The lows and highs of small Android tablets

commentary Google's new Nexus 7 makes a strong case for itself as the best Android tablet in its size class, but the budget device has become the new populist app platform.

Google Nexus 7
The 2013 edition of Google's Nexus 7 tablet. Josh Miller/CNET

At the Google press breakfast where the company unveiled the new Nexus 7 -- Google's first product franchise with "the new" Apple-esque branding -- the company made sure to highlight the many benefits of the 2013 product compared with its earlier foray into the tablet space .

The successor is faster, lighter, thinner, narrower, and runs a more up-to-date version of Android. But despite being a follow-up to a successful product in a white-hot category, its thunder was stolen by the Chromecast -- the small and cheap one-trick pony trying to solve the problem of streaming video and other media. It was as if Apple TV had grabbed the spotlight at the launch of a new iPad.

When the first Nexus 7 was introduced last year, it represented a powerful device in a compact form factor at a price that challenged similarly sized tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Unlike those e-readers, though, it offered full access to the Google Play store.

Much has changed in a year. Thanks largely to lower-priced processors from the likes of MediaTek, and an increased focus on getting Google Play onto less-expensive devices, a range of 7-inch tablets offers the full Android app library at $150 or less. These include:

  • Asus MeMo Pad 7 . The poor cousin to the Nexus 7 that was co-created with Google, the Asus MeMo 7 has won praise for its IPS display, reasonable performance, and long battery life.
  • Hisense Sero 7 Pro. The Chinese TV maker teamed with Nvidia to offer a Tegra 3-powered tablet for under $150 -- and that's the more expensive version. The "non Pro" version has come in at $99.
  • Vivitar XO Tablet. Like Hisense, the XO represents Vivitar's first foray into the tablet space. It entered with One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit devoted to putting low-cost computers in the hands of children in developing economies. Unlike the group's original XO, which was a highly customized and ruggedized combination of chassis, display, and operating system, this XO is a commodity tablet differentiated mainly by its OLPC-courseware, with little to protect it from the elements beyond a green accessory case.
  • HP Slate 7. Hewlett-Packard seemed to be coming in at an aggressive price when it re-entered the tablet market with its first Android tablet at $169. But pricing has been so volatile that the Beats-equipped 7-incher was immediately discounted to $139 upon its arrival.

The HiSense and Vivitar products are available at Walmart, where they will be exposed to budget-focused shoppers. We've also already seen significant discounting of the MeMo Pad. And, by the way, if you're looking for something a little bigger than 7 inches, Acer can give you 7.9 inches with the Iconia A1-810 at $30 less than the new Nexus 7.

When the iPhone was available only at AT&T, the iPod Touch was a relatively affordable way to get access to nearly all its apps. Now that the iPhone is available from every major U.S. carrier and Apple has the iPod Touch at $299, these Android tablets have emerged as ways to enjoy a rich media and game experience at a price well below what Apple charged for a new iPod Touch at its lowest, and with a larger screen.

For those willing to pass on high-resolution -- and many iPad Mini customers are -- they look like an even better deal compared with mega-screened smartphones such as the Galaxy Note 2 or Sony Xperia Z Ultra that can cost upwards of $600 unlocked or require monthly data charges that could well exceed the price of the basic Hisense Seros.

The new Nexus 7 will do very well. It makes a strong case for itself as the best Android tablet in its size class and ups the resolution advantage against the more expensive but larger iPad Mini (for the time being). But a new wave of small, cheaper Android tablets are becoming populist tools for a new wave of consumers to join the app economy.

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Read the full CNET Review

Google Nexus 7 (16GB, 2013)

The Bottom Line: Thanks to its stellar performance and affordable price, the Nexus 7 is the Android tablet to get. / Read full review

About the author

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, where he analyzes the adoption of consumer technology, and also publishes commentary at his blog, Techspressive.com. Previously, Ross was executive director and principal analyst at The NPD Group and vice president and chief research fellow at Jupiter Research.

 

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