Google Nexus 7 Heats Up Mini-Tablet Battle

Will Microsoft's ambitions again by thwarted by Google's aggressive move in the mini-tablet market? Here are 8 factors to consider.
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4. None Of The Mini-Tablets Is A Processing Champ

The Nexus 7 runs on a 1.5-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, a much nicer chip than the one in its predecessor. With an embedded Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU, the tablet should provide much better graphics support, especially for gaming. Still, it's still not as powerful as the Snapdragon 600 or 800 chips, the latter of which has factored into rumors about the next Surface RT.

The current Surface RT runs on an NVIDIA Tegra 3, and its performance lags. The Acer's 1.8-GHz Intel Atom processor runs the full version of Windows 8, but it can't support 64-bit apps, and it won't support Windows 8's snap feature until Windows 8.1 rolls out this fall. The iPad's A5 processor is aging, but Apple still milks a surprisingly responsive performance from it.

5. Nexus 7 Provides Good Build Quality For The Price

Manufactured for Google by Asus, the Nexus 7 is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor. Like the iPad Mini, it weighs less than a pound. Both the Surface RT and the Acer Iconia weigh twice as much.

The Surface RT still feels solid, thanks to a sturdy chassis, but the Acer's plastic components feel comparatively cheap. The iPad Mini features a typically excellent Apple design, and early reports say the Nexus's soft-touch finish is easy to grip.

6. Unless You Need Microsoft Office, Nexus 7 Offers More Ecosystem For The Money

With more than one million apps, Google Play is the largest app marketplace, and Google's online services make it relatively easy to connect devices via the cloud. Apple's app store isn't quite as big, but it's still the top draw for developers. Its 300,000 tablet-optimized apps also lead the field.

The Windows Store has more than 100,000 titles, but the current user interface makes it unnecessarily difficult to find the best ones. Windows 8.1 will fix this, but Microsoft's main selling point is still access to Microsoft Office. If this appeals to you, the Surface RT and Acer Iconia offer some of the cheaper ways to do so, but better devices should be available by the fall.

For others, Windows 8.1 will enable some intriguing app experiences, such as tie-ins to 3-D printing. And over time, Microsoft's app economy will become more competitive. The company is also nicely tying things together with SkyDrive. Still, with devices such as the Nexus undercutting Win8 models by so much, Microsoft will need to persuade average buyers.

7. All Mini-Tablets Feature Good Battery Life

Both Windows tablets manage around eight hours of battery life, and Google says the Nexus can go more than nine hours between charges, depending on usage. Apple claims the iPad Mini gets 10 hours of battery life, though some users have experienced less. Essentially, all of today's premier budget tablets offer excellent battery life. By early next year, new devices should be even better, across the field.

8. Apple Is The Least Interested In Tablet Peripherals

The iPad Mini and Nexus 7 are pure tablets, but Windows slates such as the Surface RT and Acer Iconia have some laptop DNA in their design. As such, both are equipped with a useful variety of ports, including USB and microSD slots. Despite being less PC-like, the Nexus 7 also includes a micro-USB port, as well as wireless charging, with a Qi-compatible charger.

The iPad Mini can connect to USB drives and SD cards, but only if users buy additional connectors.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing