Buying guide: iPad mini vs. Nexus 7

Buying guide: iPad mini vs. Nexus 7

Summary: Which device to buy depends on what type of person you are as much as which one has the best specifications and price.


There are two kinds of technology buyers in the world: those who love the technology itself, and those that just want to get things done. Most tech analysts and bloggers, myself included, fall naturally into the first category. We have strong opinions about licensing, patents, openness, walled gardens, review processes, frequency of OS upgrades, and many other esoteric topics that are all unimportant to the second group. To us, technology is like politics. Some are more hard-core than others but we're all biased in one way or another. Or if you prefer: passionate.

The second category is much larger. These are people who see technology as a means to an end. When making their buying decisions they are looking at price, features, aesthetics, stability, and customer service. They tend to be much more practical than the first group, with specific needs such as reading, making calls, and web browsing that must be satisfied before anything else is considered. To continue with the political analogy, these are the independents. They'll support whichever side brings them the best results.

The reason I mention all this is because the decision between two devices such as the iPad mini and the Nexus 7 depends first and foremost on which type of person you are. Are you in it for the technology, or for the practical benefits? Do you want the tech to be in your face or to disappear into the background? The answer is much simpler for the first group so let's take them first.


Technology focus

If you fall into this group then you have probably already made up your mind and just don't realize it. Look around at what other devices and computers you use. Do you regularly use a Mac? An iPhone? Do you closely follow Apple announcements of new releases? Did you mourn the loss of Steve Jobs, and feel the company might lose its way without him? Then go ahead and get the iPad. It'll be familiar to you. You'll feel good about yourself, like you're a part of something bigger. 

On the other hand, if you value openness over simplicity and you're not locked into the Apple world, then consider the Nexus 7. You get more cores, a higher clock rate, more memory, a higher resolution, a GPS, and a cheaper price. Spec-wise, the only advantage the iPad has is the physical size of the screen (7.9 vs. 7.0 inches). Some people prefer the iPad's square-ish aspect ratio while others prefer the more movie-friendly rectangular format on the Nexus 7, so that's just a personal choice. The iPad is a bit thinner but both will fit in a pocketbook or a big pair of cargo pants. 

Both the iPad mini and the Nexus 7 enjoy up to date OTA updates direct from Apple and Google, respectively. So there's no worry about having an old OS version. Both are jail-breakable if you're into that kind of thing, though the Nexus, like all Android devices, wins hands down in terms of the breadth and depth of its modding community. It's Linux after all.


Functional focus

Before the Nexus 7, if you asked me what tablet to get for your non-technical family member I would have said iPad every time. Yes, that's right, me, author of a book on Android, writer of many articles espousing the benefits of Android, I was recommending iPads. Why? Well, for one thing I actually do own both Android and iOS tablets. I bought an iPad 1 as soon as it came out. But then something funny happened. It vanished. Stolen!

Ok, not stolen exactly. My wife "borrowed" it. You have to realize, this is a woman who eschews the same high tech devices that I get so worked up about. She won't use laptops because she hates the small screens and trackpads. She won't use a smartphone because the battery doesn't last long enough. When she's out and gets lost she calls me up so I can function as sort of a remote "Google maps viewer" for her. I love her to death, but in my mind she's something of a Luddite. But she. Took. My. Ipad.

My wife is strongly in the functional, practical camp. She practically defines it. For her, the iPad does exactly what she wants: It reads mail, it browses the web, and it plays games. Oh, the games. Whoever invented the freemium in-app purchase model of games owes me a lot of money, let me tell you. But I digress.

Another nice thing about all iPad models is the battery life. You can use it all day and it won't run out of juice. Or even nicer, you can *not* use it for a few days and you won't come back to a dead machine. For functional folks like my wife, there's nothing more frustrating than wanting to get something done but being prevented by the technology. That's true whether it's a tablet, an electric car, or a hand mixer. They want to rule the technology, not the other way around.

The Nexus 7 is different though. I know I'm biased, but I really like this device. It's small so it's easy to carry around. It does everything the iPad mini can do and more. It's fast and buttery smooth. It's easy to use and just works. Because it has a GPS you can use maps, and they work great. The thing that really pushes it over the edge for practical-minded users, though, is the price.

