By Ryan Scott | 08-7-2012 | 2:30PM
If it isn't already painfully obvious, the Nexus 7 -- a swanky, Tegra 3-powered mini-tablet co-developed by Google and Asus -- is Google's answer to Amazon's wildly popular Kindle Fire. And when you look at both devices side-by-side, it's no contest; in terms of e-reader-sized tablets, the Nexus 7 is the new gold standard.
Physically, the Nexus 7 is ever-so-slightly taller than the Kindle Fire; both devices sport 7" touch-screens, though the Nexus 7 handily outclasses the Kindle Fire's video resolution (1280x800 vs. 1024x600, to be specific). The Nexus 7's quad-core processor leaves its competitor's dual cores in the dust, and its hot-to-trot Android 4.1 operating system makes Amazon's Android 2.3-based tablet look like something from the technological dark ages. Yes, the Kindle Fire is so nine months ago.
And, the Nexus 7 is just a nice piece of hardware -- the rubber backing has a good feel to it, the buttons are in all the right places, and its size makes it easy to tote around (the battery life lasts a good 60-ish hours on standby too, which is fantastic).
But the most Nexus 7's pronounced advantage comes from what powers it: It packs an Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU, which makes it an ideal platform for graphics-intensive mobile apps. Or, as we tend to call them around here, "video games."
Screenshots: The Dark Knight Rises Mobile (Left); Riptide GP (Right).
Now, of course, the Nexus 7 handles modest games like Cut the Rope, Canabalt HD, and Plants vs. Zombies as well as you'd expect. But I decided to put the Tegra 3 CPU to the test with three high-end games: The Dark Knight Rises, Riptide GP, and Final Fantasy III. The Dark Knight Rises played relatively well, though I experienced occasional bouts of slowdown (something I suspect has less to do with the device and more to do with the game). Riptide GP and Final Fantasy III, on the other hands, played flawlessly.
The nice thing about playing games on a mini-tablet -- as opposed to a tiny phone or a full-sized tablet -- is that it feels like the perfect size. It's often hard to make well-defined finger-strokes on a phone (which games like Cut the Rope absolutely rely on), and larger tablets sometimes feel a little too big for these types of handheld activities. I suspect I'll still reach for my Sony Tablet S when I want to read a PDF or some digital comics, but the Nexus 7 is definitely my go-to gaming tablet from here on out.
The Nexus 7's one major issue is storage space... or, rather, a lack thereof. You get 8 GB for $200 (which is right in line with the Kindle Fire), or $250 for a beefier 16 GB. The latter option is a no-brainer to me (especially with file sizes rapidly rising into the gigabytes -- The Dark Knight Rises is almost 2 GB!), but I'm scratching my head at the lack of an expansion slot. If I could drop, say, a 32 GB MicroSD card into the Nexus 7 to supplement its onboard storage, the device would be near-perfect for almost any need I could imagine. As-is, the space doesn't seem like it'll be enough for long.
So, there you have it: If you're looking to buy a mini-tablet, you won't find a better option than the Nexus 7 (especially if you're keen on using it as a gaming device). The only thing keeping me from recommending it as an end-all, be-all tablet purchase is the lack of storage expansion. But hey, maybe a Tegra 4-powered Nexus 8 will come down the pipeline in a few months and solve that little problem.