Over seven months ago, I decided that I was finally ready to have a tablet in my life, justifying the price versus its added benefit in between my iMacs, Macbook, iPod Touch and multiple Android and Symbian smartphones. As a person quite invested in the Apple ecosystem, it was rather surprising to my friends that I didn’t even consider getting an iPad. Instead, I spent a few hours searching online for the perfect blend of features and compromises, and ended up with an Acer Iconia A100, a 7″ tablet. Why? Simply because there is no place in my life for a ~10″ tablet. And I am not alone.
7 months later, with a 7″ tablet, I’m more convinced every day that they’re a totally different beast compared to 9.7″-10″. There’s a place for both sizes in the tablet market, as they each target divergent audiences and distinctively separate needs. I will share with you below my findings in terms of the 7″ tablet usability and why I think Google made a perfect choice when it comes to its new Nexus 7 tablet.
7″ Can Be Used One-Handed, 10″ Can’t
My Iconia A100, and every 7″ tablet out there, is almost half the size of an iPad: about 22 square centimeters vs 44. You could fit two 7″ tablets side by side in portrait on top of a 9.7″ iPad in landscape. Those 2.7″ inches in terms of diagonal screen size seem a lot more substantial when you look at them this way, and they suddenly make all the difference in the world.
Even with my rather small female hands, I can hold my Iconia A100 and use it one-handed. I would never be able to do that on an iPad, and I suppose no one other than the Hulk could. This makes it better for reading, be it ebooks, comics, articles, websites or feeds. It’s also less cumbersome to manipulate elements throughout the UI. And one more added benefit is that I can hold it in landscape and use both of my thumbs to type on the keyboard without the need for a special split one. I tried to do that on an iPad and failed.
7″ Is Better for Bags and Beds, 10″ for Couches
The one reason I knew there was no place for a 10″ tablet in my life is because I am either on the move, either working, either in bed. My life does not involve couches, at all, and a 10″ tablet requires you to be sitting down, comfortably, when using it.
I wanted a tablet I could easily throw in any purse, carry around without worrying about a separate bag for it, and that I would be able to read or watch movies on in bed. Try lying on your back in bed, and hold an iPad above your head to read, then tell me it’s a comfortable experience. I easily do that daily for a couple of hours when waking up or going to sleep with my Iconia A100.
Basically, a ~10″ tablet fits more in the scenarios where you would previously use a notebook but is less cumbersome and more touch oriented, whereas a 7″ tablet fits more in the circumstances where you would usually use a smartphone but gives you more screen size to enjoy your experience. It all boils down to whether your needs are more stationary or mobile, and this is why I think they cater to different markets altogether.
There Really Is Nothing That 7″ Tablets Can’t Do
Reading books and comics? Check. Browsing cooking recipes? Check. Watching movies and TV series? Check. Surfing the web? Check. Editing documents, playing games, scribbling notes, manipulating photos, using social services, checking email, managing finances and tasks…? Check.
There are tablet-optimized apps for any of those functions in the Play Store (check my personal recommendation list) and they work very well on 7″ tablets. Plus, if a tablet version is not available, you can still load a phone-version which, given the little difference between 7″ and smartphones, will still look quite usable.
I am not denying that many of these functions, especially scribbling and drawing, would look better and be more practical on ~10″ tablets, thanks to the almost doubled screen estate, but I’m making the point that everything that’s doable on a large tablet is also doable on a 7″. Some functions are more suited for the smaller ones, some for the larger, and some are quite similar depending on how far away you hold your tablet, like watching movies.
7″ Is an Open Market
Google, and any other company really, would be very delusional if they thought they could dethrone the iPad in the ~10″ tablet segment. The iPad has such a lead in the global subconscious that it would take years to even begin to threaten its dominance there. All of Acer, Asus and Samsung’s effort in the segment have been met with a shaming defeat in market share.
But the 7″ market is anyone’s play field. Amazon saw the gap, and given their orientation towards ebooks with the Kindle line and the perfect fit between 7″ and ebook reading, decided to tap that target with its Kindle Fire. However, despite the good sales numbers, Amazon’s dominance on the 7″ market is nowhere near Apple’s on the ~10″ and you could easily imagine a 7″ target population that isn’t involved in Amazon’s ecosystem and still remains untapped.
Google spotted the weak link and the potential market, and decided to release its Kraken. It’s such a brilliantly smart move. Price-wise, size-wise, and ecosystem-wise, the Nexus 7 and the iPad are in totally different leagues, and the Nexus 7 has no major competition so to speak.
In Conclusion: Don’t Underestimate the 7″ Tablets
I have read a lot of comments over the past couple of weeks from iPad users dismissing the importance of the 7″ tablet market. They look at them as small, cheap, wannabes with a tiny screen that doesn’t even come close to the iPad’s Retina Display. They are somewhat correct — for media avid users, for people involved in graphics, for the current iPad crowd, a 7″ tablet is of no use. But remember, there’s another market out there for whom, like me, a 10″ tablet is a cumbersome piece of tech with no need or place in their life.
Every time I mention this on Twitter, I am met with many replies of approval. For me, and those who agree with me, the Nexus 7 is a very welcome boon. It offers stock Android Jelly Bean, an affordable price, a good screen and excellent performance, an access to the Play ecosystem, all in a small, bed and bag friendly form factor.