terça-feira, 30 de julho de 2013

Google Nexus 7 (2013) Review: Aggressively Specced, Aggressively Priced

When Google announced its first Nexus 7 tablet, built by ASUS, back in mid-2012, it was clearly destined to make the budget tablet market skyrocket. For a very low $199 price tag, the Nexus 7 offered excellent performance, good built quality, and virtually immediate Android updates. It was a cost-performance paradise, so unsurprisingly it quickly became extremely popular. Now, one year later, when the OG Nexus 7 is growing long in the teeth, Google and ASUS took cost-performance to a whole new level again with the new Nexus 7.

The refreshed 7-incher offers one of the fastest processors and a 1080p display, while keeping a very slim profile and record-breaking weight, all for just $30 more. Of course, competitors are in a catch-up state, but for now, the new Nexus 7 is clearly and by far the best budget tablet, and is also certainly the best cost-performance tablet ever made. 

(2013) Google Nexus 7 Apple iPad mini ASUS MeMO Pad 7 HD
Body 200 x 114 x 8.65 mm, 290g (299g with LTE) 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm, 308g (312g with LTE) 196.8 x 120.6 x 10.8mm, 302g
Display 7" 1920 x 1200 (323ppi) LED-Backlit IPS w/ Corning Gorilla Glass 7.9" 1024 x 768 (163ppi) LED-Backlit IPS 7" 1280 x 800 (216ppi) LED-Backlit IPS
Storage 16/32 GB, 2 GB RAM 16/32/64 GB, 512 MB RAM 8/16 GB, 1 GB RAM
Connectivity Wi-Fi only version and Wi-Fi + GSM (2G) + HSDPA (3G) + LTE (4G) version Wi-Fi only version and Wi-Fi + GSM (2G) + HSDPA (3G) + LTE (4G) version Wi-Fi only
Camera (rear) 5 MP w/ autofocus, face detection, 1080p video 5 MP iSight camera w/ face detection and autofocus, 1080p video 5 MP w/ autofocus
Camera (front) 1.2 MP 1.2 MP with 720p video 1.2 MP
OS Android 4.3 iOS 7 Android 4.2.2
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (28nm): Quad-core Krait @ 1.5 GHz + Adreno 320 GPU Apple A5 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.0GHz + PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU MTK 8125: Quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 @ 1.2GHz + Mali-400 GPU
Battery Li-Polymer 3950 mAh (15Wh), up to 9 hours usage Li-Polymer 16.3Wh, up to 10 hours usage Li-Polymer 15Wh, up to 10 hours usage
Price $229 for Wi-Fi 16 GB version $329 for Wi-Fi 16 GB version $129 for 8 GB version and $149 for 16 GB version


The new Nexus 7 isn't radically different from the old iteration, but the differences are notable and much appreciated. The back design gets a makeover, since it changes the textured rubbery back of the OG Nexus 7 for a plain, still a bit rubbery plastic, resembling the Nexus 10's feel, which makes the back look cleaner. Strangely, Google didn't make it clear whether they wanted the new Nexus 7 to be used more in landscape or in portrait mode. The vast majority of smaller tablets, including the 2012 Nexus 7, are tailored for use in portrait mode, but the new Nexus 7 gives some indication of wanting to be used in landscape. For instance, the Nexus logo on the back is oriented in landscape (but the smaller ASUS logo beneath it is in portrait.....hmmm weird), and the stereo speakers are both positioned on the tablet's top and bottom sides (when in portrait).

Apart from that, the back contains the 5 MP shooter at the top left corner. Aside from that orientation shortcoming, the back of the new Nexus 7 does look significantly more premium than its older counterpart.