Consider two equally well equipped mini tablets: one Nexus 7 and one iPad mini. Both with lots of room for games and other content. Both with high speed cellular access for those times you can't get a WiFi signal. Look at the price difference:

Google Nexus 7, 32GB, WiFi, HSPA+, AT&T: $299

Apple iPad mini, 32GB, WiFi, HSPA+/LTE, AT&T: $559 ($659 for 64GB)

The iPad mini costs almost twice as much as the Nexus 7. That's incredible. I don't normally use the term "Apple tax", but according to hardware breakdowns the mini only costs about $15 more to make, mostly due to the larger screen. Do the math: you're paying a $249 premium for the Apple device.

Remember the old Hyundai ads where the car was so cheap the guy bought two of them, and then he had to drive both back home? It was funny because it was ridiculous; he would drive one a few feet, get out, walk back to the other one and catch up, then repeat. I'm sure somebody in the comments can find us a link to the video if you missed it. My point is that at this price, you could buy two Nexus 7's for a little more than the less functional Apple mini. One for you and one for your spouse or significant other, perhaps?


If the politics of technology is your main concern and you've intertwined your life with Apple, then just stick with the Apple iPad mini. It's a perfectly capable and fun device. If price is no object and there are other considerations like apps or games that haven't been ported to Android yet, or you just want that Apple status symbol (nothing wrong with that, let's be honest) then you might want to go with the Apple device. However, if you want cutting edge hardware including GPS, or if you're into customization and modding, or if you'd like to either save money or buy two for the price of one, then the Nexus 7 is the clear choice.

Topics: Mobile OS, Android, Apple, Google, Tablets

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • Nexus 7 ousts iPad Mini hands down.

    Gesture typing, Multiuser,Better screen, All Android apps, Smooth,
    GPS, List is endless.
  • "customization and modding"

    An important reason for customization and modding is to "just get work done", YOUR way, instead of the way somebody else decides is best for you.

    Another reason is future proofing. I am running Jelly Bean on my Nook Color, which is pretty sweet.

    Everything else being equal, cost matters a great deal. I see no reason to volunteer for a wealth transfer from my pocket to someone else's.

    Status: Could not care less. The people I might impress by owning and Apple device are not worth impressing imho.
    • Agreed

      I don't agree with how the writer implied that "customization and modding" is somehow highly technical compared to using the boring Apple iOS UI. It's not. Let's get this clear "modding" is equivalent to jailbreaking which you can do on iOS as well. That's not the advantage that Android has over iOS. It's the customization part where Android shines. Customizations that any person can do who is not technical at all. As you said, it's just a matter of organizing the device the way you want and not the way Apple wants. Android provides simple user flexibility, Apple does not.
  • "I don't normally use the term "Apple tax"" -- what about Samsung tax?

    16 GB SGT 7.7 with 3G costed $449 -- about the same as iPad mini with cellular support.

    Yet iPad mini has LTE, rather than just 3G, and is made of good materials, not cheapo creaky plastic.

    So why no one ever writes about "Samsung tax"?

    As to iPad mini versus Nexus 7 comparison, the price difference is big, but so are the advantages of iPad mini:
    1) like hundred times wide applications library;
    2) 35-49-67% bigger actual usable screen area;
    3) much faster cellular access;
    4) much better build quality (not only materials per se, but also precision; display does not leak light, black is much blacker);
    5) less weight and thickness, despite having much bigger screen.

    Nexus 7 has higher resolution, but still by far nothing like Retina. So it does not make breakthrough difference in this regard.
    • Whatever happened to PPI being the only thing that counts?

      Huh, odd that when an Apple product has significantly lower PPI, suddenly this is an irrelevant measure.
      • Oh Toddy!

        Shame on You Toddy! Someone as smart as yourself should surely know that PPI is only one of 3 important items; color depth and contrast are just as important.

        And all you have is pixel smoothing "technology" - so sad to be on technologically challenged MS team!
        • MS doesn't make an Android tablet

          Aren't they talking about an iPad and Android tablet?
          NoMore MicrosoftEver
      • Where have you been tb3?

        Having a better screen no longer matters because it isn't retina. Pointless to discuss resolution if neither are retina - they become equal!
        Little Old Man
        • What are you trying to say?

          The "best" screen is the one that best meets the criteria in all 3 categories; so yes, Retina is the "best". Some newer screens have more ppi's but truly suck in the color/contrast departments. How come only Apple is smart enough to know this?

