The recent success of Amazon's Kindle Fire has given Google hope that the small-screen, inexpensive tablet market is worth pursuing. Google has set the tech world abuzz by announcing its new Nexus 7 tablet, the result of a partnership with ASUS, a multinational computer hardware and electronics company.
If you've considered adding a tablet to your arsenal of tech gadgets but have balked at the price tag -- or the paltry performance of most low-end tablets -- take a look at the Nexus 7.
Your first inclination is probably to compare it to the iPad, the dominant tablet on the market. In truth the Nexus 7 wasn't made to compete with the iPad. Its $199 starting price tag and 7-inch screen puts it squarely in the ring with the major eReader hybrids: the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook tablet.
When it comes to hardware, the Nexus 7 outpaces every other similarly priced tablet. It has faster response to your input, lighter weight and better screen resolution. It also offers a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera for video chat (through Skype or Google+) that the Fire and Nook lack.
The biggest complaint about tablets is that they typically lack the power to do much beyond surf the net and check email. Google has put a lot of attention into getting this device capable of doing more. It has a faster processor (a quad-core vs. the dual-cores offered by Fire and Nook) and a dedicated graphics processor to allow images to render faster.
Since the core function of a tablet is to view media (be it streamed from the Web or stored on the device) and play games, display quality is a huge factor. While comparative tablets share the same 7-inch screen size, the Nexus 7's display resolution is superior. On the Fire or Nook, you'll do a lot of "pinch-to-zoom" to get the smaller text on a website or online magazine large enough to read comfortably. The Nexus 7's higher resolution allows for smaller text to be clear and easier to read, making the experience of paging through media or surfing the Web more enjoyable.
My issue with all low-priced tablets is how content is funneled through their proprietary channels. They're really just a tool to purchase content through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and now Google. If you purchase and stream content from these sources anyway, you're going to be married to the device that supports your library. In my opinion, Amazon offers the largest selection of inexpensive content, so if you're planning to start a library I would be hard-pressed to steer you away from the Kindle Fire. For example, while Google Play offers most of the same magazines as Amazon, many of them are more expensive. No one can compete with Amazon's library of eBooks, music and movies yet.
If you want to watch your own content (movies or photos) or listen to your own music on the device, the Nook is the only low-priced tablet that supports an expansion SD card. For those that wonder why storage on a tablet matters, the first long flight without Internet access to stream new material will leave you wondering why you bothered packing your 8GB Fire or Nexus 7.
Verdict? Wait a couple of months for the rumored next generation of Kindle Fire to be released. If it's closer to the Nexus 7's hardware specs, you may be glad you waited. If you don't plan to purchase content and are just looking for a low-priced tablet to surf the net, play games and check your email, the Nexus 7 is absolutely the best small-screen, low-priced tablet currently on the market.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair to homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)