The front of the device is very similar to the OG Nexus 7, with the exception the the vertical bezels are slightly thinner, and there is now a notification LED below the display. The tablet's dimensions are impressive for a device with its price, and indeed, the new Nexus 7 does feel much thinner and lighter than its older version. The thickness comes in at 8.7mm; not as thin as the iPad mini (7.2mm), but still a significant improvement over the OG Nexus 7's 10.4mm girth. Impressively, the new Nexus 7 sets the record as the lightest tablet ever, weighing just 290g (299g for the LTE version), it's lighter than the iPad mini (308g, 312g with LTE) and much lighter than its predecessor (340g, 347g with 3G). Especially for its price, the new Nexus 7 is one very svelte device. 


People have been wondering how long it would take for Apple to release a Retina iPad mini. Well, Google beat them to it. The new Nexus 7's display has a pixel density that sits squarely in the Retina range, and is actually the tablet with the highest ppi ever. 1920 x 1200 pixels in that 7" IPS display results in an extremely crisp 323ppi pixel density. It blows the iPad mini's mediocre 163ppi and the OG Nexus 7's 216ppi out of the water, displaying razor sharp text and bright, crisp images. The LED-Backlit IPS technology also means that the new Nexus 7 will have excellent viewing angles and vivid color reproduction. There's no question about it; the new Nexus 7 has by far the best display in the 7/8-inch tablet market, and quite possibly the best display in the entire tablet space.


Guess what? Google also gave performance a huge upgrade with the new Nexus 7. The refreshed 7-incher doesn't have a particularly new SoC, but it's definitely one of the fastest. The SoC in question is Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC, which consists of a very fast Quad-core Krait CPU clocked at 1.5GHz and a very juicy Adreno 320 GPU. With that kind of performance, the new Nexus 7 will definitely be one of the fastest tablets in existence, and will be quite the gaming machine, especially with the crisp, bright display. 

Pricing and Conclusion

I may be wrong, but from my point of view, there is absolutely nothing to complain about the new Nexus 7. As it's a Nexus device, it will be the first to receive Android OS updates for many years to come. It offers an improved build quality with better looks, it's much lighter and thinner, placing itself as the lightest tablet ever. It has an outstanding display, probably the best display ever seen in a tablet, and it's performance is excellent, making it a good gaming machine. I may be getting ahead of myself here, but the new Nexus 7 is basically one of the, if not the, best tablet ever made. And to make it almost perfect, it's also very budget friendly. It's a bit more expensive than the OG Nexus 7, but it's still significantly cheaper than the much more lackluster iPad mini. Starting at $229 for the Wi-Fi only version with 16 GB (pricing for the LTE version is still unknown), the Nexus 7 is the bargain of the century. Well done, ASUS and Google!

sábado, 20 de julho de 2013

Acer Iconia W3 Review: 8.1-inch Windows 8 tablet

Ever since the OG Kindle Fire, smaller 7/8-inch tablets have been growing at a very fast pace. Today, Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad mini even threaten to outsell their larger counterparts. Seeing how lucrative this form factor has become, the eventual launch of a Windows-based 7/8-incher seemed inevitable. Windows RT/8 running tablets so far only employed the largest form factors in the tablet industry due to its productivity-oriented nature, ranging from 10.1" and 11.6" to an unbearable 13". Well, today we are finally being introduced to the world's first 8-inch (8.1-inch actually) Windows tablet. And it's not even Windows RT, it's full blown Windows 8 (at this point RT seems practically dead to me). Acer's Iconia W3 8.1-inch tablet puts the complete Windows experience in a very small form factor.

C'mon, it's a Windows 8 tablet, it should have a keyboard dock! Well, an 8-inch keyboard dock would be almost impossible to comfortably type on, so Acer did something very unusual, yet effective. They designed a keyboard dock for the W3, but it didn't turn the tablet into a hybrid laptop, instead it was just.... a dock you fitted the tablet into. The dock is actually larger than the tablet itself, so it looks very weird, but it's at least user-friendly.

Strange as it looks, it is the only way of designing a keyboard dock for a smaller tablet. Which, by the way, makes the Iconia W3 the only small tablet to offer a keyboard dock. 

