Although budget tablets have been the object of numerous discussions over the past six months or so, when Google announced the Asus-built Nexus 7 tablet in late June at the Google I/O conference, the speculation dam just imploded as most of the online tech media has begun publishing stories on how other tablet manufacturers will respond to this move.
As it turns out, all of the major tablet manufacturers are believed to make their presence felt in the 7-inch tablet market by the end of September: Apple is rumored to be working on an iPad Mini, Amazon is bound to release a successor to the original 7-inch budget tablet, the Kindle Fire, while Samsung is the proud manufacturer of the best budget tablet currently available for purchase, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0.
Please note that since the Apple iPad Mini has been rumored for the past year or so, the credibility of the info we have on it has a lot to suffer. But we can still make some educated assumptions. Throughout the rest of the article, I will presume that Apple is indeed working on a 7-inch tablet.
While the Kindle Fire 2 is also an unconfirmed device, we’re pretty sure that Amazon won’t simply give up a fight that it started itself, which is exactly what the numerous rumors that have surfaced about the Kindle Fire 2 seem to confirm. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t consider this article to be a buying guide, but rather an opinion piece on the future of budget tablets, based on the specs we have for the Google/Asus Nexus 7 and the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0, spiced by the rumors regarding the iPad Mini and the Kindle Fire 2.
Now that we got the introduction out of the way, let’s take a look at the future of 7-inch budget tablets, as we go though the five points of interest of any device: display, hardware, extras, OS and price.
Nowadays, the quality of the display is a very important buying factor for all devices, but tablet buyers tend to place the display above all else when considering their future purchase. As all of the four tablets covered in this article have 7-inch displays, the resolution plays a decisive role in the overall quality of the display, although the actual technology behind it shouldn’t be overlooked either.
The Google Nexus 7 IPS LCD display runs at a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, which translates into a 216 PPI (Pixels Per Inch) density, not bad for a budget tablet and definitely better than what the 7-inch Galaxy Tab has to offer via its Super PLS display running at 1024 x 600 pixels (170 PPI).
While Amazon did not make any announcements regarding the Kindle Fire 2, CNET sources reported that the retail giant will actually release four different tablets that will bear the Kindle Fire brand, featuring two different displays: one that runs at 1024 x 600 pixels and one that runs at 1280 x 800 pixels.
According to insider sources quoted by The Wall Street Journal, the iPad Mini will feature an LG display (we think it’s going to be an IPS+ LCD display). The display will not be of Retina quality, although I’d expect Apple to try and steal the show via the quality of the display, as was the case with all three 9.7-inch iPad versions. On the other hand, chinese sources claim that the iPad Mini will employ IGZO displays made by Sharp, capable to offer 330 PPI quality, or Retina quality.
Overall, it’s going to be really hard for Amazon or Apple to beat the quality of the display on the Nexus 7 (they could match it though), as it looks like you can’t go any higher on the quality ladder without pushing the price too high.
Although the display is more than decent, it’s the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC (1.3 GHz quad-core A9 CPU and 12-core Nvidia ULP GPU) alongside the 1GB of RAM that make the Nexus 7 a hard-to-beat budget tablet. Considering that the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC is also powering arguably the best Android tablet currently out there (the ASUS Transformer Prime), it’s hard to see how any tablet manufacturer could offer better specs and still keep a competitive price.
Some sources report that Amazon is considering the use of the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC inside the Kindle Fire 2, an impressive upgrade from the OMAP4430 (1GHz dual-core A9 processor and PowerVR SGX540 GPU) used by the original Kindle Fire. The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 features the same outdated TI OMAP4430 alongside 1GB of RAM, thus losing badly in this sector.
As far as the Apple iPad Mini goes, sources were unable to provide an indication for the processor, although it doesn’t seem that improbable for Apple to equip the Mini with the same 1GHz dual-core A5 processor you can find inside the iPad 2.
1GB of RAM seems to be the standard for all tablets these days, so I wouldn’t expect any of that 512MB nonsense on the Kindle Fire 2 or iPad Mini.
