And not only is Google's Nexus 7 affordable at $209 for the eight-gigabyte version, or $259 for 16 gigabytes of storage, it's also a worthy rival to Apple's iPad.
With the Asus-manufactured Nexus 7, Google accomplishes what Research in Motion couldn't when it released its PlayBook back in Sept. 2010, which had a similar screen size of about 18 centimetres.
RIM's tablet was a buggy mess at launch, had few apps to offer consumers, and was priced in line with the iPad. While some did prefer its smaller size for carrying around versus the iPad's 25-centimetre screen, there were few other reasons to consider a PlayBook. It simply didn't come close to matching up. Software updates and price reductions have made it a more compelling option but it's still no iPad. There's been a slew of cut-rate tablets released since the PlayBook, most using Google's Android operating system, but none have really impressed.
The Nexus 7, on the other hand, is a formidable competitor to the latest iPad — and at about half the price. For browsing the web, playing games, watching videos and reading ebooks, it performs just about as well as the iPad. It also has a long battery life, with Google promising up to eight hours of video playback or 10 hours of book reading or web browsing on a charge.
One way Google kept the price of the Nexus 7 low was by not including the ability to connect to the Internet via mobile 3G or LTE networks. The only way to get online is with Wi-Fi, which may be a sticking point for some buyers. But those who find they almost always have a Wi-Fi network within range, or don't want to pay for a data plan anyway, won't mind.
The screen size is another polarizing feature. Some will find the smaller screen makes the Nexus 7 easier to commute with on a daily basis. It'll even — just barely — fit into some pants pockets. And even iPad users will probably find it doesn't take long to get used to the smaller screen, which still manages to do a good job of displaying websites. But some will no doubt find it just a little too small and will prefer sticking with a larger tablet.
And, of course, the other big difference between the Nexus 7 and the iPad is software. The Nexus 7 is preloaded with the latest version of Android, codenamed Jelly Bean, and it performs smoothly. Touch gestures feel almost as intuitive and slick as on Apple's iPads and iPhones — almost. But while the selection of apps, games, movies and books in Google's Play Store is strong and growing, it still isn't quite as robust as Apple's App Store.
There are persistent rumours that Apple is planning its own 18-centimetre iPad and that Google simply beat it to the punch. Apple's most hardcore loyalists probably won't pick up a Nexus 7 if they believe a similar-sized iPad will soon become available, and other consumers may also decide to wait.
Apple CEO Tim Cook bragged Tuesday that the market has been flooded with iPad rivals but none have sold really well.
"I still think ... most customers feel that they're not really looking for a tablet," Cook said, "they're just looking for an iPad."
But who knows if and when an "iPad Mini" might surface, and whether Apple will price a smaller tablet as low as the Nexus 7.
For anyone who wants to buy a tablet — right now — and is keen on saving some money, the Nexus 7 is an excellent choice. Even without taking price into consideration, it's a solid gadget that many will find is just about as good as an iPad.