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

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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.

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.

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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