Editor’s note: this comparison has originally been published on our sister site TabTimes, your resource for tablets and convertibles running all operating systems.
There is a certain amount of mobility lost in attempting to carry around many of today’s best tablets. Whether out of the Android or iOS camp, a 10-inch or larger mobile device is just not very, well, mobile. To overcome this, smaller tablets have been produced, and it is these tablets that have our attention today, once again pitting Apple against Google as we compare their borderline pocket-sized tablets.
Here, is your Apple iPad Mini 3 vs the Google Nexus 7 (2013) comprehensive shootout.
First, the pocket test. While you might consider me to be a big guy, with big pants, I find that both the iPad Mini 3 and the Nexus 7 fit comfortably in the back pocket of my jeans, or in the cargo pocket of my shorts. This is not to say that I can sit with these tablet in my pocket, nor that they will remain secure if I go for a run, but they both fit and I can walk around without them falling out. Indeed, there is wear on my jeans from the nearly 3 years of carrying a Nexus 7 everywhere I go.
Now that that is out of the way, the 7-inch form factor of the ASUS built Google Nexus 7, and the 8-inch form factor of the Apple iPad Mini 3 should also fit in your pockets, or purses, proving to be extremely mobile. Certainly more mobile friendly than the larger tablets, like the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9 we recently pit against one another.
One thing is certain, the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini 3 offer few compromises for their size, giving you plenty of power in a manageable package.
The Apple iPad Mini 3 and the Google Nexus 7 (2013) are designed very differently, all things considered. Right out of the gate you should notice that the Nexus 7 is much narrower. Apple chose to stick with the 4:3 screen aspect ratio for the iPad Mini, where Google went with a widescreen format.
As we’ve previously mentioned, the iPad Mini 3 is, at least visually speaking, a dead ringer for the larger iPad Air 2. Apple did not seek to re-invent their tablet with the Mini, they simply wanted a smaller device. This means that the familiar look and feel of the iPad line continues in the iPad Mini 3, with the front face remaining clear of all physical buttons, except for that circular Home button found at the bottom middle.
Volume rocker buttons live on the right edge of the Mini, near the top. A power button graces the top edge, off to the right hand side, keeping all of your controls close together, but not easily confused for one another.
The back of the device rocks the centered Apple logo, up in the top left corner you’ll find the rear camera, and a little microphone slot which, from a distance, appears a blemish in the all metal back cover. That full metal back cover is solid feeling and wraps around to the front of the device, meeting with the full glass front panel.
The front edge of the metal has been polished, which gives the iPad Mini 3 a fairly attractive design that sparkles when the light hits it. Lastly, the bottom edge of the device houses dual speaker ‘grills’ that flank a centered Lightning charging and data port.
I’ve mentioned before a few minor complaints about the metal backing of the iPad design, being that the polished front edge is not the most comfortable to hold for long periods of time, and that the cooling properties of the metal also suck the heat out of your hands, making the device feel extremely cold. I wouldn’t let these things deter you from purchasing the device, but I can’t not mention them, as they were two of the most noticeable factors in my usage of the tablet.
As for Google’s Nexus 7, built by ASUS, it does not have a metal back, instead, it is a soft rubber feeling material. It is a smoother design, especially when compared to the first generation Nexus 7, but still comfortable to hold with enough grip for most situations. The tablet is plastic all the way around, and those with a discerning taste for electronics may feel the Nexus 7 a little on the budget-end of premium for build quality. Which is perhaps to be expected considering how affordable the tablet is.
Your power button lives just above the volume rocker on the right edge, and the micro USB port lives alone centered on the bottom edge. Previous Nexus 7 tablet users will notice that the 2013 edition is a little longer and narrower then the 2012 version, but the higher resolution display should take your mind off of that.
The rear panel of the Nexus 7 proudly houses a giant Nexus logo, sprawled across sideways. In the familiar top left corner is the camera sensor and dual speakers live, one at the top and one at the bottom facing slightly backward.
The Apple iPad Mini 3 offers little compromise in its display. That 4:3 aspect ratio multi-touch IPS panel measures in at 7.9-inches on the diagonal, with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 for 326 ppi. While Apple’s best screen tech is reserved for the iPad Air 2, the Mini 3 is not exactly left out in the cold, treated with a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
We wouldn’t say that this makes the iPad Mini 3 immune to fingerprints, but it is extremely difficult to see prints when the screen is lit, and is very easy to clean.
