This week saw the effective end of a tablet brand that had promised – but never delivered – great things, and the enhancement of a different tablet brand that more closely matches its promises to the high expectations we all hold for it.
RIP : Blackberry Playbook
First, it is time to acknowledge what must surely be the final nail in the coffin of RIM/Blackberry’s Playbook tablet. This was a device that was supposed to mark the triumphant emergence of a ‘new’ range of products, to be quickly followed by revolutionary new phones, too. Alas, in both cases, delays robbed the products of any claim to be new, and a disappointing feature set made them less than revolutionary.
In particular, the 7″ Playbook, which hit the market in April 2011, was stunningly incomplete at the time of its launch, with core software features completely absent. If you think about Blackberry’s core strength, you’d immediately agree it to be integrated email onto portable devices – but the Playbook had no native email capability.
It didn’t have much else, either, and was based on a non-standard OS that had a mere 2,000 – 3,000 apps available when the tablet was launched, and which has struggled to grow significantly beyond that number. Even the offer of free Playbooks to developers failed to encourage many developers to become interested in adding a Playbook version of their products. Blackberry’s subsequent integration of some Android based apps into its environment in 2012 was a curious half-way concession to the looming clear failure of the product and its oddball OS.
With no new Playbook models released after more than two years, the Playbook is now looking decidedly old and underfeatured, and even though it has been massively reduced in price, who wants to buy an obsolete device and save $50 when they can get a state of the art device for that much more – a device that not only has much better hardware capabilities, but also an enormous galaxy of apps and a clear promise of ongoing support and enhancement?
A month ago, Blackberry reneged on its promise to update the Playbook to the latest version of its OS, and now the head of that division has resigned ‘for personal reasons’. Surely this marks the final nail in the coffin of this failed device?
RIP, the Blackberry Playbook.
Google’s Nexus 7 Update
Google launched its own brand 7″ tablet almost exactly one year ago, named the Nexus 7. We reviewed it when first released and considered it to be the best 7″ tablet device on the market at that time, but continued to agonize over the respective merits of 7″ vs 10″ screens (as we still do, even now).
Originally our sense was that the main competitor to the Nexus 7 was the Kindle Fire, and Amazon responded by lowering its Kindle Fire price and then Google adjusted the Nexus 7 price too (by upgrading what you get for the $199 entry price, doubling the memory from 8GB to 16GB).
More recently, we feel the Kindle Fire is becoming much less a major product, and the new main competitor to the Nexus 7 (other than other Android based 7″ tablets) is Apple’s iPad Mini, which came out just over three months after the Nexus 7, in November 2012.
The iPad Mini has a similar sized screen (slightly larger at 7.9″) and an inferior pixel count (astonishing when you consider it was Apple that pioneered the concept of high pixel density displays) and is massively overpriced compared to the Nexus 7 ($329 for a 16GB unit, $429 for a 32GB unit, and $529 for a 64GB unit). Although it is fair to say that Apple delighted the world with what was considered to be a low price ($499) when it first introduced the iPad in 2010, the company has now reverted back to its ‘bad old ways’ and is pricing its products at the high end of the market.
Anyway, with all that as background, Google held a media event on Wednesday this week, at which it announced the latest version of Android (version 4.3, promised to be immediately available but which 24 long hours later has still yet to appear on my current Nexus 7), a new type of internet streaming tv interface called the Chromecast (I’ll write more about that separately), and a successor to the Nexus 7, still apparently called the Nexus 7.
The new version Nexus 7 is expected to be available on 30 July, and at least at midday on Thursday 25th, is still available for pre-order on the Google Play store. Originally the unit will be available in two configurations – 16GB for $229 ($30 more than current Nexus 7 units) and 32 GB for $269. This compares with iPad Mini prices of $399 and $499 for units with the same memory capacity.
There have been a number of positive enhancements to the unit which more than justify the extra $30 for the entry-level unit.
