Much has been made of tablets' deleterious effect on PC sales, but the tablet market has become fragmented in its own right. On Wednesday, Google made things even more interesting by debuting the second generation in its 7-inch Android tablet line, the Nexus 7.
The Nexus is more expensive than its $199 predecessor, but sets several important cost thresholds, including a screen that blows away those of comparably priced alternatives. Nothing is certain until reviews come in, but for now, the Nexus 7 looks like the low-cost tablet to beat.
Android and iOS have dominated the tablet space so far, but Intel and Microsoft hope to jumpstart Windows device sales with a fleet of 8-inch Win8 tablets. Microsoft also hopes to resuscitate its flat-lining Surface RT line with recent price cuts.
[ Thinking about integrating tablets into your workforce? Read The Good And Bad Of Tablets At Work. ]
Future 8-inch Windows 8 tablets will run on modern processors, and should boast slimmer form factors, longer battery life and snappier performance than the category's only current representative, the Acer Iconia W3.
The forthcoming Win8 devices could shake things up, as could Apple's inevitable iPad Mini refresh. But Microsoft and its partners face the tougher path. Apple has a built-in user base, but Windows 8 is still searching for momentum. With one more compelling option in the mix, the Modern UI could have that much more trouble attracting users.
Does the Nexus 7 trump what other tablets have to offer? Here are eight considerations.
1. Nexus 7 Makes Windows 8 Devices Look Even More Expensive
The base Nexus 7 offers 16 GB of storage and Wi-Fi connectivity for $229. The 32-GB model is only $40 more, and a 32-GB option that includes 4G LTE support is $349. This compares quite well against Apple's iPad Mini. Apple's 16-GB model is $329, but adding cellular support boosts the price by $130. Storage increases are also more costly.
The Windows 8 tablets, however, aren't budget-friendly either. The 32-GB Surface RT is $349, and the 32-GB Acer Iconia W3 is $379. Relative to iPads and Android tablets, Windows slates are arguably more reliant on keyboards, which add accessory costs. Neither the Iconia nor the Surface RT offer LTE support.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has said forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will cost less than $300, and a cheaper iPad Mini is rumored as well. But with the Nexus 7's attractive price and head start, the Android ecosystem is only poised to grow.
2. Nexus 7's Screen Sets A New Standard
The Nexus 7 boasts a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. This density is greater than that of Apple's Retina-equipped iPad, let alone what other mini-tablets offer. The iPad Mini's 7.9-inch display offers only 1024 x 768 pixel resolution. The Acer Iconia's 8.1-inch screen is 1200 x 800 pixels, but plagued by poor contrast and color. The Surface RT also has a lackluster screen. At 10.1 inches, it's bigger than other budget tablets, but it only offers 1366 x 768 pixel resolution.
3. For Most Users, The iPad Mini Arguably Offers The Best UI
The divisive response to Windows 8's Modern UI is well established. It's less intuitive than the alternatives, but enjoyable once mastered. Still, users are trading the polish of iOS and the diversity of Android for the ability to run Microsoft Office. So far, that value proposition hasn't worked well for Microsoft.
The Surface RT can't run any other legacy apps, but the Acer can. However, given the size of the Iconia's screen, it's hard to know how many users will care.
Android is less rigid than iOS, which will appeal to some users. This fall, though, iOS 7 could change that, just as Windows 8.1 could give tablets such as the Acer a lift. For now, Android is the most popular tablet OS by market share, but some of that has to do with the platform's abundance of low-cost devices. A variety of measures say iPad and iPhone owners use their devices more than owners of other products do, suggesting that Apple's UI is the most engaging.