I first got into the world of tablets with the original Apple iPad. I remember using the BBC News App on an iPad on display and I said to myself this is how I want to read my news. On a beautiful screen in a tablet form factor. It seemed perfect to me.
At the time it seemed like a luxury and impulse buy because everyone said I had wasted a lot of money and it was basically just an oversized iPod touch. There were many parodies on Youtube even a Hitler spin off and basically everyone was making fun of the name iPad. Ultimately things caught on, and everyone realized what a ‘magical’ device this really was. Apple had a huge lead over their competitors. At the time I picked my 32gb iPad in Japan, no such device existed. It was like there was a new market no one was wary of except Apple.
Fast forward to today and the entire mobile industry has changed (for the better). You now have a major competitor to the Apple iPad and iOS in the form of Android and Nexus 7. Yes, there were other tablets by manufacturers like Samsung, Asus, Toshiba, Acer etc. But none of them come close to the polish exhibited by the Nexus 7. I used a Nexus 7 for 2 weeks and presently own an iPad 3. To be honest, if money and my wife were not a concern, I would simply buy both and call it a day.
Nexus 7 @ $199 for 16gb – My first impression about this device when I unboxed it was that it was surprisingly well built for a device at this price point. Don’t get me wrong. Its not the iPad level of fit and finish, but at a price point of $199 (starting today 29th Oct, the 16gb is selling for $199) its as good as it gets. Through careful design, they’ve actually managed to give the plastic cover at the back of the device a nice rubbery feel, almost leather like. This immediately gives a good impression. Then the screen, an IPS 7 inch display which is not only gorgeous, but also has an extremely high resolution display at 1280 X 800. Before you throw curse words, note that this is a 7inch panel which gives it an effective resolution of 216 PPI (pixels per inch). What this means is you get an extremely sharp display with excellent viewing angles with almost indistinguishable pixels. If I hadn’t been spoiled by the retina display of the 3rd Gen iPad, I would say it was one of the best panels I had come across. Asus has really done an excellent job manufacturing such a beautiful tablet at such a low price point. When we look at the ports, we have a micro usb charge port that can also be used as a data transfer port. Rooting and bootloader unlocking on the Nexus is ridiculously easy, which means you can easily add more storage using a simple USB OTG cable that costs $2 from Ebay. There’s a standard headphone jack but sadly no micro HDMI or a micro SD expansion slot. As of this writing, the 32gb was not available but Google has priced it at $249 which is still an awesome price point. The tablet does not have a back camera. Its something that I am not particularly fond of I think its ridiculous using a tablet to click photos. However, it maybe a deal breaker for some. The front facing camera does a decent job for video chatting in Google Video Chat and Skype. I did notice that video chatting using Facetime on the iPad was noticeably better, smoother and overall a much better experience. This is a software related issue though if video chatting is one of the primary reasons you are purchasing a tablet, then you maybe better off with an iPad. Coming to the OS, the Nexus 7 comes with Jelly Bean. The difference in performance between Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean is astonishing. Project Butter has really come into its own and has given Android that boost it was sorely lacking. Another excellent feature is Google Now. It monitors your search history and user data and gives you options in realtime. As an example, a friend of mine was to travel to Massachusetts via air and I had searched his flight details a week earlier. On the day he was supposed to arrive, Google Now very intelligently stacked up cards showing details of his flight and the fact that his flight was delayed by 30 mins. It even showed details like the terminal his flight was arriving at in Boston Logan Airport along with traffic and weather. I was impressed! It actually took me a while to figure out how Google Now had managed to get this information. Spooky!
The Google Play store is nowhere as polished as the Apple store but the ecosystem gap is narrowing by the day. Already all the major news apps, social apps and others like Flipboard etc. are available on both platforms. The ecosystem advantage that Apple enjoys at the moment will soon disappear. Overall, I was really happy with the Nexus. The only reason why I returned mine was because I received a faulty unit the lower bottom portion of the screen was squeaking. It wasn’t a dealbreaker but even $199 dollars is hard earned money and I will not settle for anything less. Another reason was that the 7inch form factor wasn’t large enough to read magazines and technical PDF’s on. However, this was more a personal reason and anyone who opts for a 7inch tablet knows this well before jumping in.
