Hands On with the iPad Mini: Comparing the Nexus 7

Last Friday, Apple began shipping the 7.9″ iPad mini, a new addition to the iOS family and a device set to rival with Google’s Nexus 7. An interesting product, the iPad mini will compete with seven-inch Android tablets but has attracted a lot of discussion regarding its entry price set at a higher $130 premium.

I stood outside an Apple Store and queued for the launch with a Nexus 7 in tow. Now, in this article, we’re going to take a look at the iPad mini, comparing it to Google’s device and seeing what it means for the market landscape of smaller tablets.

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Hardware: Build Quality, Performance and Display

At first glance, the iPad mini’s price is reflected in an overall superior build quality. It opts for a traditional use of aluminium for casing with chamfered edge, a step up from the Nexus 7’s use of plastic and cheaper materials in its body. It’s noticeable, although materials alone don’t necessarily contribute to a better feeling than the Nexus 7.

The iPad mini is much lighter, however, which is noticeable and removes all feeling of a device being too heavy to comfortably hold. The Nexus 7 isn’t heavy by any means but the iPad mini does feel more spot on.

“Well, it’s just a small iPad.”

When announced, there were two big points of discussion where the Nexus 7 bested the iPad mini on paper: processing speed and display quality. The former doesn’t really contribute to any noticeable advantage for either device, although a few aspects — specifically, scrolling — feel more sluggish than Apple’s larger iPad. However, the Nexus 7 doesn’t really feel any snappier in this regard. Comparing performance between the two devices presents a non-issue, though the more expensive, larger breed of tablets are noticeably smoother.

The iPad mini also lacks a Retina Display being, on paper, a weaker, lower-resolution screen than what the Nexus 7 sports. However, in reality, this too is a non-issue. Compared to an iPad with Retina Display, the iPad mini’s screen is a considerably worse experience but, just in general, it still stands as a very good display. The Nexus 7 may be a higher-resolution but, personally, I couldn’t notice much difference between the two aside from the Nexus 7 presenting text a little better.

The iPad mini comes in two colours and three capacities too, a little more choice than what Google offers.

Additionally, the iPad mini features two cameras, including a nice 5mp shooter on the rear, whereas the Nexus 7 lacks any kind of back camera.

Adapting to the Mini Form: Android vs iOS

iOS has always had a pretty simple set of possible resolutions; until recently, developers only had the 3.5″ display of an iPhone and the 9.7″ screen on an iPad to worry about. However, Android has long been available on a number of display sizes and resolutions. While Honeycomb was a totally new and unique UI for Android tablets, Ice Cream Sandwich and later versions brought a single, scaleable interface for both phones and tablets.

The Nexus 7 embodies the primary objections to the first-generation iPad. It feels just like a big phone, though sans the actual phone.

Apple opted to simply shrink down the full-size iPad software into a smaller size, with all but a few optimised areas being simply smaller versions of their larger brothers. iOS at 7.9″ really feels like the perfect iPad size, with no aspect of the interface being too large like they sometimes do on the larger iPads. It’s actually closer to how Android feels on a Nexus 7, with parts of the UI resembling the size that would be found on your Mac or PC.

Apple was also quick to tout the iPad mini’s easy access to a massive selection of tablet-optimised apps from launch and, for the most part, that’s very true. The iPad mini runs larger iPad apps by simply shrinking their physical dimensions to the user. Unfortunately, the Nexus 7 does still have a noticeable lack of tablet-optimised apps, even if the number is on the rise. Android does do a better a job at upscaling phone apps, though, with the 7″ form factor making upscaling far less a compromise than 10″ tablets do.

Both apps are able to boast a wide selection of [especially, big-name] games, but the iPad has the edge on more general, tablet-optimised app availability.

There is a noticeable size difference between both tablets and the iPad mini does seem a little better suited to tasks like web browsing, whereas the Nexus 7’s narrower display can generate a lesser experience for landscape tasks.

Price: $199 vs $329

The Nexus 7’s big selling point, however, is just that: the point it sells at. The 16GB iPad mini is $130 more than the 16GB Nexus 7 which will push a lot of potential consumers to opt for the Nexus 7 over an iPad mini.

The higher price is justified to those that paid it, though. The iPad mini has a stronger build quality, larger display, a nicer design (although that remains subjective) and additional hardware features primarily identified as the rear-facing camera. It’s also a worthy price to avoid hassle if your entertainment is primarily from iTunes, a legitimate point with Google Play’s bare media storefronts.

The iPad mini is a costly alternative.

However, for users who aren’t going to be using a tablet as a really primary machine, $329 is a hefty price to pay whereas $199 is less so. $329 isn’t necessarily expensive; it’s just that the Nexus 7 is insanely cheap.

Final Thoughts

The Nexus 7 is, no doubt, the best Android tablet out there and it has a price tag many have welcomed. The iPad mini is a great device too but I feel as if there’s no point comparing them. While I agree that both devices should be encompassed in the same category, the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini will attract different groups of customers.

The Nexus 7 will be the obvious choice for loyal Android users, or those not wanting to spend too much money. On the other hand, the iPad mini is the clear option for subscribers to Apple’s iTunes and iCloud ecosystem, or those who are willing to pay a little more for the advantages of a larger display and better build quality.

Both devices are really great because of their primary advantages versus each other, but I can’t see many people needing to compare the two on shelves.