Tablets Compared: iPad vs.Nexus vs. Surface Tablet Shootout
Google and Microsoft have finally given enterprise IT some realistic alternatives to Apple’s iPad — and by “realistic” we mean “good enough that you won’t have end user rebellion if you decide to standardize on Android or Windows tablets rather than iPads.”
Google may have had to scramble to adapt Android to the larger screen,hampered by clunky OEM hardware and tepid developer support for the big screen.Microsoft,which initially dismissed the tablet concept as a toy to the PC’s workhorse, like Google, has been playing catch-up ever since.But far from ceding the market,both have fought back and close 2012 with new products that not only match most of the iPad’s best features but explore new functional ground.
While Apple’s iPad remains the tablet to beat,the choice just got a lot more difficult. We take a look from an IT pro’s perspective at new products on the top three platforms: Apple’s new Mini and refreshed iPad, Google’s Nexus duo and Microsoft’s Surface. We break down the hardware,highlight software differences, and outline the pros and cons
of each device,with an eye toward the needs of enterprise users and the IT teams that support them.
Tablet Season Already?
It’s that time of year, when Muzak fills the air and hardware makers start jockeying for our holiday dollars.For 2012,the race started early, as October ushered in a major crop of the latest must-have gadget.The two big dogsin the tablet market, Apple and Google, didn’t wait for the traditional winter expo season to preview new hardware. Apple debuted both a smaller iPad Mini and a refreshed fourth-generation iPad, and Google released a super-size cousin to its popular Nexus 7, the Nexus 10.
And this year,they have company, as Microsoft, determined not to let its PC legacy anchor it to the past as we move to a post-PC world, places a big bet on its first branded tablet, Surface.
Even though they’re primarily consumer devices, tablets are all over the enterprise, sanctioned by bring-your-own-device policies or not. Our Information Week 2012 iPad Survey, taken shortly before the release of Apple’s third-generation product, found almost half of respondents’ organizations officially support iPads, while only 10% outright prohibit them.
But Microsoft’s entree into the tablet market could create some serious competition for Apple among enterprise buyers.Our Information Week Windows 8 Survey found that respondents expect Windows tablets and smartphones to make up almost a quarter of their mobile device fleets by 2014. And of course, we all know what a workplace presence Microsoft already has, with that same survey finding Windows comprising about 90% of all enterprise desktops, laptops and thin clients.
And don’t forget Google. Already an increasingly strong tablet No. 2, the Nexus looks to give the iPad its first serious challenge with a 10-inch product that,on paper at least, betters the category-defining iPad on several fronts.
Undoubtedly influenced by the success of the smaller, less expensive Kindle Fire, today’s tablet market has bifurcated into two form factors, with devices using the 10-inch standard established by the original iPad now joined by 7- to 8-inch models.This is a direct result of the display being a tablet’s most expensive component. Apple is the latest to enter the small-screen market with its 7.9-inch Mini, also using the occasion to update its full-size iPad with components borrowed from the iPhone 5. Google is going in the other direction, adding the Nexus 10 to its 7-inch product. The third member of our roundup, Microsoft’s Surface, at 10.6 inches, sports the largest screen and rounds out a market with a third major OS: Android, iOS and now Windows 8 RT.
If Apple thought the tablet battles were over, it had better think again. At least in the larger form factor (Microsoft
doesn't make a 7-inch model),all three devices are physically similar, but under the hood they’re quite different. Let’stake a closer look.
Apple iPad Mini We’ll focus on the Mini since, as we’ll see, there’s very little new in the refreshed iPad, which we reviewed last spring. Of course, the most obvious changes are physical: The 7.9-inch screen is about 80% the size of its bigger brother’s. This translates into a device that’s significantly thinner (about 75%) and lighter (by half)than the new iPad.In fact,it’s hard to overstate how light the Mini feels; at just under 11 ounces, it weighs as much as a paperback book, but has the thickness of a pencil. However, its biggest selling point is the price: Starting at $329 vs.$499 for the entry Wi-Fi models, it significantly lowers the iPad’s entry barrier. At 1,024 by 768, the Mini doesn’t have the razor-sharp Retina display (2,048 by 1,536) of the new iPad. However, since it matches the iPad 2 display specs, existing iPad apps will run without modification. And the smaller screen translates to about a 25% higher pixel density than the iPad 2 (162 ppi vs. 132 ppi); that’s still well below the 264 ppi on the new iPad,but it’s noticeably sharper in practice. Internally,the Mini also shares a strong iPad 2 resemblance, using the same older generation CPU (A5 vs. the third gen’s A5X and fourth gen’s variant of the iPhone’s A6) and RAM (512 MB vs. 1 GB in the new iPads).
