Apple’s iPad Mini and Google’s Nexus 7 are two of the best smaller tablets you can buy. But the Nexus 7 remains the better value. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
When the Nexus 7 arrived this past summer, it was immediately the best 7-inch tablet on the market. That wasn’t saying much, though, as pretty much all previous 7-inch tablets sucked. Most were underpowered and outfitted with low-resolution displays that resulted in a slow and cramped user experience.
A lot has changed since the Nexus 7′s debut at Google I/O in June — most notably the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD and Apple’s iPad Mini — but the Nexus 7 is still tops. That doesn’t mean the Nexus 7 doesn’t have any room for improvement, though. For one, it lacked cellular capability. But Google has remedied that with the new cellular-equipped Nexus 7, which I’ve been using since Friday.
With the release of the Nexus 7 with Mobile Data (yeah, the name’s a little dry), Google has delivered a tablet that can connect to the web anywhere you can get a signal. I’ve been using the device in Berkeley and around much of San Francisco, and it works great. On AT&T’s HSPA+ network, I’ve managed average speeds of about 2 Mbps when uploading files and 3 to 5 Mbps on downloads. Everything’s been reliably speedy, from loading websites, to streaming video and music.
Just like the Nexus 4 smartphone, the new Nexus 7 variant is not an LTE device. Instead, it runs only on GSM and HSPA+ networks. And, just as with previous Nexus devices, Google is selling the new Nexus 7 unlocked, with no requirement for a carrier contract to get that mobile data up and running.
The Nexus 7 with Mobile Data ships with an AT&T SIM card, but it can be used with most other carriers around the world. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
The cellular Nexus 7 ships with an AT&T SIM card, which makes it easy for owners to go with AT&T for prepaid, contract-free service. Of course, for those who aren’t AT&T fans, HSPA and GSM compatibility means this device can run on T-Mobile and many smaller carriers’ networks, as well. The Nexus 7 with Mobile Data won’t work with Verizon or Sprint’s networks, since it’s not a CDMA or LTE device.
So the same great tablet as the Wi-Fi-only Nexus 7, but with the ability to connect to the web wherever you are, whenever you want. Best of all, it’s not much more expensive than the Wi-Fi-only version — $300 for 32GB of storage, versus $250 for the Wi-Fi-only 32GB model. The Fire HD and Nook HD’s 7-inch models don’t come in cellular variants, but the iPad Mini — arguably the Nexus 7′s top rival — is offered in an LTE version. Unsurprisingly, the iPad Mini, in every model offered, is more expensive, with a starting price of $330 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model. If you want cellular connectivity on the iPad Mini, the prices are $460 for 16GB of storage, $560 for 32GB of storage, and $660 for 64GB.
Yes, the iPad Mini offers far more tablet-optimized apps and a rear camera. (The Nexus 7 doesn’t have that.) And the iPad Mini has a larger 7.9-inch (non-HD) display, which offers more screen real estate but also makes the device less comfortable to hold one-handed. There are pluses and minuses for every 7-inch slate on the market. But when it comes to bang for your buck, the Nexus 7 still can’t be beat.
Google’s Nexus 7 is easier to hold with one hand thanks to a more narrow body than its top rivals, including the Apple iPad Mini. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired