Google’s raised the starting price of its new Nexus 7 tablet by $30, but with that price increase comes a hefty slate of new features, including a screen sharper than the iPad’s Retina Display. So if you were waiting for a Retina iPad Mini, you may want to consider switching to Android instead — especially since it’ll be considerably cheaper than an iPad would be.
On the other hand, if you were considering one of Microsoft’s Surface tablets instead, they just got a lot more attractive — the lowest price of a Surface RT, the kind that only runs the “Modern UI” style apps plus Office, just got dropped to $349.
Nexus 7 for $229, or Surface RT for $349 — about the cost of an iPad Mini. Which one’s right for you?
Better than ever
Last year’s Nexus 7 became perhaps the best-selling Android tablet ever. It was faster and more responsive than the Kindle Fire, with more games and apps plus the ability to use the same “Appstore” as the Kindle if you wanted to.
This year’s model has some hefty under-the-hood hardware improvements, plus for the first time it has a rear-facing camera and that Retina-caliber screen. At 323 ppi (pixels per inch), it’s sharper than even the full-size iPad, to say nothing of the non-Retina iPad Mini (which costs more but has lots more games and apps).
Not all it’s cracked up to be
On the other hand, while the Surface RT certainly looks colorful in Microsoft’s dance video ads, those ads hide a few glaring flaws.
For one, the “32 GB” label on the $349 model is deceptive. If you order a 32 GB Surface RT, you’ll really be getting more like 16 GB, since the Windows 8 operating system takes up about that much space.
For another, the actual price you’ll be paying is closer to $449. That’s because the colorful Touch Cover, and its built-in keyboard and touchpad, isn’t included in the $349 price. So if you want the accessory that makes a Surface a Surface, you’ll be paying almost the same price as you would for a full-sized iPad.
Finally, you probably already know that the Surface RT can’t run Windows “desktop” apps — aside from Office, all it can run are the brightly colored “modern UI” apps you get from the Windows Store. But while it comes with Office Home & Student 2013, that version is not licensed for commercial use; so if you were thinking of buying it to help with your freelance writing business (or maybe that’s just me?), think again. Microsoft probably won’t send the license police to your door, but it does say pretty clearly you aren’t allowed to.
Which should you get?
Even if you’re intrigued by the Surface, you might want to pass on the $349 Surface RT. The price drop probably indicates a new, better model will be coming along soon, and some competing Windows 8 tablets by other companies use Intel Atom processors anyway, which let them run “desktop” apps (albeit about as well as a netbook).
The new Nexus 7 will be arguably the best Android tablet ever, once it launches on July 30. Unless you’re really attached to the concept of the Touch or Type Cover, or just like the enormous screen (and tremendous heft) better, you might want to consider it instead.