TORONTO - Google has done it again with the new Nexus 7, releasing a tablet that's just about as good as the market leader but far cheaper.
There was a lot to like about the original Nexus 7, which was launched last summer as a smaller, cheaper competitor to the iPad.
At that point, there weren't really any worthy rivals to Apple's tablet.
BlackBerry's PlayBook was an unmitigated disaster and most of the Android-based tablets on the market were at best capable, but mostly uninspiring.
The Nexus 7, which pre-dated the iPad Mini by a few months, finally gave consumers a compelling alternative to consider and at a dirt cheap price: just $199 for an eight-gigabyte model.
Google recently released a refreshed Nexus 7 and while it's a little more expensive than the previous version, it's once again a serious iPad threat.
As its name implies, the Nexus 7 is built around a seven-inch screen that's super sharp with 323 pixels per inch, which is better than the standard Apple set with its so-called Retina Display technology. It means good quality photos look razor sharp, text is crisp and easy on the eyes, and high definition video streaming from Netflix or YouTube looks great.
Despite its low price the cheapest 16-gigabyte version sells for $229 through the Google Play online store compared to the iPad Mini at $349 the Nexus 7 is built with excellent hardware, including a quad-core processor and two gigabytes of RAM. It never feels slow to use, whether you're surfing the web, watching video or playing games.
Its cameras, however, aren't top notch. The 1.2-megapixel camera for video conferencing is pretty standard but the five-megapixel rear-facing camera for pictures and HD video is merely adequate.
The tablet is lightweight at 290 grams, or about two-thirds of a pound, and Google says you can watch nine hours of HD-quality video or browse the web for 10 hours before draining the battery.
All in all the Nexus 7 offers great bang for your buck, with a few negligible compromises made in exchange for a cut-rate price. Even the high-end version with LTE connectivity and 32 gigabytes of storage which is not yet available for sale is priced at only $349. A comparable iPad Mini is $559. As with the original Nexus 7, you have to wonder if Google making any money at all on these tablets.
The only question with the new Nexus 7 is whether it'll suffer from growing pains as its predecessor did. Although it's not a universal gripe among all owners, many have complained that the original tablet got slower and slower with time and eventually became nearly unusable without a software reset or some other user-unfriendly troubleshooting.
There have also been some early reports of bugs in the first units of the new Nexus 7 to be delivered, including issues with the GPS shutting itself off for some users. Google has already released a software update to address the problems.
Assuming Google continues to pay close attention to the known issues and any others that might crop up, the new Nexus 7 is a no-brainer for consumers seeking an iPad-like experience on a budget.