Tech scan: 7-inches is the new black

The arrival of Google's new Nexus 7 tablet is pending, and Amazon and Apple may be upping the ante with new tablets of their own.
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Google's Nexus 7 tablet.

The arrival of Google's new Nexus 7 tablet is pending, and Amazon and Apple may be upping the ante with new tablets of their own.

The hype over the emergence of 7-inch tablets is swinging into high gear this summer.

The tech press rumor mill is agog over the possibility that Google’s sensationally reviewed Nexus 7 tablet will be delivered to pre-ordering customers as early as the end of this week.

Then there are the almost daily rumblings about Amazon and Apple developing and delivering their own new tablets. The word is that Amazon will deliver an updated version of its 7-inch best-selling Kindle Fire, and possibly a 10-inch version. Meanwhile, the 800-pound consumer technology gorilla, Apple, could drop a 7-inch iPad in time for the 2012 holiday season.

And if that wasn’t enough, Samsung is rumored to be developing a new version of its 5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note “phablet” — a cross between a cell phone and a tablet — following the success this year of the first version.

Is this just marketers let loose in the play yard or do 7-inch tablets (or thereabouts) actually hold appeal for real people? I would argue strongly for the latter. I’ve owned both 7-inch and 10-inch tablets for the last two years, and I’ve found the smaller-sized tablets to be the technology I gravitate to rather than the larger size.

Size and weight, to me, make smaller-sized tablets the most useful in everyday life. In addition to the basics, like email, messaging, and light Internet browsing, smaller-sized tablets let you read books and stream media (e.g., Netflix, Hulu Plus) on a viewable-sized screen, in a package light and small enough to carry with you in a jacket pocket or purse. It's like Roger Ebert said in a recent Tweet: “I enjoy movies streaming via a good TV, but I will never, ever, watch one on a cell phone."

Larger tablets like my iPad stay at home on a coffee table near the living room couch. Not only is it bulky and heavy to use while traveling, iPads eschew mice. With my Android tablet I can hook up both a Bluetooth keyboard AND a mouse when I need to do real writing on the go. Apple fanboys are free to disagree.

Of course, there are plenty of advocates on both sides of the 10 vs. 7-inch debate. (Here’s a pro-10-inch blog, and a 7-inch advocate.)

For now though, the field is skewed: The 7-inch field has been left to Android tablet producers. If Apple does enter the smaller tablet fray, it will elevate the smaller tablet size to equal status with larger versions.

I’ve also ordered the new Nexus 7 tablet, although with some trepidation. While the reviews, including hands-on reports, have been mostly sensational, it bothers me that the hardware lacks a slot for an expansion SD card, and there’s no “outside” camera for picture-taking.

Still, the tablet's positive aspects are simply too good to pass up: it's the size I like, extremely lightweight, with the killer new Android Jelly Bean operating system, a powerful processor, great screen resolution, a long-lasting battery and more. At $199 — $249 for the 16-gigabyte version — it's a bargain I can’t refuse.

Some compare the Nexus 7 to the Amazon Kindle, and with good reason. Amazon was the first to drive consumption of its vast content resources — books, music, video, games and apps — through its 7-inch tablet and Google is doing much the same with the Nexus 7. But Google, unlike Amazon, doesn't limit access to other book stores, music providers, etc. That's a major selling point for me.

I’ve ordered the 16-gigabyte version, not the 8-gigabyte. Adding apps to your tablets add up and without an expansion card to accommodate downloaded files or heavy-duty memory-eating games, that on-board memory can turn into a brick wall. PC World’s Nexus 7 review spells out the expansion issue forcefully.

Either way, I’m waiting eagerly for that thump at my front door, telling me my newest toy has arrived.


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