Five great Android tablets you can buy today instead of waiting for the iPad Mini

Five great Android tablets you can buy today instead of waiting for the iPad Mini

Summary: Just because Apple appears to be releasing the iPad Mini is no reason to ignore the Android tablets that forced Apple to enter the 7" tablet space.

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I like iPads. I own one and often use it. That said, I never cared for its size; Apple's locked-in, proprietary software ecosystem; and lately Apple's iOS updates have been including a lot of sloppy mistakes. So it is that more often than not I've been using a variety of 7" Android-powered tablets instead of my iPad. And, you know what? Just because it seems almost certain there will soon be an iPad Mini, I don't see any reason to be rushing out to buy one.

Why not? From the top: Price. Whatever Apple ends up charging for the Mini, it's a safe bet it's going to be more than the 7" Android tablets. Apple's never been anyone's idea of an affordable brand.

Next, I really don't appreciate Apple's Big Brother approach to third-party software. For example, the reason you can't watch most Website videos on an iPad is that Steve Jobs decided he didn't want Adobe Flash on iDevices. I also really don't like Apple's patent lawsuit happy ways.

Last, and to the point, over the last few months, Android and its hardware vendors have finally gotten their tablet act together. In 2010, Android tablets weren't competitive at all with the mark one iPad. In 2011, the Barnes & Nobles' Nook Color, while still primarily an e-reader, became a reasonable Android tablet. In late 2011, the small, 7" Android tablet took off with the introduction of Amazon's Kindle Fire. Then, as far as I'm concerned, the first Android tablet came along that was actually better than an iPad: the Nexus 7.

Heck, ZDNet's own Jason D. O'Grady , an Apple fan even said there was only one thing wrong with the Nexus 7: it's lack of an Apple logo. Me? I can live without an Apple logo.

So, what are the best alternatives to the forthcoming iPad Mini. Here's my list from least to most attractive:

Galaxy Tab 7
Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 is pretty, fast, and pricey.

5) Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 

Gosh, the Samsung 7.7's AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display is pretty. As pretty as an iPad 3's Active Matrix? No, probably, but it is eye-catching.

Under the pretty screen, you'll find a 1.4GHz dual core processor with 16GBs of storage and a GB of RAM. It started with Android 3.2, Honeycomb, but it was updated in July to Android 4.04, Ice Cream Sandwich. It also supports, with the right contract of course, 4G.

I only have one problem with it: the price tag. At $400, it's a little much for a 7" tablet.

KindleFire7
If you like Amazon, you'll love the new Kindle Fire,

4) Amazon Kindle Fire (2012)

You can't beat the new model Kindle Fire's price: $159. It also comes tied at the hip with Amazon goodies. That's both a virtue and a vice.

I like Amazon, but I'd rather not have them as both my software gateway and, thanks to its Silk Web browser, my portal to the greater Internet. I also really, really don't like being forced fed ads if I don't cough up an extra $15.

The hardware is OK for the price. It uses a dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP 4430 CPU, a GB of RAM, and comes with 16GBs of storage. For its operating system, the Kindle Fire uses a highly customized version of Ice Cream Sandwich. On the other hand, it still doesn't have HD video support... or a camera, … or storage expansion slot... or physical volume buttons.

All that said, it's still a good tablet for the price. If I wanted to buy a tablet for a relative or friend this holiday who just wanted to read books and watch movies, I'd seriously consider the updated Kindle Fire.

NookTablet
The new Nook Tablet isn't out yet, but the old one is still pretty darn good.

3) Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (2011)

The next generation of the Nook Tablet won't show for a few more weeks, but that's OK, because I'm still fond of last year's Nook Tablet at $179.

It uses a TI OMAP 4 dual-core 1 GHz processor along with 8GBs of storage, a GB of RAM and can handle addition storage with its microSD slot. Like the Kindle it uses a modified version of Android. In the Nook's case that's Android 2.3, GingerBread.

Older hardware and software and all, I still prefer the old Nook Tablet to the new Kindle Fire and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the 2012 Nook. Why? Because it just works better. It delivers smoother performance and I find its interface to be easier to use. Now, if only Barnes & Noble and Amazon both would make it easier for us to get fuller access to Android programs I'd be even happier.

