The new Nexus 7 set a benchmark for Apple’s iPad mini follow-up

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The original Nexus 7 was groundbreaking. No, it’s specifications weren’t terribly impressive. The display was terrible, the Tegra 3 chipset suffered from poor performance, and it initially only came in 8GB or 16GB variants.

On paper, it was nothing to get excited about. But it raised the bar by hitting an unbelievable price point – just $199 plus tax.

Amazon did this just before Google and ASUS teamed up with the Kindle Fire, but even with a color display and a low price point, the Kindle Fire was more of a glorified e-reader than a high-powered tablet, and without some tweaking, it was unable to take advantage of Google’s vast ecosystem.

The Nexus 7 was the long-awaited bridge between Amazon’s, affordable glorified e-reader and great Android tablets.

But the more time that passed, the more the shortcomings of the Nexus 7 started to show. The storage space simply wasn’t enough for a media-based tablet, so Google released a 32GB model for the price of the 16GB model, reduced the price of the 16GB model, and discontinued 8GB models. The Tegra 3 came with its fair share of problems. The display looked worse and worse beside smartphones with 1080p displays. And it got some competition over the months.

The iPad mini, although starting at $130 more expensive than the cheapest Nexus 7, was its toughest competitor. Its display was marginally worse than the Nexus 7’s, but it’s build quality and ecosystem were in an entirely different league. The Kindle Fire HD and various Galaxy tablets from Samsung also entered the lineup.

Mid-sized tablets notoriously have the worst displays.

Mid-sized tablets have generally had gotten the least love in the display department.

But each and every one of these small, 7-inch to 8-inch tablets always managed to come up short in one, very important area: display.

Just to jog your memory: the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD had 7-inch 1,280 by 800 pixel displays, the Galaxy Tab 2 and 3 had 7-inch 1,024 by 600 pixel displays, and the iPad mini has a 7.9-inch 1,024 by 768 pixel display. That’s 216ppi, 170ppi, and 162ppi, respectively. The Nook HD from Barnes & Noble was the highest-resolution 7-inch tablet made, with a resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels.

We’ve been hearing rumors that Google and ASUS would be refreshing its Nexus 7 tablet this year, and specifications, FCC filings, and other information slipped through the cracks for the last several months.

And we’d been speculating that, if the next Nexus 7 were to live up to its expectations and all the rumors panned out, it would be a seriously killer tablet, that it would up the ante for practically all its competition. And it did.

nexus-7-2013-1Today, Sundar Pichai, Hugo Barra, and Google made the Nexus 7 2013 official. And, just as the rumors alleged, it’s an updated tablet. The original Nexus 7 was chunky, and heavy on the bezel. This one is 1.8mm thinner, and nearly 6mm narrower than the original. It features a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, 2GB RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera, and either 16 or 32GB of fixed storage. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0 support, NFC, wireless charging, and HDMI output.

And, of course, the display. It’s still the same size – 7-inches diagonally. But it offers over double the resolution, 1,920 by 1,200. That’s the same resolution that’s offered on the Xperia Tablet Z, and at 7-inches, that’s a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch. That’s 80 pixels per inch more than the Nook HD, and roughly double the density offered by the iPad mini.

With all these improvements, Google and ASUS managed to keep the price at – a still very impressive – $229.00 introductory price. The 32GB Wi-Fi model starts at $269, and the LTE-capable Nexus 7, which will work with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon LTE, will sell for an surprisingly affordable $349.

Practically all the issues with the original Nexus 7 have been answered, yet the price only increased $30. (The only issue we’ll be on the lookout for is the lag that plagued the original after months of use.) All the while, ASUS and Google seriously upped the ante.

Many are expecting (read: hoping for) the iPad mini with Retina Display this fall, but Apple will face several challenges with the change of resolution. The fourth-gen iPad sports a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536. At 7.9-inches, that would offer a density of just one more pixel per inch than the new Nexus 7, 324ppi. As illogical as that would seem, any other resolution would require practically every application developer to add support for an entirely new resolution.

ipad-mini-n7So, chances are, Apple would much rather use an existing resolution. However, a significantly higher-resolution display – especially 2,048 by 1,536, which is four times the current resolution – will require more horsepower under the hood. More horsepower will warrant a larger battery, but in a device that measures only 7.2mm thick and weighs 308g, it would be extremely difficult to pack all the newer, more powerful components and a larger battery in the same chassis.

Also, the margin on the iPad mini is significantly lower than on other devices. A 7.9-inch 2,048 by 1,536 pixel display, I imagine, is not cheap. Nor is a larger battery or more powerful chipset.

In other words, the iPad mini was a challenge for Apple to make. It set its standards very high for the first-generation. Google and ASUS just raised the bar. And while I fully believe Apple is capable of returning fire and releasing a comparable tablet, it may take them a little longer to get there.

And that’s why we’re now hearing rumors that the Retina Display iPad mini will not launch until spring 2014.

Either way, Google and ASUS just put Apple in check. Apple, it’s your move.

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+