iPad 3rd Generation 16gb @499 – The biggest problem of the iPad after the initial solo limelight it enjoyed in the yesteryears is the price. I feel that the time that it was an exclusive one of a kind device is over and the premium is not justified. I am not asking for a 199 pricepoint but I really think Apple needs to rethink its pricing policy. I agree that the quality and workmanship of an Apple device is pretty much the best out there, but Apple makes huge profit margins over the iPad and it can easily afford to drop prices. I also agree that their ecosystem is still the best with the largest number of tablet optimized apps. However, the lead it has been enjoying is getting narrower by the day and it is soon going to have some serious competition (read the Nexus 10 which was launched today. It has a much higher resolution of 300 PPI vs the iPad’s 264). So what made me return the Nexus 7 and pick up the 3rd gen iPad? The screen. The lovely screen. It just spoils you. I click photos as a hobby and boy do your high res photos pop on the screen. Its such a fantastic experience. The text on web pages looks crisp and no jaggies even if you zoom and try hard to look for them. Then there are the apps. Tablet optimized apps for the Apple iPad simply blow others out of the water. One that I was particularly impressed by is iTunes U which is, obviously, exclusive to the iPad. It’s a collection of all online courses offered by universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard among other top names. It just shows how useful and versatile the iPad can really be. Even the battery life just seems to squeeze out that much more and you seem to charge it that much more often. With Android, you may get a decent battery life but its easy to install an app that starts eating up battery, With iOS I’ve noticed its much less likely to happen. The OS does a great job of background and battery intensive tasks.
So what has raised the question in my mind again? If I am so happy with my 3rd Gen iPad, what went wrong? A couple of things. I love the open nature of Android. I hate iTunes. I hate how it ties you down to all its rules, 5 device activations etc. Ever tried watching a movie on your iPad? You’d have to convert it to a suitable format, fire up iTunes and then copy it over. If you don’t have a device with iTunes around – forget it. With Android, you drag drop boom you can watch your movie any format anytime. All you need is your USB cable. Same goes with music and movies. Then there was the Apple announcement recently. They basically screwed over all Apple early adopters by refreshing the iPad’s processor, connector, wifi. They launch a new model in just 7 months. I still get it. Price to pay to be an early adopter. Then they simply discontinue the iPad 3. What the @#$%? I paid 500 bucks for something that is no longer even available in the Apple store anymore. This pissed me off and a lot of other early adopters. Apple is already selling the iPad 3 for $379 refurb. Something tells me these arent refurbs, but just Apples way of clearing out old stock. Then there was a price drop on the Nexus. The 16gb gets dropped by 50 dollars and a new 32gb is launched for $250! This is an amazing pricepoint for a device of the Nexus 7’s caliber. All of a sudden it made me regret returning it in the first place. I haven’t gotten into the other advantages of the Nexus such as Tegra optimized apps and the fact that you can use an external controller for running games. This advantage is huge IMO and something Apple should seriously consider. There are other issues I must talk about. WTF was Apple thinking when they launched Maps. Google is the king when it comes to maps. I know it. Apple knows it. Google knows it. These tablet wars are hitting consumers in the end. Then they get rid of the Youtube app. Jeez. I am still on iOS 5.1.1 for this very reason. There are alternatives like Jasmine but isn’t app compatibility and advantage what you’re paying the price premium for in the first place?
iPad Mini16gb @329 – I don’t own this device, its not even available yet. So its unfair to say stuff about something that hasn’t been fully used by anyone. All I can say (from Apple’s event) is that the Mini seems like a shrunken down version of the iPad 2. Same processor, same resolution. I was disappointed it did not have a retina display. Something tells me that Apple will launch a new version of the Mini 4-5 months from now. It will burn early adopters. Again. As Gizmodo said –
“… you [Apple’s[ 7.9 inch tablet has far fewer pixels that competing 7 inch tablets! You’re cramming a worse screen in there, charging more, and accusing others of compromise? Ballsy.”
What I really didn’t like was Apple’s distasteful way of comparing the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini at their event. Why didn’t Apple talk about price? Why didn’t they talk about pixel density? It wasn’t like Apple to throw bricks on another competitor just to look superior. It just wasn’t Apple.
One thing is for sure. Apple feels threatened. The early mover advantage it had is over. For now, the tablet dilemma continues. Even though I own the 3rd gen iPad (the so called best tablet), I no longer feel like I’ve got my money’s worth.