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Tablet wars: is the Nexus 7 a good deal?

Why Google is selling the Nexus 7 so cheaply

PC Advisor examines Google's motivation for launching the Nexus 7, and asks whether the Nexus 7 is a good deal for consumers.

The birth of the iPad breathed life into the tablet market. It also killed it dead.

At the same time as making tablets the most desirable tech objects around, Apple's iPad dominated the market to such an extent that it hasn't yet endured a decent rivalry. We hope that the Microsoft Surface will bring something new to the market - the RT should in principle match iPad-like specs with the world's most ubiquitous computing platform. But to date Android tablets have been blown-up budget smartphones, Windows tablets shrunk-down laptops.

The former is better than the iPad at nothing, may be prone to malware, and usually costs more. The latter is... well, there's a reason Microsoft doesn't shout about X86 Windows tablets, and it relates to the fact that in use my Samsung Series 7 Slate stretches to about four hot-and-heavy hours of battery life before it keels over. (And the Series 7 is the best Windows tablet I've tried.) The Surface Pro may be in the public domain only because Microsoft doesn't want to annoy Intel.

Things recently changed in the tablet world, however. Google has taken Asus' putative MeMo tablet, rebranded it as the Nexus 7 and is selling it for less than half the price of an iPad. This is, as they say, disruptive.

Now when people ask me what tablet to buy I can honestly give them a more interesting answer than 'get an iPad'. At 7in the Nexus 7 is a more portable device than the iPad, and retailing from just £159 it's a massive bargain. It's not an iPad killer, far from it. The iPad is closer to a full-spec PC in its functions, whereas the Nexus 7 is a consumption device. It's a souped-up iPod touch or Amazon Kindle Touch, designed to be your greatest tech toy. So if you want to spend £500 on an iPad you'll be getting the best tablet you can buy, but at less than half the price the Nexus 7 will be a bargain for those who don't require the creative capabilities of Apple's slate. See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?

Google Nexus 7

Is the Nexus 7 a good deal?

I've been using the Nexus 7 for a couple of weeks now, and it's the first non-Apple tablet I've liked without reservation. It's a high-quality web-browsing and email device - but you'd expect that. What's interesting is that I have spent more money in Google Play in two weeks than I did in two years of using other Android tablets. In part this is because the Play Movies, Play Books and Play Music apps make it easy and desirable to do so. But also it reflects the generally slick and consumer nature of both Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and the hardware itself, and the fact that I just want to use the Nexus. All the time. It's a great device at a fabulous price. See also: Google Play Movies & TV review.

There are things missing: cellular connectivity, storage, a proper camera, to name but a few. But you don't miss them if your principle reason for using the Nexus is to watch movies, play games, listen to music and read books, on the move or on the couch. If you're on a train you’d more likely Tweet and email from your phone, anyway. Within reach of your home network, the Nexus 7 is ideal for social networking, email and browsing.

How can Google sell the Nexus 7 so cheaply?

Movies on the Google Nexus 7Various publications have pulled to pieces the Nexus 7, and suggest that the parts alone would cost in excess of £100. so when manufacturing, marketing, distribution and software licensing costs are taken in to account there is no doubt that Google is taking a hit on every Nexus 7 it is selling - and given the sold out signs on display in the Google Play store that is a lot of units. Google has deep pockets, but it seems strange that it would sell a new product at a loss.

It's not unheard for good tablets to be sold at knock-down prices. Both the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad are good examples. And although they are cheap because they failed, they do offer a clue as to what Google is up to.

The problem for both the PlayBook and TouchPad is that although they are both excellent hardware devices, they are the only tablets on their particular platforms. As a consequence the BlackBerry App World is a lonely place, and WebOS is no more. One of Apple's undisputed strengths is the quality and breadth of the content on iTunes, both apps and media. And with Microsoft's Windows Store about to come on stream with a potential audience of billions, and the Amazon Kindle Fire soon to bring Amazon's deep well of movies, music and reading matter to UK tablet users, Google needs to get its tablet users spending money in its own app store, the recently rebranded Google Play.

Google's wealth is built on giving things away for free and then charging advertisers to talk to its audience. It's rubbish at extracting cash from punters. But by the end of this year Microsoft and Amazon will join Apple in doing exactly that via tablets, and Google cannot afford to miss out.

Although Android smartphones proliferate in huge volume, their users tend to spend a lot less money on apps and media. App developers find the wide variety of Android operating systems different to write for, too. This means that although Google claims that there are 600,000 apps in the Play store, this is a lot fewer than Apple claims for iPad and iPhone, and it's a fair bet that very few Android apps are optimised for tablets.

Lack of apps and media is in turn a reason to turn away from Google and toward Apple (or Microsoft or Amazon). This makes Google Play even less desirable to app makers and media owners, and so the vicious cycle continues.

What Google wants from the Nexus 7

Google is hoping that the Nexus 7 will not only drive sales of Android devices, but kick start app and media sales via Google Play, in turn attracting developers and media owners, creating a more attractive market for other hardware makers. It's not generosity on Google's behalf that purchasers get £15 of Google Play credit any more than is a free joint from a drug dealer - you're being invited to try spending in Android's store, and with the Nexus 7 you may find you like it.

The Nexus 7 is that rare thing - an unmitigated bargain. Buy it and you may find yourself spending much more on movies, music and books. But if my experience is anything to go by, you won't mind overmuch.

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