When is 7" better than 10"? When you're a tablet

When is 7" better than 10"? When you're a tablet

Summary: Yes, size matters. And sometimes, less is more. When's my Nexus 7 being delivered?

TOPICS: Tablets, Apple, Google, iPad

I love my new iPad (or iPad 3, or Retina iPad, or whatever it's called). I read on it, watch movies, prototype websites, take videos, edit photos. I'm even sending my Macbook Air to a colleague. It's pretty irrelevant with my iPad. The display's a lot nicer, as well, on the iPad.

That being said, despite Steve Jobs' repeated criticism of 7" tablets as "dead on arrival", every time I use my iPad for extended periods or my younger kids use the 10" bit of Apple shininess, I can't help but think, "Gee, if only this were a little smaller." Yes, it's very thin and sleek, it's light for it's size, and there are countless accessories that position it well for touch-typing or extended viewing, but there's something about the combination of space, size, and weight that make this default choice in tablets less than ideal for many use cases.

I have a Kindle Fire and a Dell Streak, both of which are 7" tablets. I also have a 10" Motorola Xoom. The Fire is great if Amazon's take on Android and their fairly closed ecosystem are your thing. I've passed that on to one of my kids and he loves it. The Dell Streak sits largely unused, stuck in old-Android, orphaned-hardware limbo, which is too bad because the friends, family, and colleagues to whom I've loaned it love the form factor (although it's not exactly a featherweight) and performance. It's a beast, too, in terms of durability (there are no better beta testers for a product's durability than my two-year old daughter or my 18-year old son with Asperger's - if they can't break it, nothing will).


The Xoom is also an outstanding device and its support for SwiftKey (not available on the iPad) makes it the best touch-typing tablet I've ever used. As a side note, SwiftKey is one paid app for Android that is worth every penny. It's predictive text engine rocks and the split keyboard on the tablet version has to be used to be believed. That said, the Xoom is just too heavy and awkward to make the cut. Put it on a diet, give it a Retina display, and I'd never use my iPad again.

Speaking of high-end Android tablets on a diet, I pre-ordered a Nexus 7. I couldn't resist it. I couldn't resist the call of Jelly Bean and I couldn't resist a 7" form factor with better specs and a full Android interface the the Kindle Fire I'd left behind could't match. Maybe it won't be the tablet holy grail for which I'm looking. I tend to save most of my typing for a computer with a keyboard, but do find myself increasingly creating content on the iPad (both visual and written). Perhaps the smaller size will get in the way of occasional typing and frequent sketching.

I don't think so, though. I'm writing this on a plane right now. It's a nearly three-hour flight from Newark down to New Orleans on a little Embraer sardine can…errr, I mean jet. Not surprisingly, there are more iPads than laptops out on the tiny tray tables. And even these relatively diminutive devices are giving people trouble as other passengers recline, stretch, climb out for bathroom breaks, and pass complimentary beverages back and forth with flight attendants. Now a 7" tablet… 

I'm not saying that in two years everyone will be using a 7" tablet, leaving their bulky iPads behind like Apple left the 17" MacBook Pro behind in their latest refresh. It seems pretty clear, in fact, that we'll see both larger and smaller form factors. However, no matter what anyone says, size matters and in ways that you might not expect.

There's a reason that Google's first tablet is a 7" model. Part of it is cost, no doubt. I'd rather have a cheap, fast, small tablet, than a cheap, slow big one. There is also a hole in the tablet market right now that isn't being filled by the Kindle Fire and certainly not by the iPad. A small, high-performance tablet running the latest Android OS and UI has a lot of appeal. At 7", the Nexus 7 may not be the best machine for running Adobe's Touch Apps, but it's small enough to fit in a large pocket, whip out for a fussy kid, or use unobtrusively in a meeting in ways that 10" of iPad isn't.

As tablets continue to push PCs out of the consumer market, we'll see that there is more than enough room for different form factors. My money, though, on the dominant tablet size in 18 months, though, is 7". And even if Apple calls it the iPod Maxi to claim that a 7" iPad is still a bad idea, I think Apple will be right there with a competitive device.

