place of metal, still looks like a precision instrument. The textured plastic back is particularly nice to hold, providing enough grip without being intrusive and the weighting and more rounded corners mean that it’s easier to pick up and play with.
Interestingly, despite it’s smaller size and lighter material choices, the Nexus 7 is the heavier of the two tablets.
It’s already pretty well documented that the Apple iPad Mini utilises a 7.9-inch display with the same resolution as last year’s full size iPad 2 and in it’s own right, it works well. The main problem being that Apple fans who keep up-to-date with Apple’s latest mobile tech have been somewhat spoilt and in comparison to the Retina displays of the iPad 3/4 and the iPhone 5, the Mini’s display doesn’t offer the same vibrant colours or sharpness/clarity.
The same can be said when placing the iPad Mini alongside the Nexus 7. With a resolution of 1280×800, the higher pixel density on offer from the smaller 7-inch screen produces a noticeably crisper image and colours offer greater vibrancy in the process too. On all fronts (aside from size) the Nexus 7 has the edge.
The depth of Android wins out over iOS with options not only for apps and folders, but resizable widgets as well and with the inclusion of Android Jelly Bean 4.2, the widget functionality now extends to the lock screen, offering the user a far greater amount of control and access to far more information without the need to unlock the tablet at all.
The multi-layered experience isn’t for everyone of course and iOS still holds the top spot for its usability and the learning curve behind the user interface. Apps for the iPad Mini do sometimes need scaling, but more often than not, app optimisation on iOS offers a richer user experience.
Both tablets offer the latest OS for their respective creators, so it boils down to a choice between versatility and usability.
Much like the cameras on offer from these two tablets, price has played a dramatic role in the connectivity on options and only now has the playing field been less out of kilter. Although some prospective iPad Mini users will have to wait until next year to have access to the full range, Apple plan on bringing the a 3G/LTE radio to the tablet to accompany the WiFi only model currently in stores. The one-handed iOS tablet is one of the only devices in its class that can offer WiFi and LTE options.
Meanwhile the latest addition to the Nexus 7 family is the 3G variant, which is available now, alongside both the 16GB and 32GB WiFi-only models. Of course you won’t see the same speeds as is capable from the LTE radio in the Mini when out and about but at the same time, it’s worth noting that the price of the full-fat 32GB 3G Nexus 7 still costs less than the smallest capacity, WiFi-only Apple iPad Mini.
On top of the mobile data radios, inside our little tablets, both offer Bluetooth and the Nexus 7 even features NFC for some easy Android Beam sharing goodness.
The biggest surprise from our face off between the two tablets lay within the performance comparisons. The Apple iPad Mini utilises the same dual-core A5 chip found in the iPhone 4S, whilst the Nexus 7 offers not only a 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor, but a 12-core GPU to ensure the mobile gaming experience is top notch. We expected a pretty one-sided fight in this respect but were sorely mistaken.
UI navigation, including hopping in and out of menus and folders on both tablets was identically smooth as was high definition video playback, but a noticeable difference appeared in our gaming test. As the video demonstrates, the iPad Mini was able to render N.O.V.A 3 at a solid and smoother frame rate, whilst also featuring particle and lighting effects that simply weren’t present on the Nexus 7. Despite the fact that both tablets had no other background processes running and had been freshly restarted, the Nexus 7 stuttered far more often during gameplay and loading times on the iPad Mini were noticeably shorter.
What the comparison proves is that app optimisation on iOS once again wins out over the less constrained apps found on Google Play.
The ultimate decision that a prospective buyer has to make when sizing up these two tablets is the size of their wallet. On the surface, the Apple iPad Mini offers the greater overall package, with better app experiences, a larger spec sheet, a more premium construction and one of the easiest OSs to use on the market.
On the flip side, the Nexus 7 wins out with regards to versatility and affordability, particularly when the price difference is so great between the most capable Android tab and the least feature-laden iPad Mini. Bare in mind that the key features that the average use will likely need can be found on both devices and so the Nexus 7 might be the more logical choice, unless the advantages of the iOS ecosystem are too big a draw to ignore.