Galaxy Tab 7
It's not quite as fast as the Galaxy 7.7, but the Galaxy Tab 7 is nice in its own right.

2) Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0

It's not quite as good as its big brother, the Galaxy Tab 7.7, but at $350 I can live with the newly 4G LTE-enabled Galaxy Tab 2.

It comes with a a 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP 4430 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage. And, like the Tab 7.7, it uses Android 4.04. It is, as you would have guessed, slower and less full-featured than its high-priced relative. The most noticeable difference is that it has a front-facing VGA camera instead of a 2 megapixel front facing camera.

If you decide this is the tablet for you, check to make sure that you're getting the model you want. The earlier Galaxy Tab only Wi-Fi model is still available at a price of about $250. It's a trifle slower than the new model and of course doesn't support LTE, but it's otherwise a winner.

Nexus7
The best tablet of all, including the iPad, is the Nexus 7.

1) Nexus 7

And, I've saved the best for last. The Nexus 7, at $199, is simply the best tablet out there. It runs like a dream and it's become my go-to tablet.

With a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 8GBs of storage the Nexus 7 runs very, very fast. How fast? Faster than any of its competitors. It's also the only one currently running Android 4.1, JellyBean. This is easily the best version of Android to date.

The result is an outstanding tablet. If I could only have one tablet, it would be a Nexus 7.

Mini iPad? I'm sure it will be nice, but nicer than these? Maybe. In the same price-range as them? I can't see that. And, as for being nicer and more afforable than the Nexus 7? I don't think so. 

The tablet wars are now on in earnest. 

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Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Android, Apple, Google, Hardware, iPad, Mobile OS, Mobility

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  • Nook Tablet is under-rated.

    The Nook Tablet with the Nook2Android(N2A) microSD card is SWEET!

    If the iPad mini is priced between the iPod Touch and the iPad, it may be a tough sale...
    SkiddMarxx
    • That was my view also until ...

      the 7" tablets with higher resolutions came out. I am really looking forward to reading the reviews of the upcoming 7" tablets from Amazon and B&N. Once they are out, I will either pick up one of them, or a Nexus 7, hopefully at by then, a lower price. My only gripe about the N7 is the lack of microSD, but I can live with that, especially on the 16GB version.

      All I have for now is the Nook Color running CM 7.2, but it has been a very positive introduction to tablets, so I will head back into the market for a second and better one soon.
      D.T.Long
      • Nexus 7....

        I was an android proponent for years and refused to own an Apple product even though my children and wife have iPods and iPhones and such. I purchased the Asus Transformer Prime when it first came out and I have to say I loved it. The wifi was great, but it was usable; GPS was nonexistent but didn't care. I had one speck of foreign matter under the screen that was annoying, but not enough to make me return it. When the Transformer Infinity came out, Best Buy offered to exchange my Prime for it straight across, even though I had purchased it over eight months prior......kudos Best Buy! Anyway, I did and wound up exchanging it several times after for many different issues, mostly due to build quality. They had suggested I try the ipad during all of my exchanges, even though they pointed out it would not be their first choice and gave the pros and cons of each, I refused. I am a tech enthusiast and already knew the pros and cons of each, by the way. I continued to exchange the infinity and not consider the ipad or other android tablets as no other android tab could boast any specs anywhere near the infinity, after my seventh exchange, I gave in and exchanged for an ipad 3. After all, as they pointed out, I had thirty days to try it out and return it for another infinity if need be. The build quality of the ipad was phenomenal, and it just "worked". I later did exchange the ipad, but only to upgrade from a 16 gig version to a 32 gig version. About a week later, my son had a birthday coming up and expressed a wish for a tablet of his own. Without pause I thought of the Nexus 7 and immediately bought him one. After reading about build quality issue with it, I opened it to test it out before I gave it to him. Glad I did, it was defective. I took it back and purchased a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Student Edition with keyboard dock and USB adapter for him. I still use an android phone, only because I have a year left on my contract, and can't upgrade to an iPhone 5 yet, and if there had been an ipad mini available I would have bought one one for my son instead of the Galaxy tab. I still love android, I really do. I wish my ipad was widescreen. I only want an iPhone 5 because of the integration capability of my ipad with it. I'm not bashing android for my issues with a particular brands android product, but it definitely become to fragmented. The original premise of android is an absolutely wonderful concept. For ninety percent of the population, Apple products are a great choice. After owning an Apple product, I definitely understand why their products have taken off the way have. I am extremely happy with my ipad and am definitely not looking back. I used to love tinkering with my android products, but it has become tiresome and now I simply want something that "works" and does what it says it will each and every time. Maybe I'm just getting old and I'm a poster child for the Samsung commercial of the young man holding a place in line for his parents to get an iPhone 5. All of that said, I don't believe one is better than the other. They each have their niche, and its great that we have a choice between the two, but bashing Apple for their dictatorial control of their products and their ecosystem is silly. Their dictatorial control, which I disagree with fundamentally, is why they such phenomenal products. From their build quality right down to the fact that 99% of the time their products just "work". Will you pay a premium for it? Yes. Will their be flaws and some issues along the way? Yes. Find a product that doesn't. It's just a shame that the competition for consumers has become become the war that it is. Too bad we can't just say here they are.....which works best for you personally? Yes, I understand free enterprise and how competition benefits the end consumer......but I can dream can't I? Thank for you listening to my long winded PERSONAL experience and observation.
        BeNT4Life
        • What's your point?

