Google announced the Nexus 7 Android tablet Wednesday at the Google I/O developers' conference. Manufactured by Asus, the Nexus 7 costs $199. That price will make it extremely attractive to consumers. The best-selling Android tablet is the Kindle Fire from Amazon, which also costs $199. Yet, putting the two tablets side by side on paper, there is really no comparison. The Nexus 7 eats the Kindle Fire’s lunch.
The Kindle Fire is a serviceable Android tablet. Yet, if you are used to good hardware and finely tuned software, something about the Kindle Fire just feels… off.
Last year, after getting our hands on the Fire, it became apparent how Amazon brought in the Kindle Fire at its low price point. The Fire is a shell of a device tied to a browser (Amazon’s custom-built Silk), Amazon’s cloud services and online digital media store. It was designed as a portal to Amazon’s digital content including videos, apps and books. As one ReadWriteMobile commenter put it, the “Kindle Fire practically handcuffs you to the Amazon store.” The device cannot access Google Play for Android apps and developing for the Fire works much better for the mobile Web than it does for native Android apps.
Why is this? To put it plainly, the Fire is an inferior piece of hardware. It does not have device access to information like location, and its computer and graphics processors are second rate. Amazon did not need a tablet that is supposed to be everything to everybody the way the iPad and other Android tablets try to be.
The Fire is also built on a stripped-down version of Android Gingerbread 2.3.5. Really, it uses the Android kernel and some of Android’s Java capabilities, but leaves out anything that does not support the core mission of making consumers buy content from Amazon. It is a compromise among a variety of technologies. It is good for its purpose, but put it up against almost any other tablet on the market, and it is left wanting.
Except for the price.
For Amazon, price was everything. It is successful because it is an Android tablet that costs the same as most high-end smartphones.
Where the Nexus 7 Succeeds
Similarly, the Nexus 7 is not without compromises. There is no back camera, which saves several dollars. Overall, though, everything the Kindle Fire is not, the Nexus 7 is.
Take a look at the device's specs. It has a top-of-the-line Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 12-core graphics processor, GPS, gyroscope, NFC, accelerometer, magnetometer, NFC, camera (front-facing) and microphone. It includes all of the device sensors Amazon skipped. It is also thinner, lighter and has a better display (1280x800).
The Nexus 7 is the flagship device for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. That means no compromise on Android features. Unlike the Kindle Fire and other Android tablets, it has no proprietary skin - it's pure Android that purists will likely be thrilled with. On the Kindle Fire, it is difficult to discern that the device even runs Android - and that is just how Amazon likes it.
Then there is the price. It is hard to fault Amazon for the performance and capabilities of the Fire. Really, it serves the company's purpose. As the saying goes, it is what it is. But the Nexus 7 is a real Android tablet at the same price. There is no reason anymore to buy a Kindle Fire.
Google has really stepped up its game with this device. The Nexus product line's purpose is to give manufacturers and developers a model device to emulate and build on. The Nexus 7 does that, and then some.