In the real world, the iPad Mini 3 display is easy to see and look at. Brightness range takes it from comfortable in low light situations up to decently visible in direct sunlight. The auto-brightness settings are also fairly accurate, rarely do you need to correct brightness manually. If you do need to correct the brightness, and you are not exactly certain how, be sure to check out our how to change display brightness piece.
The Nexus 7 is a fairly different experience, as far as tablets go. The multi-touch display measures in at 7.02-inches diagonally with the default Gorilla Glass anti-glare and anti-fingerprint characteristics baked right in. Resolution measures 1920×1200, which is a little wider than full HD, but looks great with a 323 ppi count.
As with the iPad, the Nexus 7 has a more than adequate brightness range and sufficient auto-brightness capabilities. It is easy to look at for extended lengths and comfortable to touch, for those gaming sessions.
Both the iPad Mini 3 and the Nexus 7 offer excellent touch sensitivity and accuracy. They may be a little small to comfortably handle most productivity tasks like editing work papers and such, but are great for tablet gaming and media consumption, such as reading your favorite book.
In a move that we believe is a bit unfortunate, these tablets have been manufactured as much for affordability as for performance. That may be doubly so for the Nexus 7. Neither tablet offers the best specs available at their time of build, but that certainly does not mean that the overall experience suffers.
The iPad Mini 3 benefits from iOS’s simple user interface, app icons and folders grace your home screens, but little more. Keeping it simple means that the overall experience is very fast and smooth. Although Apple already had a newer and faster chipset available, used in the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini 3 rocks the previous gen. A7 chipset.
While most apps load and run without a hitch, you may notice a spinning wheel here or there for the largest of applications.
The Nexus 7 is another story. Launched nearly a year and a half earlier than the iPad Mini 3, it should be no surprise that the spec sheet reads off a list of parts inferior to the iPad. This, however, speaks to the efficiency of the Nexus 7 that we could rightly consider this very VS article.
Real world use of the Nexus 7 was some of the best performance ever seen on a tablet when it first launched. Newer and larger apps, and versions of the Android operating system, have weighed down the performance of late, you are likely to experience a few slowdowns here and there, but perhaps not as many as you’d expect for a now nearly two year old tablet.
The overall experience on the Nexus 7 is still snappy and smooth for your normal day to day stuff, but your gaming experience may be a little shy of smooth.
The iPad Mini 3 brings to the table the 64-bit A7 chip with M7 motion coprocessor. A simple set of ports are available on the unit, including the standard headphone jack and Apple’s Lightning connector port. Hidden under the Home button is a fingerprint scanner that allows for biometric authenticated access into your tablet.
Audio output is by the bottom facing speakers, sound is crisp and more than loud enough for most situations.
The device measures 7.87-inches tall by 5.3-inches across with a respectable 7.2mm (0.28-inch) depth. The metal shell provides the utmost in strength, with a gentle twist and bend pressure of the iPad Mini 3 displaying no indication of any torsion in the tablet, but we’re not about to push that too hard.
Other sensors on board include a gyro, accelerometer and an ambient light sensor. Keeping everything running is a 6350mAh battery, which Apple says will provide upwards of 10 hours of web surfing, music or video playback. In our time with it, the device does last for quite a while between charging, longer than the iPad Air 2. Stay tuned for a full battery life test.
The Nexus 7 was considered a powerful unit in its time, more than doubling the performance of the then one year old Nexus 7 2012. Powered by the Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC with 2GB of RAM. Look for the standard headphone jack and micro USB connector port on the top and bottom edges, respectively. The Adreno 320 GPU was also one of the best in the day, keeping even the most strenuous of games flying at a nice pace.
Stereo speakers with full 5.1 surround sound output make for a great audio experience from the Nexus 7. Audio could be a little louder and it may not offer the same kick as the HTC BoomSound equipped Nexus 9, but the rear facing speakers hold their own for your normal daily use.
The Nexus 7 (2013), with its 7-inch display measures 7.87-inches tall and 4.49-inches across, it is a tad thicker at 8.64mm (0.34-inches) in depth. Despite having a plastic back cover, the Nexus 7 is also a very solid feeling tablet. Once again, it feels very sturdy and shows no signs of compromise when applying a real world use twist or bending pressure.
