Don't settle for a pale copy. If a tablet is something you're considering to put under the Festivus pole this year (the Christmas tree "for the rest of us"), the choice is rather simple: Apple's iPad mini with Retina display or Google's Nexus 7. That's because their compact form factor hides powerful components promising years of solid performance.
Obviously, many features distinguish one from the other, the most important one, of course, being their respective operating system. Apple's back with version 7 of iOS, which looks much better on the iPad mini's 7.9-inch display than it does on the larger iPad Air.
The Nexus 7 features Android 4.4, also known as "KitKat", a major upgrade to Google's popular mobile OS. As opposed to iOS 7, the changes in Android 4.4 are slightly less visual, but the improvements on response time, application launch time and overall battery life is significant.
Despite this, the iPad mini addresses the needs of a larger audience, only because its application store boasts more games and a larger array of applications of all kinds. Its larger display is also a big plus for browsing the Internet, reading books, etc.
No one will regret buying a Nexus 7, but it feels like the iPad mini with Retina display, regardless of the price premium, will take its users a little further down the road of the digital life before feeling obsolete.
Apple iPad mini with Retina display
At 2,048 x 1,536 pixels and 4:3 ratio, the iPad mini's 7.9-inch display doesn't lack details, especially if your main activity is surfing the web or playing graphic-intensive games. The larger display gives web pages, e-books and other text content more room, in both portrait and landscape modes, despite the tablet's modest overall dimensions.
An improved Wi-Fi antenna, two cameras and two microphones make it an ideal communication device: video calls, especially, are crisp and clear and never miss a beat. Only flaw: the thin speaker located at the bottom of the tablet is not very powerful.
On the content side, Apple uses iCloud to help manage web bookmarks in Safari across devices (Mac, iPhone, etc.), and even if iTunes Radio is not yet available in Canada (a U.S.-based iTunes account is required, but not very hard to create, by the way), it should be, supposedly before end of spring.
Google has not given any deadline on when its Play Music service will cross the border.
One other advantage of the iPad mini: 64 or 128 gigabytes of internal storage ensure you can carry around all the music and the videos you want.
16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB or 128 GB of internal storage
5 MP and 1.2 MP cameras
Starting at $419
Google Nexus 7
Lighter and more affordable than the iPad mini, the Nexus 7 only suffers from a narrower display. It's a shame because it's sharp and clear, but the 16:10 ratio, well suited for watching videos, does not fare as well when going online or creating or reading documents.
Under the hood, the upgraded components make this tablet faster and much more responsive than its predecessor (and now boasts a camera on the back!) Apps and games launch in no time, even if it's a little slower than on some 5- or 6-inch "phablets" (more direct rivals to the Nexus 7 than the iPad mini probably is, considering the similar OS and price range).
As always with Android, let's only hope developers take a hint from Google and upgrade the appearance of their own apps accordingly, since this still is one of the most irritating characteristics of the Android ecosystem.
On the other hand, versatility and ease of use are equal to none, since add-ons such as the Swype and Swiftkey keyboards are exclusive to Android, and are now built-in the OS default keyboard. Those small custom tools make entering text and interacting with the tablet so easy it's hard to understand why Apple does not put more focus into finding a similar solution for its own products.
The Nexus 7's price is also a major differentiator: at $230 for the 16 GB version ($270 for 32 GB), it is hard to beat. It only lacks the MicroSD slot that would make mobile videos easier to binge watch while on a plane or away from home.
1,920 x 1,200 pixels
16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage
5 MP and 1.2 MP cameras
Starting at $229