          "From their build quality right down to the fact that 99% of the time their products just 'work'. Will you pay a premium for it? Yes."

          I completely disagree with your statement above. I would not pay a premium for a device that just "works" because we obviously have different definitions of what that means. If you're only talking about it working well within the Apple distortion field, then I agree.

          However, if you're referring to real world usability, you're completely off track. Simply issues like not having a built-in HDMI, USB, and SD affect workability/usability of the device. I should be able to move any file I want onto my device and off of it without having to be connected to the internet. In Apple's case they even restrict the TYPE of files you can transfer to your device via a dongle, and on the iPad you need a dongle for a whole host of things. Is that better? No, it's not.

          Did you have the built-in keyboard dock with your Prime or Infinity? Apple or third party vendors don't have anything even close to that. All those bluetooth keyboards for iPad are a joke. Why? Mainly because the iPad is incapable of reproducing a pointing cursor in it's system. iPads have never been mice compatible and as such you can't use game controllers either or trackpads. All things the Prime and Infinity can do either wirelessly or wired.

          So what platform "works" best? For me, it's the Android platform. The iOS platform limits the type of "work" I can do and how I can do it.

          The reason for the fans "wars" is because people are tired of Apple always holding itself up at THE choice in mobile devices. It's not, and it's imperative that we let the world know it.

          BTW, Steve Jobs is the one that started this war of words so if there is any blame on why people feel so passionate, look in Apple's direction. Jobs and Apple did the same thing with respect to MacOS vs Windows too. Remember those flame wars?
          laequis
          • RE: What's your point?

            “I completely disagree with your statement above. I would not pay a premium for a device that just "works" because we obviously have different definitions of what that means.”
            Care to point out where he said that you specifically would be willing to pay a premium? He said that to buy Apple products in general you pay a premium with isn’t always the case.

            “If you're only talking about it working well within the Apple distortion field, then I agree.”
            Man, it’s really sad when you have to fall back on such old talking points.

            “Simply issues like not having a built-in HDMI, USB, and SD affect workability/usability of the device.”
            No, actually it doesn’t for everyone. If you are incapable of being fully productive with the multitude of options that remove the need for the addition ports that’s your issue not the devices.

            Your requirement for a mouse compatibility does not make the numerous keyboard options for the iPad a joke. It simply means it’s not a fit for you. Of course somebody that has the least bit of maturity realizes that just because something doesn’t fit their particular wants/needs doesn’t make it a bad product, just something that isn’t a good fit for them.