Acer Iconia W3 Google Nexus 7 Apple iPad mini
Body 218.2 x 134.6 x 10.2 mm, 499g 198.5 x 120 x 10.5 mm, 340g 200 x 134.7 x 7.2 mm, 308g
Display 8.1" 1280 x 800 (187ppi) LED-Backlit TFT 7" 1280 x 800 (216ppi) LED-Backlit IPS 7.9" 1024 x 768 (163ppi) LED-Backlit IPS
Storage 32/64 GB, 2 GB (LRDDR2) RAM 16/32 GB, 1 GB (DDR3L) RAM 16/32/64 GB, 512 MB (LPDDR2) RAM
Camera Front and rear HD webcams 1.2 MP front camera w/ 720p video, no rear camera 1.2 MP front camera w/ 720p video, 5 MP iSight rear camera w/ 1080p video
OS Windows 8 Android 4.2 Jelly Bean iOS 6
Chipset Intel Atom Z2760 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core Saltwell (4 threads) @ 1.5GHz + PowerVR SGX 545 NVIDIA Tegra 3 (40nm): Quad-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz + 12-core GeForce GPU Apple A5 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.0GHz + PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU
Battery Li-Polymer 6800 mAh, up to 8 hours usage Li-Ion 4325 mAh, up to 10 hours usage Li-Polymer 16.3Wh, up to 10 hours usage
Price $379 for 32 GB, dock: $79 $199 for 16 GB $329 for 16 GB


It's hard to tell what orientation the Iconia W3 is meant to be used in. The Acer logos are placed in landscape mode, but the Home button and the front facing camera are in portrait orientation. But since this is an 8-inch tablet, it's more comfortably used in portrait mode. The plastic back cover is made of a silver plastic, which gives a false metallic look to it. The rear camera is placed in the top right corner, and below it is a slightly large Acer logo. The front of the device consists of the awkwardly positioned Acer logo to the right of the 8.1-inch display, above which is the front-facing camera. Under the display's bottom bezel there's a white, tablet-wide strip housing the centered Windows Start button.

Except for the bottom one, the bezels around the display are very thin, which is the only good thing in an otherwise strange-looking design. The tablet is reasonably thin at 10.2mm, on par with the Nexus 7 (10.4mm), but its a bit too heavy for its size, weighing 499g versus the Nexus 7's 340g and the iPad mini's 308g. Even the 10-inch Sony Xperia Tablet Z weighs the same, at 495g. It shouldn't make one-handed use something impossible, but it will feel less comfortable in hand. 


Acer got a variety of details either right or wrong with the Iconia W3's display. They weren't stupid enough to use a 16:9 display, for starters. As small tablets are used primarily in portrait mode, and 16:9 is far too narrow and long in portrait, Acer made the good decision to use a 16:10 display, unlike all other Windows 8 tablets. 8.1" is a perfect size for holding the device in one hand, the size being on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and the iPad mini.

The resolution of 1280 x 800 is not bad for its size. A pixel density of about 187ppi, on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and definitely better than the iPad mini's 163ppi, should provide pretty sharp text and images. The only problem is the display technology Acer picked. A TFT display doesn't usually provide very good colors, and don't expect viewing angles to be good either. The iPad mini's and Nexus 7's IPS enhanced display will definitely provide much more saturated colors and better viewing angles.

Also, Windows 8 was never seen on a 8" package before, but I expect that, while the tile-based interface and its apps will scale very well, any desktop apps, and the desktop itself, will be practically unusable, as text will be probably too small to even read. 

As desktop apps a) don't have their interface optimized for use in small devices and b) will probably display text that is far too small, I think Acer should've gone with Windows RT for this one.

Being able to run legacy apps is only useful if you can actually use them, which generally isn't the case with the Iconia W3, so they would be better off with Windows RT. The ARM-based OS would even give Acer a wide variety of SoCs to choose from, as opposed to the Atom, which is the only option for (portable) Windows 8 tablets. 