The new Nexus 7 has a much faster processor, and twice as much internal CPU memory (2GB rather than 1GB – note that this is unrelated to its 16GB or 32 GB of storage memory).
The screen is the same size, but its resolution has gone up from 1280×800 pixels to a massive 1920 x 1200 pixels – more than twice as many pixels, and allowing it to play HD movies without any need for scaling.
Amazingly, although it has both a faster processor and more than twice as many pixels on the screen, and a slightly lower capacity battery inside (3.95Ahr instead of 4.33 Ahr) the unit claims a slightly longer actual battery life – 10 hours of web browsing and book reading, or 9 hours of video, about an hour more than the earlier model.
It now has both front and rear facing cameras, adding a 5MP rear facing camera which the earlier Nexus 7 did not have. That is a nice enhancement.
The unit is also very slightly smaller (due to a slightly reduced bezel around the screen and a bit thinner; 7.9″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″) and lighter (by just over an ounce, to now 10.2 ounces).
It also has updated Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi capabilities (adding 802.11a to the existing b/g/n capabilities), and will support wireless charging, and will have optional LTE (and HSPA+ and GSM) data connectivity as well as the Wi-Fi.
So, twice as many pixels, slightly smaller and lighter, slightly more battery life, a new forwards facing camera, better Bluetooth, and a few other bits and pieces.
Truly, the new Nexus 7 is better in every respect, and while we’d have very much liked to have seen a forwards facing camera closer to ‘state of the art’ (ie at least 8MP and perhaps even 13MP) there’s little to criticize about this unit at all, and certainly not its great value $229 pricing (and its even more amazing $269 pricing for the 32GB version, almost exactly half the price of the inferior iPad Mini).
Like its predecessor, this unit is built for Google by Asus.
Should You Get One?
If you already have a Nexus 7 and are happy with it, there’s probably no reason to upgrade. If you already have a Kindle Fire or other 7″ tablet, again, there’s probably little reason to upgrade unless one of this device’s new features is a must have item that you’ve been desperately desiring.
If you haven’t yet joined the tablet world, there remains the dilemma of should you get a 7″ or 10″ tablet (see the link above to our discussion on this topic). Perhaps it is fair to say that for a portable, take-anywhere, device, the smaller size and lighter weight of the 7″ sized tablet is an advantage, but for a ‘use about the house or office’ device, the 10″ form factor and its bigger screen is probably your better choice.
Of course, it need not be an either/or decision. Get one of each, perhaps!
If you are considering getting some sort of eReader, then for most purposes, this is a better choice than a Kindle Fire, and massively better than a B&N Nook (while they still remain on the market).
If you are pondering the Apple vs Android issue; if you already have an iPad, you might wish to stick with the Apple family of iOS products. But if you don’t yet have an investment in Apple products, then you should definitely now choose the Nexus family over the iPad family.
If you have an iPhone, that is also a reason to give a slight preference to an iPad (but not an overwhelming reason) and if you have an Android phone, that in turn gives you a slight reason to now consider the Nexus tablet.
If you do get a Nexus 7, and if you are likely to use it as an MP3 or movie player as well as for other tasks, then you should choose the 32GB version, not the 16GB version.
How About a New Nexus 10, Too?
Google also has a 10″ Nexus 10 tablet (made on its behalf by Samsung). This was released back in November 2012, and features a stunning 2560 x 1600 pixel screen (again besting the similar sized iPad which has a 2048 x 1536 pixel display), and listing for $399 (compared to $499 for an entry-level iPad).
Apparently Google’s executive in charge of such devices made an off-the-record comment at yesterday’s Nexus 7 launch that there would be a new version of the Nexus 10 released ‘in the near future’.
So if you’re still wavering between a 7″ or 10″ device, and can wait a little longer, it might be appropriate to see what the new Nexus 10 will bring.
But if you know you want a 7″ tablet, get a new Nexus 7. You’ll be delighted you did.