iPad mini vs. Nexus 7: The debate
Products mentioned in this article
Controls and ports
CB: I often pick up the Nexus and can’t tell which way is up. Partly that’s because feeling for the on/off and volume buttons is difficult. The lack of a Home button on the bottom throws me. A Home button makes sense, but the Back button’s behavior seems inconsistent. I expect a Back button to be restricted to the app I’m currently working with; in this case, I tap Back and suddenly find myself in an app I was using a couple of hours ago.
MP: The Nexus 7 may lack a Home button, but it does have a Micro-USB port at the bottom, so I think it’s pretty clear which side is up. I’ve never had an issue with the power and volume buttons’ locations: They are clearly located along the upper-right edge, and have a solid, distinctive design (unlike the flat, annoying buttons on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD).
CB: Hmmmm...I think that’s a stretch. That tiny port isn’t obvious to the touch, at least not as clearly obvious as an iOS device’s Home button. On the other hand, I think the universal nature of the Nexus 7’s USB port is a good thing. It means that you don’t have to purchase expensive connectors and cables if the one included in the box won’t do. However, Apple’s new Lightning connector is more flexible. With the Nexus 7 you can’t do wired video-out (with or without an adapter), for example, and there’s no HDMI-out, either.
MP: I echo that. Micro-USB is heaven-sent. Having Micro-USB means that you don’t have to give up universality—just grab a cable and go. I’m surprised that the iPad mini has no native HDMI-out; even the inexpensive Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 has that (though you can add HDMI-output capability to an iPad mini with Apple's $49 adapter).
The software environment
CB: Here’s where the iPad totally rules the roost. Google is trying with Google Play, but a lot of Android apps I’ve looked at are pretty subpar. I’ve yet to find an Android Twitter client that gets anywhere near Tweetbot. The built-in ebook reader is okay, but you can’t sideload ePub files from your Mac and read them on the Nexus; you have to download those files from within the app. I found the ePub-compatible ebook readers for Android that I’ve tried (Moon Reader and Aldiko) to be clumsy.
Apple’s head start in the app arena continues to show. Additionally, some of Apple’s apps—GarageBand and iPhoto in particular—are remarkable. (The iWork apps are pretty good, too.) Google has done really well with information-specific apps that use Google’s services, but in terms of “creation” versus “consumption,” the iPad wins.
The Nexus’s interface seems goofy to me. For example, I’m working on what I believe should be my home screen. I shut down the device and restart it. Now I’m on a different home screen, one that’s cluttered with huge images. When I swipe to the left, Google is pushing recommendations at me. Leave me alone. Let me see a predictable home screen.
And moving files around seems clumsier than with iOS. Apple was on to something when it hid the file system from users. File management is clumsy enough with a mouse, but nested folders on a touch device seems like a step backward. Mostly it doesn’t seem to be through-composed—that there’s no single thought about how users will interact with the thing but rather gimmicks piled on top of a hierarchical file structure. Again, it may be because I’m used to the iTunes/iOS device ecosystem, but the Nexus and Android don’t seem to be as thoroughly cemented.
MP: It’s true to say that Apple’s tablet ecosystem has a wider app selection—and in many cases, better apps, though both sides have a fair amount of garbage in their respective app stores. The trick is finding apps on Android that aren’t just blown up from the phone to the tablet. Find those, however, and you’ll discover many apps that provide a high-quality, satisfying experience.
Google’s own moviemaking app is a work in progress, but it’s a step in the right direction. And in my experience Google’s own Gallery app—with built-in editing, the ability to move files around, and a view of your image’s metadata—is infinitely better and more functional than the Photos app in iOS. Google at least has a straightforward file system, something Apple lacks, and that makes using and manipulating files far easier.
Pricing and value
CB: At $249 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and $299 for the same model with cellular connectivity (compared with the iPad mini, at $429 and $559 respectively for the 32GB models), the Nexus 7 wins on price. But you make some sacrifices: no rear-facing camera, no LTE, no video-out, a smaller display than on the iPad mini.
MP: I agree, I think the Nexus 7 is the far better value. The difference is still quite clearly in favor of the Nexus 7 when you consider the 16GB models: $199 for the Nexus 7, versus $329 for the iPad mini.
The bottom line
CB: I have both a Nexus 7 and an iPad mini. I pick up the Nexus more often than the mini when I want to read, despite the more confining screen, because I find its display easier on my eyes. For everything else, it’s the iPad mini, largely because it just makes sense, from hardware to software. If the mini had a Retina display, the Nexus would be relegated to the sock drawer.
MP: I find it impossible to recommend the iPad mini, except for two sets of shoppers: people who want an iPad because of the brand’s cachet or those who want one because they’re already committed to the Apple ecosystem, and in both cases want the least-expensive model they can buy.
Otherwise, to me the Nexus 7 is superior to the iPad mini. Its display is better, I can find most of the apps I want or need on Android, and I prefer the open flexibility of the Android ecosystem.