The first things a tablet manufacturer spares when designing a budget tablet seem to be the rear camera, the 3G/4G radios and the microSD card slot. While I personally don’t find it very comfortable to use a tablet for taking pictures and while 3G/4G radios on a tablet are a matter of personal preference, a microSD card slot is definitely something all users want from their devices, whether smartphones or tablets, high-end or budget. Unfortunately, the Nexus 7 does not feature such a microSD card slot, as is the case with the original Kindle Fire, or the existing iPad versions. While Amazon could place an SD slot in the Kindle Fire 2 (although I wouldn’t bet on it), it’s highly unlikely that Apple will go that way with the iPad Mini.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot conceive buying a budget tablet that lacks an SD card slot, the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.0 is the best choice for you.
I know some of our more casual readers are not seeing any truly significant differences amongst these tablets thus far, but this is the segment where all that will change.
The 7-inch Galaxy Tab runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (the first Android version that doesn’t suck – in a major way – on tablets) and should get its Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update in the future, although all manufacturers are historically late to provide the updates. If you’re a major Android fan (and with this being an Android website, I sincerely hope you are), the main advantage of buying the Nexus 7 tablet is that it comes with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean out of the box, as well as the promise that all future OS updates will reach the Nexus 7 weeks (if not months) before it arrives on other devices – it’s the Nexus mantra, if you will.
The Kindle Fire 2, just like its predecessor, will run on a heavily modified version of Android that makes the tablet incompatible with a lot of Android apps. Hopefully, those of you that want a Kindle Fire 2, especially for access to the Amazon Appstore, won’t be too discouraged by this.
Last but not least, in the eventuality that the iPad Mini turns out to be real product, the device will run Apple’s latest iOS vesion. If Apple can think of a way of scaling all the apps designed for 9.7-inch iPads down to a 7-inch display, the iPad Mini would be the budget tablet with the highest number of high-quality apps available, as was the case with the three 9.7-inch iPads rolled out by Apple so far – quite an advantage if you don’t think much of tweaking your devices.
All of these tablets will be priced roughly the same: the Nexus 7 costs $199 for the 8GB variant and $249 for the 16GB variant, the Kindle Fire 2 should be priced the same as the original ($199 for 8GB), while the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2 costs $249 (the 8GB version). The iPad Mini should be designed to compete with these tablets, meaning we expect it to be priced under $250 as well.
Now that we have analyzed these four tablets, let me draw the line and sum up your options for you:
If you want to get a budget tablet today, don’t think too little of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and desperately need an SD card slot, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 2.0 is the budget tablet for you.
If you’re an Android purist on the lookout for the tablet that offers the best price / performance ratio, you should wait a few weeks and get yourself a Google/Asus Nexus 7.
If you’re deeply tied into Amazon’s ecosystem, my advice is that you wait a couple of months and get yourself an Amazon Kindle Fire 2. I assure you that the bump in performance over the current model will be worth the wait.
If you hate Android but still want a budget tablet, you might have to wait as much as until the end of the year until Apple releases the iPad Mini. Of course, you also run the risk that all the rumors surrounding the iPad Mini may turn out to be completely false.
What do you guys think of the future of budget tablets? Impressive? Foreseeable? Please drop us a line in the comment section below and share your perspective on the matter!
Which tablet would you buy?
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My thought: Get the Nexus 7 – at least people who don’t care about amazon prime. Amazon mp3 and such things shouldn’t be a problem on the nexus 7.
iPad Mini? In my opinion not even worth to mention or think about since so far it’s not more than FUD. Kindle Fire came out..iPad mini rumors…Nexus 7 comes…iPad Mini rumors. Wouldn’t wonder if Apple is spreading these rumors just to keep users on hold to not taste the other side…
Plus if you do plan to root it, you can always get the Amazon app on your Android device if you want it.
And yeah, I agree again :P, but you can always say that Apple has a big issue now, because their iPod Touch 4G won’t make such great sales anymore, if you have a Nexus 7 pushing it out of the way.