          Oh yeah, you RoidBoys just look at specs . . .
      • PPI was never thing that only counts, but it is primary thing if it ...

        ... transcends from quantity to quality -- surpassing Retina class resolution.

        None of smaller tablet have that yet. Now small tablets have better or worse resolution, but you see pixels anyway, so it makes no principal difference.
        • What? That's ridiculous

          The resolution on the Nexus 7 screen is noticeable better. You can more easily see the pixels on the iPad Mini than on the Nexus 7. To say it doesn't matter because neither are 1080P is disingenuous.
          • I never said it does not matter, I said it is not principal

            Having better or lower resolutions while both are way below Retina class does not make principal difference. It is like comparing fax with 144 dpi and 168 dpi.
      • Just not true

        It has never been just about PPI, and as much as people have argued about Retina, it was never really about that. It is simply about quality and compatibility. Doubling the resolution allowed all applications to continue to work without compromise and made it easy for developers to enhance their applications with little work. Retina comes at a cost though, both literally and computationally. 4X resolution means 4X GPU power just to keep from slowing down.

        This is not reasonable today on the mini, so the compromise is simple. Maintain compatibility and performance at a reasonable price. It would have cost Apple less than nothing to push the resolution from 1024x768 to 1280x920 (or what ever the 4x3 step up is). But the cost is compatibility and the benefit is trivial.

        If you step away from the raw specs and think about the use of the device there was really no other choice to make for display. 2048x1536 is over kill on an 8 inch display and to do it you would sacrifice size, weight, cost, battery life, and performance.

        This choice make the user experience on the iPad mini, an iPad experience, where the decisions made on the nexus 7 often make the user experience more like a Phone. I'm not defending Apple on the hardware value equation here. I personally think they should have predicted the shift to 32GB @ 199 on the Nexus and this refresh of the iPad should have been 32/64 or 128 at current prices. And the only reason not to do this today is pride! (the existing stock of 16GB could be sold off for $259).

        I'll pay the premium, because it is worth it for me. But Apple is leaving a big gap that will loosen it's grip on the Tablet market long term for short term profits, and Tim Cook should know better.
        • That's a bogus argument

          Apple obviously didn't seem to care about keeping the resolution "equal" to previous screens with the iPhone 5 which is why software companies need to "adjust" their apps now.

          Apple could have easily gone with a higher resolution that wasn't necessarily retina display level at 7.9". Software would just appear letterboxed or software companies would "adjust" their apps for the new format like they're doing with the iPhone 5.
      • Yeah whatever happened to PPI being the only thing that counts?

        Because as Todd and I have noticed, the only thing people like about their iPads is PPI! Oh sure, it's all "I have a Retina Display"... until you don't have one and then what are you? Then you're all, "iPad 2's resolution looks even crisper in the smaller real estate." But don't try to avoid the argument. As Todd and I can clearly see, it used to be the only thing that mattered to you iSheep. Not the 250,000 iPad optimized apps, not the seamless integration with desktop environments, not the robust iTunes ecosystem and iCloud support, none of that. All we hear is PPI, PPI, PPI. Guess you're all pretty quiet now. Come on Todd, let's go hit another article. We showed them.
    • Re: what about Samsung tax?

      Samsung doesn't make the Nexus 7.
    • Its GOOGLE's time!

      OK love the iPad like I love every apple product, but guess what...I picked the nexus 7. The one thing I hate is when Apple mad fan boys always try to find a way to turn it around, the fact is you can't.
      It fair to say, the only thing Apple is selling at the moment is the name, for nearly 2 years now competition has been getting stronger, smarter and better. So no excuses please the nexus is simply a better device, you said or nexus has a higher resolution but nothing like retina...mate it doesn't matter it still better than the iPad mini plus if you look at retina devices by apple the prices are ridiculous (iPad 4), not to mention nexus 10 just literally made apple retina display look a thing of the past...Nexus 7 is not only better but cheaper. Well done to Google they are creating a system it terms of products that just works and jelly bean again great so well done and keep up the hard work.
      Rui Amorim
    • Samsung tax???

      You can' t compare the 7.7 which is ONLY available through a Wireless carrier to the iPad which I can walk into Best Buy and get right now without adding a data package. Apple DOES charge a premium for less tech over ANY company. The build quality is good but THATS IT! APPLE preys on the segment that believes their product is superior ...which it' s not. Apple is attempting to comodosize all their products and it' s worked until now. But thankfully people are waking up from the Apple trance.
      Joe Tolisano
    • You're a bit Looped on Apple's RDF Doublethink Propaganda! lol...

