As tablets go, 7-inches slots in at the lower end of the spectrum with companies like Asus stocking the shelves with 13-inch+ tabs at the opposing end and Apple sitting in the middle with the 9.7-inch iPad. Despite their smaller size, these pint-sized tabs have found significant popularity amongst consumers – the Kindle Fire in particular has sold extremely well in its homeland, the US.
With the recent unveiling of Google’s first 7-inch tablet, the Nexus 7, it seems like an opportune time to analyse the competition to see which device comes out on top. Alongside the Google Nexus 7, we’ll be looking at the Amazon Kindle Fire and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, so lets get started.
All three devices adopt a black, minimalist aesthetic, giving them all unobtrusive styling. Both the PlayBook and Kindle Fire have overly thick bezels and square contours, whilst the newer Nexus 7 opts for a rounded back and more subtle, modern lines. At 425g the Playbook is the heaviest, followed by the Kindle Fire at 413g and the Nexus 7 at 340g.
Although none of these devices are GSM or LTE capable, a 4G version of the PlayBook is due to launch in the US later this year. Aside from this, all three devices feature WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS, with NFC found on the Nexus 7. The Kindle Fire, and the Nexus 7 are available with 8GB of internal storage, followed by 16GB supported on the Nexus 7 and the PlayBook. RIM offers additional 32GB and a 64GB versions, although the Nexus 7 can be bolstered using cloud-based services like Google Drive.
The 7-inch displays on each of these three devices differ significantly. The Kindle Fire and the PlayBook utilise WSVGA (1024×600) displays, which offer suitable attributes for media such as videos or eBooks. The Nexus 7 is the most impressive, with a resolution (WXGA 1280×800) screen, supporting HD movie playback and IPS (in-plane switching) technology for clear off-angle viewing.
The PlayBook and the Kindle Fire both use a 1GHz dual-core processor, somewhat par for the course on 2011 devices, whereas the Nexus 7 features NVIDIA’s latest 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 chip. The Kindle Fire is the least demanding of the three with it’s modified Android OS able to carry out the tasks made capable by its native applications flawlessly. RIM’s PlayBook is exceptionally quick too (especially following the update) and is the only tablet to support proper multitasking, so you can run multiple applications – including video – simultaneously. Google claims the Nexus 7 user experience will be smooth and it should be able to handle the most graphically demanding and processor intensive applications. The Nexus 7, like the PlayBook also features 1GB of RAM
RIM released the PlayBook running RIM’s QNX OS, but it didn’t include many key features like native email, however the OS 2.0 update was a dramatic improvement adding many new features. The most unique features come from the users ability to swipe from any side using the bezel to interaction with the main interface and true multitasking.
Comparatively Amazon’s Kindle Fire provides a stripped down Android experience. Running the 2-year old Android Gingerbread, the Fire offers distinctive feel, with native apps and the Amazon app store providing all the flexibility a light to medium tablet user would need. The Silk web browser is only found on the Fire and utilises cloud computing to enhance and generally speed up the browsing experience.
The Nexus 7 uses no such cloud processing technology, however more powerful hardware should make for an incredibly smooth user experience. What’s more, the Nexus 7 is currently the only device able to run Google’s latest mobile OS, Android Jelly Bean 4.1. JB improves on ICS with features like offline voice search and ‘Project Butter’ improving the speed and fluidity of the user experience.
Each of these devices has its own app store. The PlayBook utilises RIM’s BlackBerry App World which although more recently has broadened its portfolio of apps, still lags behind in terms of capacity, although it can run Android apps, widening the selection of apps available. The Amazon app store can’t match the Play Store for choice, but grants access to a free premium app of the day every day, sweetening the deal somewhat. The Google Nexus 7 offers with over 600,000 apps now available on Google Play and nearly all of them supported by the tablet.
The Kindle Fire has been designed as more of an enhanced eReader than a standard tablet, as such it’s devoid of both front and rear cameras knocking it out of the imagine race altogether. The Nexus 7 isn’t much better with a 1.2 megapixel front facing camera catering for video calling over services like Skype or Google Hangouts. By a yard and a mile, the BlackBerry PlayBook offers the most competent imaging experience, with a 3-megapixel front-facing camera offering greater resolution than nearly any other front-facer currently available and an accessible 5-megapixel camera on the back. The image quality isn’t mind-blowing, but performance is completely usable, despite a lack of significant app support.
The Google Nexus 7 starts at £159 for the 8GB version, rising to £199 for 16GB. The Kindle Fire is only available in the US and costs $199 for 8GB (the same price as the Galaxy Nexus 7). The BlackBerry PlayBook starts at £169 for 16GB, £199 for 32GB and £249 for 64GB.
Each of these tablets offers a distinct look and feel that helps differentiate them from each other, particularly important with the Android-powered Kindle Fire and Nexus 7.
The PlayBook is a refreshing change from Android devices, with an intuitive and quick UI, although it’s suited more to business use than the other two tablets, with native email and connection to BlackBerry smartphones via BlackBerry Bridge. The dual-core processor is great for gaming though – an area RIM is keen to push. The PlayBook is the oldest tablet here, but RIM has confirmed it will be getting an update to BB10, so it’s too early to write if off yet.
The Kindle Fire is a niche device, the 7-inch screen size lends itself well to eReading and that’s exactly how Amazon intends it to be used. A full colour eReader with web browser, email and video support. It can handle itself well, but only with light tasks.
For the power user, the new Google Nexus 7 is the weapon of choice, an incredible screen, incredible hardware and extremely competitive pricing mean. The Google Play store’s vast app selection twinned with the incredible hardware capabilities make this the tablet of choice for those wanting to get the most out of their money.