iPad Mini vs. Nexus 7: A head-to-head tablet comparison

Has Apple really created a new state-of-the-art in small tablets?

iPad mini vs. Nexus 7

Apple made a point of doing a side-by-side comparison of its new iPad Mini with Google's Nexus 7 at the launch event Tuesday in San Jose, highlighting the mini tablet's thinness, larger viewable screen area and custom app compatibility.

FIRST LOOK: Apple iPad Mini

ANALYSIS: The iPad Mini puts Apple in a pickle

Those are all fine points, but they might not tell the whole story -- here's a more detailed comparison between the two devices.

SCREEN: The Nexus 7 boasts higher resolution in a smaller overall package than the iPad mini -- 1280x800 in 7 inches, compared to 1024x768 in 7.9 inches -- giving it superior pixel density and a sharper picture. Apple opted not to include its Retina display technology in the new device for compatibility reasons -- since apps written for other iPad versions are all designed for a 4:3 aspect ratio, they would have to be retooled for differently proportioned screens.

Apple made a lot of hay out of the bigger screen at the launch event, saying that it represents a substantial increase in viewable area -- and the thin side bezels allow it to accomplish this without swelling the device's overall size by too much. While that's true, it's also slightly misleading -- yes, content can be displayed on a bigger scale, but it will still be less sharply defined than on the Nexus 7's screen.

UNDER THE HOOD: Much was made of the "missing" features on the Nexus 7 at its release -- the consensus is that Google skipped out on cellular connectivity and a rear-facing camera in the interest of keeping costs down. However, the device's other internals are nothing to scoff at -- the quad-core Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip provides solid performance and decent graphical horsepower.

Apple's iPad Mini adds a 5-meagpixel rear camera, but other than that, packs hardware similar to that of the second-generation iPad, released in March 2011 -- meaning 512MB of RAM to the Nexus 7's 1GB, and a dual-core A5 SoC instead of the aforementioned quad-core Tegra.

SOFTWARE: The excellent Version 4.1 of Android, better known as Jelly Bean, powers the Nexus 7, providing a powerful, responsive user experience. While the iPad Mini is no slouch in this department either, iOS 6's well-documented problems with Maps and other features detract from the usually seamless Apple UI.

That said, Apple's software ecosystem contains far more dedicated tablet apps than the Google Play store, meaning that there's a richer variety of tablet-focused content available to iPad Mini users.

NETWORKS: Although a mobile-data-ready version of the Nexus 7 is rumored to be on the way soon, Apple's iPad Mini launched with that functionality already in place. It doesn't come cheap, however -- buyers will pay $130 extra for 4G/LTE connectivity, to say nothing of the data plans themselves. Both devices support 802.11n Wi-Fi.

VALUE FOR MONEY: The iPad Mini will sell plenty of units, of course -- Apple's dedicated fan base will see to that -- but the device simply does not outstrip the competition on features. It also comes with a substantial price premium -- the base model with Wi-Fi connectivity only and 16GB of storage goes for $329 -- which could prevent it from dominating the 7-inch tablet market.

While it's still an impressive device, Apple presented it as the new state-of-the-art in the small tablet space -- but it's not. The Nexus 7 offers a higher-resolution display and superior hardware, which most would consider key points for a tablet.

What's more, it offers those advantages while costing $80 less, when similarly equipped. (16GB storage, Wi-Fi only.) To many users, Apple's superior app ecosystem and stylish design will be worth the extra dough and 18-month-old internals. However, the company can't really be said to have conquered the small tablet market with cheaper, more powerful rivals like the Nexus 7 already in place.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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