            “The reason for the fans "wars" is because people are tired of Apple always holding itself up at THE choice in mobile devices.”
            This has got to be one of the lamest statements I have read in some time. What company does not present their products as “THE choice”? Are your beloved Android products advertised as “We might not be THE choice in mobile devices but buy us instead”? No they are not. They are marketed just like every other product as being the device you should buy, or as you put it “THE choice”.

            “BTW, Steve Jobs is the one that started this war of words so if there is any blame on why people feel so passionate, look in Apple's direction.”
            Yet another BS statement. Actually probably better described as your vision through your Apple hating blinders. There have been iOS/iPhone/iPad haters running their mouths since day one. Jobs might have fanned the flames with statements like Android is a stolen product but he didn’t start it. BTW, that is how he felt and if you don’t think it’s valid for him to speak his feelings on the topic then you should not be able to either. For every Apple Fanboy on this site there are 5-10 haters just due to the nature of the site and with all their BS flying around (both the fanboys and haters) those of us with an open mind get drowned out by the FUD and lies.
            non-biased
      • Another option

        I got a "free" Sony Tablet S with some credit card points. I hadn't considered it but my options were few using the points. It's a larger HD widescreen the size of an ipad, dual core, dual cameras, wifi only, proper gps and BT. It has a full size SD slot which is kind of nice. It has some software issues but I haven't updated it to ICS from HC as I want to put a rooted version on and haven't gotten to it. The design is a bit clunky, shaped like an open folded magazine or book but otherwise runs well with good battery life. They are going for the high $200's these days.
        LarsDennert
    • Tablets For the Holidays

      Another Company, Ainol Electronics — also just launched a whole new tablet line of tablets, including the Novo 7 Flame – priced at $189 at a U.S. site called TabletSprint – a 7″ 16GB tablet with some quality features than rival Nexus 7, and new Kindle HD and the Asus -- The Novo Flame has a high resolution 1280×800 screen, Micro-SD, HDMI, 2 quality cameras and more… Next month Ainol launch the “World’s 1st” $99 Dual Core “Performance” tablet — If you’re not familar with Ainol Electronics – they won runner-up in CES / CNET’s 2012 “Best Tablet of the Year” Award– And they also have two new Hi-Res 10 Inch tablets coming out soon, one a Dual Core at $219 and a Quad Core with a 1920×1200 Liquid Crystal display (like Apple’s Retina screen) for around $275 - Wow
      SD1000tech
  • Who Says I'm Waiting For An Ipad Mini ?

    Apple are far too expensive giving poor value for money. The only thing they want to do is pick you up by the ankles and shake you until every last dime falls out.

    Get their latest "rip the customer off" scam here:

    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/10/apple-revising-mfi-program-to-limit-third-party-lightning-accessories/
    Alan Smithie
    • Your kidding ?

      So apple shake you by the ankles ? So when you buy The kindle Fire you only spend the $200 or so and then after that is free movies and music and free books all year round , you must be new to technology or business for that matter , Google and Amazon bleed you dry you need a subscription for everything the drown your screen in ads and more ads , nothing is free Sir the only difference between Apple and all the others is apple grab you by the ankles and the rest by the balls but all Sir all shake you for cash.
      Joffre Arteaga
      • Not Familiar with Fire?

        I use an iPad and my wife uses a Fire. I don't think you know much about the Fire.

        For one, there's the "free paid app a day" - one name brand app each day (for one day only), which costs money on my iPad or my son's Nexus 7, at not cost. (Actually, to my annoyance, many of the apps that regularly charge nothing on the N7 require payment on my iPad. I'm not sure why, to be honest, since Apple's store is generally regarded as a higher volume channel.)

        There's also the lending library. Many of the books my wife reads cost nothing a'tall, and she can take as long as she likes to read them on her Fire.

        She can also stream movies and music, of course, but the shopping convenience with free 2nd day delivery has really changed our buying patterns. For example, we discovered a new brand of K-Cups a couple of weeks ago while visiting a friend in another state. My wife ordered a case while we sat there chatting and drinking our coffee, and it was waiting for us when we returned. This was actually less expensive than buying locally, since it's a speciality item and the shipping was free.