This translates into Mini performance almost identical to the iPad 2;hardly a slouch. In contrast, the refreshed fourth-generation iPad now retakes the iDevice speed trophy, being slightly faster than the iPhone 5. The Mini’s other major internal change comes in its Wi-Fi hardware, which, like the iPhone 5,supports channel bonding. That’s a first for any iPad. In theory, this improves performance, particularly in the 5 GHz band. However, in the crowded 2.4 GHz band,where there are only three non overlapping channels, users are unlikely to notice any difference. Like the new iPad and iPhone 5, Mini models with cellular radios now support 4G LTE.
Like all recent iDevices (including the refreshed iPad), the Mini uses the new Lightening connector rather than the iPod 30-pin design found on older iPads. Thus, within a month, Apple banished the accessory connection standard that stood for almost a decade.
Our latest InformationWeek Consumerization of IT Survey found a 20-point disparity, 51% to 31%,in the percentage of respondents supporting iPads versus Android tablets, while numerous estimates put the iPad’s share of the overall market at 60% to 70% — although recent figures point to some erosion in Apple’s dominance.
To try to further close that gap, Google is supplementing the Nexus 7 with the 10-inch Nexus 10.Much like the iPad,the larger device has double the pixel resolution; about 50% higher pixel density; and, at 2,560 by 1,600, actually bests the Retina screen of the new iPad on overall pixel count. And in another bit of one-upmanship, at 8.9 mm,the Nexus 10 is actually thinner than both its little brother (10.5 mm) and the full-sized iPad, but not the Mini.
It’s also slightly lighter than the fourth-gen iPad,but about double the bulk of the Nexus 7, which itself is about 10% heavier than the Mini.
Google’s engineers have also been busy updating the internals. While the Nexus 7 uses a quad-core (ARM A9) Nvidia Tegra 3 complete with integrated GPU, a common platform for Android devices, the 10 goes with a new Samsung Exynos SoC using dual ARM A15 cores. Despite having half as many cores, the new chip is much more capable and should benchmark about 40% to 50% faster. With 2 GB, the Nexus 10 doubles the RAM of its smaller sibling but offers the same 16 GB and 32 GB flash storage options. Like the iPad, neither has a microSD slot, but both Nexus models do offer a feature called USB On-The-Go that allows connecting to external storage using a third-party file manager and even some peripherals like keyboard and wired Ethernet adapters, via the Micro USB port.
Unlike both iPad models, the Nexus 10 does not offer a model supporting cellular data networks, although Google claims a mobile data option for the Nexus 7 is “coming soon.” On Wi-Fi networks, the smaller model has only
a single-band, 2.4 GHz radio, while the 10, like both iPads, is dual-band. For what it’s worth (not much as this point), both Nexus models also include near field communication. The final sweetener to the Nexus story may prove to be the most powerful: price. With starting prices for the 7 and 10 at $199 and $399, respectively, the Nexus is significantly
less expensive across the board than the iPad line, to the tune of 20% to 40%.
Tired of ceding the tablet market to its two main rivals, and apparently frustrated at both Intel’s lack of urgency in developing a suitable x86 mobile processor and the tepid interest its PC OEM partners have so far shown toward
tablets, Microsoft decided to take things into its own hands. Step one: build its next version of Windows around a new tablet-friendly, touch-sensitive tiled interface, Windows 8. Step two: port Windows to the ARM architecture. Step three, and its boldest move yet: develop its own hardware. The result: Microsoft Surface. This is a risky move on several fronts.