Nexus 7 wins, iPad mini loses

Rest in peace, iPad mini. Google killed you. The question then: Is it murder or manslaughter -- or justified homicide, putting the Apple tablet out of our misery?

Three days using the new Nexus 7, I can't imagine why Apple let Google, and partner ASUS, seize back-to-school buying with the tablet. I don't refer just to the instrument of destruction but the means. The 2013 edition is widely available through major US retailers, including Amazon and Best Buy. By all indications there is inventory to meet demand, not the typical supply shortages, although the 32GB WiFi model is unavailable this weekend from many retailers -- but Google Play is stocked.

Now would be a really good time for Apple to launch a new iPad mini. Waiting to release iOS 7 is a mistake, but it's one I expect the fruit-logo company to make. I wouldn't recommend iPad mini over Nexus 7 to anyone. Last week, my daughter asked for the Apple tablet to take back to college. She can have the Android, and will thank me for it later.

Google announced the tablet on July 24, with sales slated for the 30th, but they started early; on Friday. Outstanding, emotive marketing video "Fear Less", along with new textbook purchases and rentals, is sure sign Nexus 7's release timing is quite deliberate. Google knows parents and students will shop for tech tools over the next month. Nexus 7 isn't just launched, it's widely available here, as Google also ramps up distribution elsewhere.

Imagine students taking Nexus 7 to class who could have gone iPad mini. Marketing and distribution make the difference. Apple's tablet is the elephant in the room, from a market share perspective, and surely won't lose loads of weight because of Google's device. But any sales losses are unnecessary, if only there was a more competitive -- and affordable -- iPad mini ready for back to school.

Epic Competition

Let's compare the two tablets.

iPad mini specs: 7.9-inch back-lit IPS display (1024 x 768 resolution, 163 pixels per inch); A5 dual-core processor; 1GB RAM; 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage; 5-megapixel rear-facing and 1.2MP front-facing cameras; Bluetooth; WiFi A/N; HSPA+/LTE (on three models); accelerometer; GPS; gyroscope; microphone; and iOS 6. Measures 200 x 134.7 x .28mm and weighs 308 grams.

  • iPad mini 16GB WiFi: $329
  • iPad mini 32GB WiFi: $429
  • iPad mini 16GB WiFi/LTE: $459
  • iPad mini 64GB WiFi: $529
  • iPad mini 32GB WiFi/LTE: $559
  • iPad mini 64GB WiFi/LTE: $659

Nexus 7 specs: 7-inch back-lit IPS display (1920 x 1200 resolution, 323 ppi); 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor; Adreno 320 graphics; 2GB RAM; 16GB or 32GB storage; 5MP rear-facing and 1.2MP front-facing cameras; Bluetooth (support for Bluetooth Smart), WiFi A/N; HSPA+/LTE (on some models); accelerometer; GPS; gyroscope; magnetometer; microphone; near field communications; wireless charging; and Android 4.3. Measures 114 x 200 x 8.65 mm and weighs 290 grams.

  • Nexus 7 16GB WiFi: $229
  • Nexus 7 32GB WiFi: $269
  • Nexus 7 32GB WiFi/LTE: $349

The new N7 costs more than it's predecessor -- $30 for the starter WiFi, for example. Google's Nexus 7 price increase surprises but timing is perfect. The high-end LTE model, while costing more than its HSPA+ predecessor, is quite the value compared to the entry-level mini.

So for $349, you can buy a 7-inch HD tablet from Google, with fast processor, 32GB storage and LTE, or for $20 less a 7.9-inch iPad mini with 1024 by 768 resolution, 16GB and WiFi. The comparable model to Nexus 7 is $559. For the budget-conscious, and who isn't when back-to-school shopping, Google's entry tablet costs $100 less than Apple's, but with superior processor and screen resolution.

Apple, or even most Android manufacturers, cannot compete with Google on tablet pricing. That gives Nexus 7 huge opportunity to gain market share, now that the screen is HD, global LTE is available, more retailers sell the device and service Google Now rises as the killer app.

Google doesn't make money from devices but from contextual content, services and advertising wrapped around them. So the company can keep margins thin on the hardware, unlike Apple which makes the majority of profits from hardware sales. The fruit-logo company can never compete on price and doesn't have a device ready for back-to-school buying. That's a sour crop for the season.

First Impressions

Colleague Alan Buckingham writes BetaNews' first formal review of the new Nexus 7, but I would be remiss not expressing something about the experience.

There's little to dislike about Nexus 7, unless you're attached to another platform, such as iOS, or insist on something larger. At 323 pixels per inch, the HD display awes the eyes. Meanwhile, like its predecessor, the tablet fits comfortably in one hand, and two-thumb typing is easy.

I find the new Nexus 7 very comfortable to hold, and the tablet feels super light. It's a perfect throw-in-a-purse-or-backpack size. The more I use the tablet, the more the size feels right.

This is how much: My wife and I recently repurposed my daughter's old 32GB iPad 2 for around-the-house use, such as looking up recipes. The tablet is bulky for the purpose, but paid for and otherwise not used. A couple hours after receiving Nexus 7, I hauled down to Best Buy to trade in the iPad 2. I took in the tablet a couple weeks back and got a $200 offer, which I rejected. Ha! New offer: $170! No thanks to that! I Craigslisted for $250 and sold the Apple tablet Friday night. I'll use the cash to buy another Nexus 7, which is better suited to the task set to the iPad 2.

Google Now and voice search are major reasons. I can't overstate the value of the services on the form factor. The "Fear Less" advert is exceptionally good marketing. The video communicates many benefits, particularly from those two features, which, granted, are available on other Androids (and even iOS, if you like, though not as accessible). But they feel just right on Nexus 7. Think Star Trek TNG.

The Star Trek vision of responsive computing rapidly moves from science fiction to everyday reality. Google stands apart for pushing forward Star Trek-like human responsiveness. Now and voice search rise above others; you command actions and ask for answers, rather than tap with finger. The two services are a watershed development that fundamentally changes how people interact with tech products. Together, they make Nexus 7 special and particularly suited to students' needs -- or mine (or yours), in the kitchen and around the house.

Google's marketing tagline for the device is perfect for the benefits: "For what matters". The tablet's performance is snappy, the size just right for hands and fingers and supporting services exceptionally useful. All this while iPad mini offers last year's screen for next-decade pricing (think inflation).

Nexus 7 could be late-summer's surprise sleeper hit.

Tough luck, Apple.

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