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What's the Best Android Tablet? Google Nexus vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab 3

By Al Sacco, CIO
September 18, 2013 03:06 PM ET

CIO - One of the best things about Google's Android OS is that it runs on a variety of different devices. So if you want an Android tablet, but a particular piece of hardware doesn't have a feature you want or need, you can keep looking until you find the device that's right for you. And there's certainly no shortage of Android tablet options.

I'm a longtime Android user - smartphones and tablets - and I spent the past three weeks dividing my tablet time between Google's latest Nexus 7 tablet and Samsung's new Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 These, in my opinion, are two of the best Android tablets available today.

If you're in the market for an Android tablet and have your eye on both of these terrific tablets, how do you choose which one is for you? Here's a quick breakdown designed to help make your decision.

Before I get started, it's worth noting that both Nexus and Galaxy Tab 3 are families of devices, not just individual tablets. There are two Nexus tablets, each available with different storage configurations: The Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10. The Nexus 7 was recently updated, and the Nexus 10 is feeling a bit long in the tooth these days - though rumor suggests a new Nexus 10 is in the works.

There are also three different version of the Galaxy Tab 3: the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0; the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0; and the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1. All three were released semi-recently.

For the purposes of this post, I'll mostly compare the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) to the three Galaxy Tab 3 devices; it doesn't really make sense to compare three new Samsung tablets to the old-ish Nexus 10.

Nexus vs. Galaxy Tab 3: Wi-Fi Only or Cellular?

One of the first questions you should ask before purchasing any tablet: Do you need a cellular radio, or will Wi-Fi be enough?

Most users should be okay with Wi-Fi-only tablets. If you want a cellular radio in your device, you'll likely end up paying more up front, as well as a monthly service fee. Your options will be limited, too, since not all tablets are available in cellular versions. (I've never owned a tablet with a cellular radio. I use my smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and I've never wished I had a built-in radio instead.)

If you need a cellular radio and want a Nexus tablet, you'll need to go with the smaller 7-inch device; the Nexus 10 is not currently available with a cellular radio. The Nexus 7 LTE is designed to work on T-Mobile, so if you're on another carrier and you need that radio, the Nexus tablets might not be for you. (The LTE Nexus 7 comes unlocked, so you could use it on carriers other than T-Mobile, but the device may not support your carrier's LTE bands, and you may not get the fastest data speeds possible.)

The only Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 device with a cellular radio is the Tab 3 7.0, and it's exclusive to AT&T in the United States at this point. Unless you're an AT&T customer or are willing to become one, the Galaxy Tab family may not be for you if a cellular radio is a necessity.

Nexus vs. Galaxy Tab 3: Screen Size Matters - and So Does Price

Another important question to consider before choosing an Android tablet: What screen size is right for you? The answer will depend on individual preference and planned usage, but smaller, 7- or 8-inch tablets are much more portable than their larger counterparts. If you plan to travel frequently with your device, or to carry it around on your person regularly, a smaller size might be better for you.

If you plan to use your device along with a wireless keyboard to simulate a netbook setup, on the other hand, the larger display might be right for you. This will give you more screen real estate and a more "laptop-like" experience.

The best way to find the right tablet size for you is to envision how you will regularly use the device and also to go to a retailer such as Best Buy so you get your hands on a device before you buy it.

I prefer smaller tablets. I use my tablet mostly for reading - reading on the couch, reading on trains and air planes, and reading in coffee shops. And the 7-inch form factor just works best for my needs. I can slip a 7-inch tablet in my back pants pocket - I don't need a separate bag to carry it. And I can hold it comfortably in one hand while reading.

In addition to size, price is also likely an important consideration. Here's a quick breakdown of pricing for all Nexus and Galaxy Tab 3 models.

The Google Nexus 7 comes in three versions:

Nexus 7 16GB Wi-Fi: $229

Nexus 7 32GB Wi-Fi: $269

Nexus 7 32GB Wi-Fi and LTE: $349

The Google Nexus 10 comes in two versions:

Nexus 10 16GB Wi-Fi: $399

Nexus 10 32GB Wi-Fi: $499

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is available in four versions:

Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 8GB Wi-Fi: $199.99

Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 16GB Wi-Fi and LTE (AT&T): $199.99, with new two-year service agreement.

Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 16GB Wi-Fi: $299.99

Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 16GB Wi-Fi: $379.99

(Find additional availability details for each Tab 3 model on Samsung's website.)

To sum up those numbers, the $200 Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 tablet with 8GB of storage is the cheapest option of the bunch, not counting the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 Wi-Fi/LTE version, which also costs $200 but requires a wireless service commitment. For $30 more, you can get the 16GB Nexus 7, which has double the storage of the Galaxy Tab 7.0.

If you seek a larger tablet, the least you'll pay is $379.99 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only Tab 3 10.1.

Nexus vs. Galaxy Tab 3: Comparing Tech Specs

I'm not going to stack up all of these various devices and break them down spec by spec. But I will offer up some notable hardware differences:

One notable difference between the Nexus family and the Galaxy Tab 3 devices is thickness - or, in this case, thinness. Both the Tab 3 8.0 and Tab 3 10.1 are just slightly slimmer than the Nexus devices.

The Tab 3 devices also have a "physical" home button built into their displays, while the Nexus tablets have solid screens with no buttons; the only physical buttons on the Nexus tablets are volume up/down keys and power buttons on their sides.

The Nexus 7's 1920 x1200 HD display (323 PPI) is "the sharpest 7" tablet screen ever," according to Google. And it really does look good. In comparison, the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 has a 1024 x 600 display and both the Tab 3 8.0 and Tab 3 10.1 have display resolutions of 1280 x 800 (WXGA). You can see a notable difference in display quality in the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 when watching HD movies, playing games with vivid colors or when reading larger text on crisp white background.

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