Like think about it, would you rather buy a iPod Touch 8gb ($199 in Canada), and experience little-to-nothing or buy a Nexus 7, 8gb as well ($209 in Canada) and have the experience of $800+?
So the rumors might be true or may be false. Who knows. Apple will do anything to keep up in the game.
Just my two cents.
This will be my first taste of the other side. I preordered my Nexus 7 the day it was announced. I’d been holding off for a reasonably priced decently powerful tablet for a while and the Nexus has everything I’m lookin for. I currently own an Iphone and just couldnt stomach spending $400-$500 to basically get an iphone with a bigger screen. Im pretty excited!
I’ve just done exactly the same thing – for me, and iPad is way to expensive but I will feel slightly annoyed when I have to pay for some apps again but on the Play Store.
I bet no one noticed the first paragraph in this article is one long sentence. LOL :)
why would people buy the kindle fie, i can’t understand
want unlimited movies? – netflix
want unlimited music? – spotify or rdio
amazon prime is not THAT good
Prime is great. I get two day delivery. The Kindle Fire has access to borrow books off Amazon.
I think what America forgets in its America-centric way is that Amazon does NOT offer the Kindle Fire outside of the US. The fact that Google is offering Nexus 7 in several international markets which have been getting increasingly restless works strongly in their favour on a global scale. We non-Apple addicts outside of the US have been getting increasingly frustrated that Amazon appears to have given up trying to negotiate the right for us to download books in our countries (and lets be real here, we don’t understand why we can buy a hard copy book on Amazon.com but we can’t get an ebook….). So even if Amazon releases a Kindle Fire 2 which does well in the US, the rest of the world is mighty unhappy that they have been given the cold shoulder. Google Play outside of the US maybe somewhat stunted – but at least we are (1) getting the device and (2) have access to books and/or movies.
And we still don’t understand why we can’t have all the ebooks and movies that the US has but we can buy the hard copy versions…
Nexus 7 is the way to go. Its been designed around Android and guarantees a smooth butter-like experience. It beats its rivals on all fronts be it the processor, display, OS or price. The only flaw is the limited memory (8GB/16GB), that’s the only reason I can think of for not buying a Nexus 7. But then again the world is moving towards cloud computing so the memory flaw is also debatable.
Waiting for the iPad Mini would be plainly stupid and Google/Asus Nexus 7 is anyday better than the currently available Samsung (heats too much!) and Amazon tabs.
why do say that it heats too much? I bought one for my son and it doesn’t seem to heat up at all. I’m not a fan of the screen because it has been hard to find a stylus that works perfectly with it, but for what I paid it has been great. The SD card is a big bonus as he was able to load up several movies to watch on a long plane trip this last weekend (20 GB worth).
I had a Fire and I love the size. Portable and useful. I hated no bluetooth or memory card. The lack of a memory card is why I would not buy the Nexus. People seem to think it isn’t much of a limitation, but carry a few audio books, some music, photos, and try adding some compressed video, and you are full up.
The execumoron at Google on the Nexus project decided to chase the execumorons at Amazon. I know that sitcoms show that everyone lives in NYC or LA, but literally 99% don’t. When traveling or just moving around a bit, you are out of the read of THE CLOUD unless you want to pay very high fees on fake limitless plans. Really, Amazon and Google, try traveling twenty miles out of your metro geek area. You find you are on your own with what you brunged.
But apparently adding a mSDHD slot is too hard. I can get 32 GB for $16, ironically, delivered from Amazon. So why not give me that flexibiltiy. Oh, and why are they charging $50 for half of what I can get for $15 (Class 10, baby).
The cloud is not even over half of my travel time and much of that is fake cloud (yeah, ATT and Verizon). So why act like it is? The Nexus with a slot is golden. A winner of winners in the fabulous form factor. Just like Amazon, give up the sweet spot. The first Nexus 7 like tablet set a standard that is hard to beat, execumorons!