Sensors on board the Nexus 7 include an accellerometer, gyro, magnetometer, compass and ambient light sensor. In addition, this tablet is NFC capable. Battery life is advertised at up to 10 hours of basic web browsing, music or 720p video playback out of the 3950mAh battery. As you might imagine, we’ve never seen 10 hours of screen on time, but 4-5 hours is pretty common under light usage.
Both the iPad Mini 3 and the Nexus 7 offer a 5MP rear camera sensor. They are also both f/2.4 with auto-focus and 1080P video recording. Neither offer a flash, leaving you best with daytime photography.
As the similarities continue, both tablets offer Panoramic and HDR capture. The Nexus 7, thanks to Google’s Camera app, also offers up Photosphere full 360 degree photo capture.
The front side of these tablets offer up 1.2mp camera sensors, for all of your FaceTime or Hangouts needs. 720p video capture is not a premium these days, but is more than adequate for a little video conference.
In the end, the differences between these cameras is not on paper, below is a quick photo gallery of sample photos from each tablet. Images from the Apple iPad Mini 3 come first, Google’s Nexus 7 come second. Let me say up front, colors are significantly more accurate on the Nexus 7, but exposure is a little off. You get to choose which one produces more appealing photos.
Straight out of the gates, the fundamental difference between these tablets is the operating system powering them. The iPad Mini 3 runs iOS, recently updated to version 8.3, and the Nexus 7 runs Android, currently in the midst of updating to Android 5.1 Lollipop.
iOS on the iPad Mini 3 is a solid and fluid experience. This tablet benefits wholly from the vast number of tablet apps available in the App Store. When you first open the box, you can get by for basic web surfing and navigation with just the default apps pre-installed on the device. However, to take advantage of that large catalog of available games and apps, you’ll need to log into the device with your Apple ID.
As with your other modern iOS powered devices, there is no pressing need to connect your iPad to your PC and sync data through iTunes, but this technique may prove the best when it comes to transferring files, such as your pictures or music.
As for the Nexus 7, it runs Google’s in-house flavor of Android. At first launch, it rocked Android Jellybean, but as a Nexus device, Google makes it a priority to push updates for the tablet as fast as possible. A the time of writing, Android 5.0.2 was the latest version of the OS to roll out through OTA updates, but Android 5.1 Lollipop is expected very soon.
Many users have reported that Android 5.0.2 runs poorly and may actually cause serious harm to your Nexus 7. While we can confirm that the OS is more sluggish than it should be, we count ourselves lucky that our tablet has not been bricked. Android 5.1 promises to fix both of these concerns. Certainly we’ve seen significant speed increases on other Android devices that have received the update.
As with the iPad, there is no immediate need to connect your Nexus 7 to your PC for any reason. Certainly, Android does not come with a companion app, like iTunes, that sometimes requires this connection. Android has been designed as best possible to always be wireless, and the Nexus 7 is a shining example of this. On the flip side, however, connecting to your PC offers little assistance for file transfers, time to find a cool app for the process.
Pricing and final thoughts
In the iPad Mini 3 and Nexus 7 we have two capable and easily portable devices ready to keep you entertained and connected just as well on your couch as at the office or on the train. Both devices will slip into a pocket or purse, if only barely, and come with WiFi only or LTE equipped configurations.
Apple iPad Mini 3
Google Nexus 7, by ASUS
16GB – $399
32GB – $499
128GB – $599
Add $130 for cellular capability
Officially discontinued, but originally sold for:
16GB – $229
32GB – $269
32GB LTE – $349
Although the Nexus 7 is officially discontinued, it is easy to find the Google tablet around places like Amazon for as low as $159 for the 16GB model.
In this particular tablet shootout we have a clear winner when it comes to shear horsepower and overall performance. The Apple iPad Mini 3, due in part to the fact that it is a year and half newer than the Nexus 7, is the tablet that you will want, assuming speed is your main concern.
As much as the iPad Mini 3 is the clear winner in performance, do not underestimate the Nexus 7 and the Android ecosystem. Plainly put, if we shift focus to determine the winner in a bang-for-the-buck perspective, the Nexus 7 is the tablet to beat. Also important to note that many have invested heavily into either the iOS or Android ecosystems, I would always recommend leaning toward the tablet that is from the ecosystem you’ve previously invested in, unless you are in the mood for a new way of doing things. Android fans, be sure to check out the Nexus 9 if you want more horsepower.
Does the black slate of a Google Nexus 7 appeal to you over the shiny metallic finish of the Apple iPad Mini 3?