Also read:

"I'll believe the iPad Mini when Apple throws a launch event"

Topics: Tablets, Apple, Google, iPad

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • I am curious . . .

    I have a 10" tablet and use it quite a lot for reading emagazines that I purchase through Zinio and for reading books that I purchase through Amazon Kindle. I find that, especially with magazines, my 10" tablet really only just big enough to allow easy reading with glasses. So my curiosity is about how easy or difficult it is to use 7" devices for reading magazines?
    • I should also have added . . .

      that most of the emagazines that I read relate to photography and so a 7" black and white ereader is not going to be acceptable.
    • 5" versus 7"

      Um, why just the comparison of 10" versus 7"? Why not 5" versus 7"? All that's going on here is product differentiation. If someone really wants a 7" device, why wouldn't they just go out and buy the Samsung Galaxy Note and the Tab 2 and be done with it? Two devices for everything you'll ever need, less a gaming console if you're into playing games on a larger screen like your TV.
    • For PDFs and Magazines, 7" is too small

      I have a Kindle Fire and an iPad 2. I very much prefer the Fire for reading books, but for magazines and PDF documents, the 7" screen is too small. You are forced to pinch zoom and pan around the page, even for reading.

      My dream device is a very thing, folding 10" tablet. Carry it like a 7" tablet when folded, but the screen real estate of a 10" tablet when unfolded. In this dream world, you could even fold it back on itself and just use the small screen for reading normal books (basically the size of a paperback at that point).
    • For some uses 10 inch is barely enough

      When reading technical PDFs with lots of tables, detailed graphs and pictures which were originally purposed for 8 x 10 1/2 or larger paper, the high resolution iPad3 is sometimes too small! Different tools for different purposes.
      Try reading some of the PDFs from RealClimate or WattsUpWithThat with lots of maps, tables of temperatures and charts much less the PDFs from the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering. Now, for games or ordinary reading a 7 or 7.85 inch screen might be fine.
      I use a 5 inch Kindle for science fiction, social-political books and non-technical textbooks that are all text. It's ePaper screen is far better then the iPad for those. What I miss in the Kindle is the GoodReader and Stanza ability to use the stylus or finger to highlight text. If Amazon or Knook could those features that along with WritePad's text recognition for adding notes, I would be in editor's heaven on the ePaper Kindle for my text only reading.
      (ps, Stanza is a wonder for reading books on the iPad and iPhone. It suits my reading stye perfectly. Your Mileage May Vary. Amazon should make it an alternate reader on the Kindle, since they own it)
    • 7" Works Great for Reading


      I think you would need to try one out to be sure it is for you but I prefer 7" over 10". Why? Because I like the lower weight and size (some 7" tablets are still pretty heavy though; you have to pay attention). Like the author mentioned, it's easy to carry a 7" tablet in a pocket. I usually drop mine in my back pants pocket; but they'd slide into a large-ish jacket pocket just as well. And I don't have any problems reading on my 7" tablets. I don't really read magazines though; mostly novels and web pages, but I read a lot. I also have the Nexus 7 on pre-order and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it.
  • What's even better than a 7" tablet? A 7.85" tablet. Grin.

    Nice blog, Chris. And you mentioned key points why this rumored new and smaller iPad will be an important new product in the world wide tablet ecosystem. Of course, Bloomberg, WSJ and others not withstanding, this mythical vaporware Apple product still must be released for the following opinions to make sense.

    IMO, kids are the MAIN target demographic for this rumored new product. Specifically, children in the K1 thru K8 primary school grades. A relatively inexpensive, lightweight, "small fingered optimized UI" tablet would be just the ticket for young school children.

    And, I have to believe, the decision by Apple to remove iMac computers in all their Apple Store Children's sections and replace those computers with iPads was done without thinking ahead to a future having a 7.85" tablet available for them to use.

    All dads and moms (like Mr. and Mrs. Dawson) can better use their 10 inch retina display tablets than their children can. So, I have to agree with Chris on his main points. A seven inch tablet has an important role to play. However, that role is going to be dominated by children using those tablet devices rather than adults like Habiloso (who commented above) and myself that find a ten inch tablet better at viewing magazine content, photos and video digital images.
    • Good points

      I hadn't previously thought about how much easier a 7" tablet might be for a small child to hold compared to a 10" tablet.
    • Apple's 7-inch tablet will not enter the Android price war

      Thus, most (certainly, not all) households will opt for cheaper Amazon Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook or Google Nexus 7-inch tablets.

      As for 10-inch tablets, I expect Amazon to rock this space with it's forthcoming 8.9-inch tablet. And, very likely, Google will follow with a Nexus 9 or 10.

      Prediction: Apple will not end up owning the entirety of the tablet market.

      Bonus link on eTextbooks on 7-inch tablets:

      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Apple cannot afford to compete on price with anybody - much less ...

        Android and their $199 devices.

        If Apple does take the plunge into the realm of 7" tablets, they will have to drop the $399 iPad 2 and replace it with a 7" iPad "mini" at a price point of either $399 - or, just maybe, $349.

        Like Microsoft, Apple does not want to sell entry-level devices on razor thin margins. Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not have OEMs to do it for them (without hurting Microsoft's bottom line). They are a hardware company - pure and simple.
        M Wagner
      • Your right that they won't compete on price,

        They don't have to compete on price. If Apple comes in with a $249-$299 7.85" tablet it should compete very well with the other 7" tablets even at the slightly higher price. BTW, most are already opting for the more expensive 10" iPad.
  • Try moving your coffee and laptop at the same time

    Just one such experience will convince you that a 10" tablet is not a mobile device.
    • Im not sure what you mean..

      I carry a cup of coffee and a 10" iPad with me on the train to work every morning.
      • I too find it very easy

        but also don't see what it has to do with moving a laptop?
  • I'd say the reason Google's first tablet is 7"

    is because Google clearly believes that a Nexus can go head-to-head with a Fire. Discretion is indeed the better part of valor. The problem, for Google, is that Amazon understands retailing to consumers far better than Google ever will, so I don't expect the Nexus 7 to do well once we see new Fires. Of course both the Nexus 7 and the Fire 2 (or whatever they call it) are toast if Apple releases a 7.85" iOS tablet (and I believe they will).
    • There is no Steve Jobs

      Apple will be back to its pre-Steve Jobs days, when it was a big loser. I won't bet on apple.
      Van Der
      • Doubtful

        There is a difference between the last time Apple went without Jobs and now. Now they have a significantly more solid foundation than they had in the 1980s. Further, Tim Cook has been running day-to-day operations for quite some time, even before Jobs retired, let alone died.
        Third of Five
        • You said it

          "Tim Cook has been running day-to-day operations "
          This is not what made Apple successful. What made Apple successful were bright ideas, with bright marketing, and perfect execution with a tight control. This is now gone with Steve. Now apple is "copying" the 7" ? What's next? Have you noticed how the TV builder are pushing more and more logic on theit TVs? Apple TV is obsolete.
          Where is the new iTV, that revultionizes TV? Where is the iCar? Where is the iToaster, the iFridge the iHouse?
          And Steve is not here anymore to tell his fanboys that paying $400 for a 7" dual core is a good thing, because that's what he says, and because it's an apple.
          We will see more improvements in existing products from Apple, but no more habit changing products, or better habit changing marketing.
          I dont know who said this, but "If there is no market fot this product, you make one". That charismatic person has left us, and is Tim Cook is no replacement.
        • True but Apple's marketing genius was Steve jobs.

          Tim Cook has publicly stated that he is moving toward incremental product changes, not revolutionary changes. This might have been inevitable anyway but perception is always going to beat out reality.

          It will take a miracle for Tim Cook (an employee of Apple) to ever be granted the Status of a Steve Jobs.

          By comparison, Bill Gates still lives and Steve Ballmer is the second largest Microsoft shareholder. No one but Bill Gates himself is ever going to fire Steve Ballmer.

          One misstep and Tim Cook could be gone tomorrow!
          M Wagner
      • That settles it

        xyz10_z won't bet on Apple so I guess they are going down.