If the Nexus tablet had HDMI output, I’d be all over it. Micro SD card slot would be a nice bonus. The Kindle Fire has the same problems, combined with the stupid lack of a volume button and bluetooth and Amazon’s custom OS.
The resolution on the Galaxy Tab 2 is disappointing, but otherwise it’s a good choice for me. I wish I could trust that it would be updated promptly.
Maybe later in the year will bring higher-specced Nexus tablets.
i have samsung galaxy tab2 7in and for past few months and love it so far. I have looked briefly at fire – and also previously owned blackberry playbook and a ipad 2 but samsung beats them all.
i like it because it just is super fast and responsive, no lag like in any other tablets i tried. the 32gb microsd gives me more than enough space and the two camera is sometimes handy.
I have the Tab 2 10.1 this tab lags horribly, ended up replacing the rom with Cyanogen.
Did replacing the rom actually help? One would think that lag would be caused by the processor/ram…
Well, I pre-ordered the Nexus 7 after looking for awhile for the product in the sweet spot. I have a Galaxy S2 LTE phone on 3.2, (waiting for the ICS upgrade – help would be appreciated in doing it myself :-] ) so I think it will pair nicely.
As everyone has pointed out the lack MicroSD is a bit of an enigma, and is the only downside…I’m trying to think how big a downside though. I have an unlimited data plan with my provider, so if I have my tab, the phone will likely be with me…Do I need to have 20gb worth of movies on me for the kids for car trips and plane rides?… Probably not. Could always pull out the laptop for them. Whenever I travel for business or pleasure the laptop is with me (such is the state of my life – ??)
So, Cloud being available, what are the other downsides? Battery on my S2 LTE will be taxed for wireless tethering. I’ll basically have to have the damn thing plugged in ALL THE TIME. Speaking of battery life, this article (which was very helpful – THANKS) neglected to mention battery life comparison.
Other downside: no rear facing camera…cool for impromptu videos, however aforementioned cell phone handles this scenario.
One question: Where do I store my music? On the phone, then stream to Nexus 7? (is it even possible?) or do I end up with copies for each device…that would suck. Some suggestions for a solution would be very welcome.
All the upsides mentioned are bang on. Display resolution, and processor being the key. One thing I CANNOT stand are laggy screens, and having to wait even 1/4 second for things to catch up is frustrating. I’ve discovered that I’m an impatient person thanks to a particular ‘not to be mentioned’ product…
On a separate note; Amazon in Canada is a joke. I don’t even bother.
So, my thanks again for this article. I had been having twinges of buyers remorse on the Nexus 7, wondering if I should have gone with Gal Tab 2. Those concerns are somewhat alleviated; pending the outcome of the above comments.
I will have 15 days from delivery to try the Nexus 7 and make the final decision from there. If I have to store multiple copies of music for each device, I’ll be disappointed, and consider shipping it back.
…Which brings me to my final point: What’s with the $20+tax in shipping? Why couldn’t the Nexus be rolled out to the vendors (BestBuy, etc.) as most other products are.
Ok, need to get back to work. the client is waiting on some deliverables:-)
gps chip + offline map, Nexus 7 is my choice.
I refuse to buy phones (and now tablets) that aren’t Nexus’s, since I love vanilla software and don’t like rooting. I’ve used a Kindle Fire, and I didn’t like it much. I hate iOS, for a number of reasons. That leave the Nexus and the Galaxy, and the Nexus brand is what sells it for me.
I think the rumored windows 8 RT for 199 will shake the market to the core, great article, and I have purchased the Galaxy Tab 7, I also have a fire for my wife, and have had Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Ipad 2, they are just too big for me to use and be comfortable with. I carried the fire for a month and made sure I was comfortable with its size prior to purchasing the Galaxy Tab 7. The micro SD is a must for me, cannot have a tablet without it.
Not having memory card expansion is a deal breaker for me. I like to bring some media with me when travelling. Plus I’m not connected all the time, and when I am, I pay per usage.