Best cheap tablets 2012: top budget options
We've fondled our fair share of tablets since the iPad redefined the category back in 2010. The Google Nexus 7 by Asus doesn't quite stack up in terms of specs to Apple's media darling – and nor should it, considering the iPad sells for at least twice the price. It's most certainly the best tablet for the budget-conscious, and thanks to that it's a match for the Apple offering.
Long term thoughts
In fact, having spent months with the Google Nexus 7, we're delighted to tell you that this is a tablet that just keeps giving.
Having the option of the Nexus 7 when out and about is a major boon. At its price point, the Nexus 7 brings not only impressive specs, but also the knowledge that it is replaceable, making it a device you can throw in your bag without any major worries.
Google Now remains infuriating, particularly outside of the US where the company cannot provide train information or adequate coverage of sports teams, but the potential for the service is massive and we are hoping it will continue to improve.
Even with some fairly casual treatment, our device is scratch-free and working as well as it did out of the box, and the 7 inch screen and low weight makes it a versatile media player, backup ebook reader and mini-gaming machine on the go.
Hey, we're suckers for free stuff, so the goodie basket Google includes with the purchase of a Nexus 7 is definitely worth another mention here. We also can't wait to see an army of Nexus 7 owners marching to local stores, where they'll whip out a 7-inch tablet to pay for goods using Google Wallet.
Like many recent Asus tablet products, the build quality is on par with Apple. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is exactly the right step for Google at this stage, focusing on enhancing the existing user experience – especially given the low penetration of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich – instead of throwing cool new features against the wall to see what sticks.
Although the Google Nexus 7 by Asus has very good Wi-Fi and we were able to tether from a mobile hotspot with ease, we'd love to see a slightly more expensive model with 4G or 3G, accompanied by sweet month-to-month data plans, in the near future.
Android is still playing catch-up when it comes to tablet-friendly apps, but we're hopeful those kinks will start to get ironed out if and when consumers gravitate to the Nexus 7.
Our biggest lament is the muted contrast of the otherwise stellar IPS display; while it's not a total dealbreaker, we're holding out hope that Google might push out a software update to bring the gamma levels in line with competing hardware, assuming it's not simply a glitch with our review unit.
One compliment we can pay to the Nexus 7 is that it makes us want an iPad mini too. Not because Google's tablet is bad, because it very much isn't – we just think there's a lot of potential for something between an iPod touch and a 9.7-inch iPad, and the Nexus 7 finally validates that.
The 7-inch market has been criminally under-served since the launch of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab (Kindle Fire excepted), so some competition between a new iPad and this stellar tablet from Google would be warmly welcomed.
Yes, there will be plenty of average folks who can't afford to drop a few hundred dollars or pounds for some casual tablet fun, favouring the less expensive Nexus 7 over the iPad – and perhaps for that reason Apple will have a little more fear over its commanding market share over the tablet market.
In the short term, though, the Kindle Fire has the most to fear from Google and Asus. Instant Video aside, Amazon has flat out been blown away in the low budget price range it pioneered, by a more appealing and capable device.
Like a bucket of water being used to douse the Kindle's flames, Google appears poised to reclaim any tablet ground lost since the introduction of Amazon's forked version of Android. It may not tread a lot of new ground, but the Nexus 7 is a solid performer and easily the best tablet around for the thriftier buyer.