      Nexus 7 actually far closer to Retina than you iDiots think. If you go by Apple's own "Size of Screen", "Distance from Screen" per "Pixel Density" calculations, Nexus 7 is Retina Worthy! .....and if not just barely not so. It's just a 7" screen with a true PPI of 216ppi vs 8" screen (not 7") aspect ratio of 4:3. Which means far less pixels have to be generated. Making iPad Mini fast, but not nearly as sharp for reading and terrible for HD videos/movies and action detailed games.

      So much so..... that Nexus 7 beats the full iPad in gaming performance easily (smaller screen less pixels to generate). Especially since each App has to be specifically coded in Objective C for iOS. Which is a nightmare to hand code in, as it's just different enough to confuse C+ or Java programmers. Who can easily code Apps in C+ for Desktops or Java and port them to .apk for Android. Right now Developers are in the midst of a massive rebellion to closed proprietary exclusives.

      Naturally a developer prefers to write once and sell their Apps on all platforms! ....but until HTML5 fully replaces FLASH (cross platform applications), they won't be able to "Write Once, Sell Anywhere and Run Everywhere" on any platform. Until then developers are forced to re-code their Apps to run specifically on Desktops, Consoles and a bunch of Mobile Platforms to make the same money they could make off fully cross platform coded applications. So no matter how big (actually predicted to shrink as HTML5 Standard takes over) Apple iOS App Store gets, it'll never even be close to what HTML5 App Sales will reach. Because every browser on the planet (desktop, console, set top box, Smart TV, mobile media web player, mobile smartphone and laptop will be able to run them!

      This can only be GOOD for all Consumers and Open Platforms who don't rely on "Exclusives" to keep customers locked into their "Planned Obsolescence" business model. Who's included in that? Apple and Microsoft!!! haha..... Google Android is OPEN and they do not rely on income from their App Store. They make their money by providing free services to YOU and I and giving it all away. Then naturally we all use the web and in a way you can say..... Apple inadvertently keeps Google in business. Because no matter what they are all using Google services whether Apple likes it or NOT! ......making viewing Google's Ads a money maker even in the future of HTML5 Standards!

      Quality? lol..... who are you fooling? Well most of all yourself. Apple has gone completely over to a commoditized product model. Meaning Production and Parts Cost are now more important than new better quality construction, innovation and unique features. If think that using cheap die cast aluminum makes for better quality, are you ever lost. First of all Apple has been able to convince people that using All Aluminum makes it better quality. When in fact that's a fallacy as much as it making it more expensive. It's simply NOT TRUE!

      Especially when we're talking Die Cast Pure Soft Aluminum. True it's "recyclable" and it's light weight, but that only makes it cheaper to commoditize for Mass Production. It's rigid true, but because Die Casting requires the use of a certain amount of impurities, the anodization process is very tricky and the wear quality instead of being enhanced, like with far more expensive Sheet Fed and Stamped Aircraft Grade Aluminum, is severely reduced. New out of box is perhaps the only time you'll see your new iPad Mini or iPhone 5 in perfect shape ever again. That means these devices aren't top quality, because they've simply substituted higher quality Aircraft Grade materials for cheaper commodity grade parts. You won't see it right away, but over time, yours and everyone else's Apple iOS devices will look like trash so you can buy them like throw away single use tooth brushes! Planned Obsolescence is all Apple is really after now that they have all the iDiots convinced a rotten half eaten Apple is a sign of Quality! :D
  • The real "tax"

    "I don't normally use the term "Apple tax", but according to hardware breakdowns the mini only costs about $15 more to make"

    First of all, I don't know how accurate that $15 difference is, but just from the differences (40% larger display, aluminium vs. cheap plastic, a 5MP camera vs. none, LTE vs. 3G only, etc.) it is probably a lot more than just $15.

    Secondly, Google is like Amazon and B&N. They all sell their tablets at cost (i.e. no profit) with the intention of making up the profit in additional sales and advertising. This can be considered to be the "Google tax"!

    But Apple does not sell its hardware at cost and then expect to make up the profit in other annoying ways similar to Google, Amazon, and B&N. Apple's profit is normal, and not a "tax" at all.
    Harvey Lubin