There was a time when Android couldn’t touch iOS in the usability stakes, but that’s no longer the case. With Jelly Bean, Google’s OS has finally reached a place where it can be talked about in the same breath as Apple’s: a smooth, crisp and lag-free interface. The new Nexus 7 comes with Android 4.3 (in fact it’s the first device to do so), which sports slightly more polish as well as a handful of new features, parental controls (you can prevent profiles accessing certain apps and making in-app purchases). Being a Nexus device, the OS is devoid of any third-party embellishments – it’s pure Google, and a slicker experience for it. The issue here is apps; as we note in our review: "Google really needs to be pushing developers to add greater support for larger, more pixel-tastic screens if it hopes to defeat Apple in the tablet battle."
iOS 6 is on board the iPad Mini, and it’s moved beyond its early issues (chiefly Maps, which you thankfully no longer have to use) to become just as intuitive and polished as previous versions. It’s more of a walled garden, more tightly controlled than Android, but for some that’s preferable. iOS has the better range of available apps too, especially when it comes to those designed specifically for tablets. As we say in our review, the iPad Mini feels more versatile because of the "greater interaction and creativity" afforded by its apps. And iOS 7, the biggest change in terms of visual design from a version of the OS yet, is just around the corner.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 only comes with Android 4.1.2, over which Samsung has slathered its own touches. So really it's lagging behind the Nexus 7, which offers the very latest Android version. However, some of Samsung's apps are impressive, such as Multi-Screen: this multi-tasking feature now supports Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Maps and MX Player as well as Samsung’s own apps.
Winner: iPad Mini
While the original Nexus 7 was pretty pathetic in the snapper stakes, the new model has a 5MP camera on the rear and a 1.2MP camera on the front for Google Hangouts. The iPad Mini has the exact same setup, while the Note 8.0 pairs its rear 5MP camera with a 1.3MP front camera. None has a flash.
After testing we have to say the iPad Mini nicks it. While all three share a megapixel count, the Note 8.0 and Nexus 7's images come out fairly dull and muted in anything but bright light, while Apple's camera fares slightly – ever so slighty – better; in decent light, it's on a par with the iPhone 4's snapper. It's a close-run thing though.
Winner: iPad Mini
More after the break...
The iPad Mini is available with just Wi-Fi, or in a “Wi-Fi + Cellular” version that offers on-the-go Internet access at HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA speeds (that’s faster than standard 3G, but not as fast as LTE’s “true” 4G). The new Nexus 7 is available in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/LTE modes, making it the better choice for mobile Internet.
Winner: Nexus 7
From our testing of the Nexus 7, we found its 3950mAh battery delivers around 11 hours of normal-level use out of it per charge. The iPad Mini offers a similar amount of use through its 4490mAh battery, as does the Galaxy Note 8.0 through its own 4600mAh power plant. So this round has to be called a draw.
Verdict: Google's Nexus 7 (2013) is the best small tablet money can buy
The new Nexus 7 edges it as our overall winner. It’s far cheaper than the iPad Mini and Galaxy Note 8.0, especially as you move up the range; it features more processing power; it offers real 4G support; its screen is significantly sharper.
The iPad Mini has screen size and build quality in its favour, as well as iOS and access to a better range of tablet-tailored apps. It holds plenty of appeal for those who want to do more than just read ebooks, watch videos and browse the web – but that doesn’t seem enough to justify the price disparity.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 doesn't really stand out except for battery life and multi-tasking, but there is of course the S-Pen stylus which will appeal to the more productivity-minded. Even so, the Nexus 7 makes a far more tempting purchase for the average person.
So, we're calling this a victory for the new Google Nexus 7. It's going to be interesting to see if the Retina display-equipped iPad Mini 2 can tip the balance back the other way when it's (hopefully) announced in September.