        This is (IMHO) an excellent value for a $200 tablet and $79 Prime membership - especially since we were *already* Prime members before she bought the Fire, having calculated around a break-even on shipping costs compared to our previous year of shipping charges from Amazon. The Fire changed our "let's not worry about shipping charges" break-even convenience to a true bargain.

        She's never complained about ads, but perhaps we're both just used to them by now. If we had the option to pay $15 to remove them, as today, I doubt we'd pay it, though I recognize that some good folks like you probably would. Delightful to have the choice.

        I like my iPad, don't get me wrong, but if my company hadn't paid for it, I would have been quite happy with a Fire. Of course, my son's Nexus 7 is just in a class by itself.

        All IMHO, of course. ;-)
        ricegf
        • not exactly

          EVERY Android tablet / phone can get Amazon's Free app of the day. It has nothing to do with the Kindle Fire, it has everything to do with their App Store. All you have to do is install the Amazon App Store on your Android tablet or phone and you have it. Heck, I use their website on my PC to see the daily free app and "buy" it if I want it and download it to my phone later.
          RidgebackJim
        • How long has that Fire been lit?

          The original model released last year wasn't ad-supported like the one they just released less than a month ago. So if she's had the original, there weren't (m)any ads to speak of.
          V1R4L
        • Amazon Prime isn't really a benefit of the Fire

          Yes, you get a free Prime membership for a year (or at least used to) with the purchase of the Fire but they you have to pay for it. It's also not limited to Fire users as anybody using any device can take advantage of Prime so not really a benefit for the Fire. Don't get me wrong, not trying to knock the Fire. My wife has one that she really likes. When she first got it she would use it most but now it's pretty much only used for reading and everything else she does on her iPad.
          non-biased
    • Speak with your wallet

      The great thing in this country is you don't have to buy what you don't want, there's choice. I've had an Android and a WP7 phone but like the iPhone and iPad better, that's my choice. I also have a Nook for taking books with me.
      gribittmep
    • Who decides the value of a product?

      Guess what, as a none iPad owner you have no basis what so ever to claim what the value is. As an actual owner I can tell you that the value I get out of my iPad exceeds what I paid for it. I'm not going to claim it's a good fit for you because just like you have no basis to determine the value of items I purchase I have no basis to tell you what products are best for you. The key difference here is that I realize where my opinion matters and where it doesn't.
      non-biased
  • Can't watch MOST website videos on iOS tablets? MOST?

    On what planet are you referring to, Steve, that most website videos can not be viewed on iOS based tablets? MOST?

    Must be an election year and Steve is practicing the fine art of political hyperbole.
    kenosha77a
    • It's true: you can't watch MOST website videos on iOS tablets.

      @kenosha77a It's true. You can't view most website videos on a iPad. Anything that's not HTML5 or YouTube (e.g. most videos on the web) the iPad can't display because the players require flash.

      Any video that uses SpringBoard, Vimeo, etc. is just inaccessible on the iPad.

      To be fair, you lose more than just most video -- you lose most of the interactive content on the web as well if you're an iPad user.

      Tablets like RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and many Android tablets can handle video and other interactive content from just about every source.
      recompile
      • the end of Flash video?

        Unfortunately, Flash videos can't be played on Android 4.1, either.
        paul613
        • Flash works on Android 4.1

          Android 4.1 still works with flash player.
          Unfortunately, you can't simply download the flash player from Google Play because it will detect your OS version and the flash player won't show. The flashplayer is not registered in Google Play with Android 4.1 but that doesn't mean the APK file won't work.
          If you obtain the APK file, either by downloading from elsewhere, or downloading using another Android device. Use Titanium Backup or Astro File Manager and back up the flash player as an APK. You can simply sideload the latest APK and flash will work perfectly, except in Chrome. It works with the standard Android browser and Opera Mobile.
          You can also mod your Jellybean to report an earlier version of Android so Google Play will let you download but that is not recommended.
          warboat
          • Really, a work around to make flash work?

            Why is it when people have brought up apps to view flash on iOS devices in the past you dismissed them as not valid because it wasn't built into the OS?
            non-biased