Performance and Battery Life

I've gone over the Intel Atom's performance many times, since it's the only x86 SoC with a TDP low enough for ultra-portable devices. Basically, it's an SoC built on 32nm HKMG process, consisting of two x86 Saltwell cores @ 1.5GHz (make it four threads thanks to HT), plus the old, weak PowerVR SGX 545 GPU core @ 533MHz. The average CPU should allow for all basic tasks to be executed fairly quickly, although I wouldn't expect any smoothness with legacy apps. 

The weak SGX 545 GPU, while being enough to render the Windows 8 UI smoothly, won't perform very well in any of the few games in the Windows Store. The GPU core is miles behind the best current mobile GPUs.

Acer claims up to 8 hours of video playback with this tablet, and while this doesn't sound very good compared to the Nexus 7's and the iPad mini's 10 hours of video playback, it's pretty good compared to other Windows 8 tablets. 

Pricing and Conclusion

For $379 you can get the 32 GB Iconia W3, and an extra $79 will get you that weird keyboard dock. In comparison, the 32 GB Nexus 7 costs $249, while the 32 GB iPad mini costs slightly more, at $429 (the same price for the 64 GB Iconia W3). For an 8-inch tablet, it's not overpriced, really. 

The Acer Iconia W3 is unique, in the sense that it has all the features of a productivity-oriented tablet, as in, it runs Windows 8, and offers a keyboard dock, in a small, 8-inch package. It distinguishes itself amongst the other 7/8-inchers, which are all about entertainment and media consumption. Commendable as Acer's attempts are, I still think that 8-inches just isn't right for productive uses. 

As a standalone tablet, the Iconia W3 isn't very good. It basically brings Windows 8, and its sea of legacy apps, into a very portable form factor. Unfortunately, however, most legacy apps won't be properly operable, because they're tailored for larger displays, and the applications that would scale well to that size, that is, those on the Windows Store, are still scarce. Conclusion: Windows 8 is too much about productivity and too little about entertainment, and since 8-inchers are perfect for entertainment but too small for productivity, Acer's Iconia W3 is a very interesting attempt, but not even the larger keyboard will make it good for productivity, and it's not a good option until when Windows Store gets more entertainment content. 

terça-feira, 9 de julho de 2013

Tegra 4 NVIDIA "Pluto" Development Board Appears on GFXBench

NVIDIA Tegra 4 is just a few days away from making its debut in the consumer market, as the NVIDIA SHIELD is expected to ship this month. And just in time for Tegra 4's launch, GFXBench results of the Tegra 4 appeared on their database. The results in question are of a device named "NVIDIA Pluto" running on a 1.8GHz Tegra 4. The results are impressive, and some of the results even beat the iPad 4's monster GPU.

The device named Pluto runs on Android 4.2.2, the 1.8GHz Tegra 4 SoC powers a 1280 x 720 display. However, GFXBench reports a very unusual display resolution of 1196 x 720.

Don't take the Onscreen tests very seriously, as the Pluto device gets a huge resolution advantage over the iPad 4 (1280 x 720 vs 2048 x 1536). Now, considering the Offscreen tests, Pluto appears to have a slightly better result than the iPad 4 in the T-Rex HD test, however, the iPad 4 performs a bit better than the Tegra 4 in the Egypt HD test.

There's not much data to get on with here, but you can get an idea where the Tegra 4 is in relation to the competition. As in GFXBench Pluto performs significantly better than the Nexus 10's Mali-T604 and also outperforms any current Areno 320 device, it's safe to say Tegra 4 is the best SoC in Android territory and is even on par with the aggressively specced iPad 4. Well done NVIDIA, but I'm afraid their Android supremacy will be short-lived, as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC is also close to its debut, and its Adreno 330 GPU will almost certainly blow the Tegra 4 and even the iPad 4 out of the water.

As for what is the Pluto device, I did some digging and found that NVIDIA Pluto, along with a Windows 8-running "Covington" that I wrote about a few months ago, is a development board for Tegra 4, possibly a DevKit. Based on the benchmarks I've seen so far, the Tegra 4 is bound to be an impressive SoC, as it will offer 2x-3x the CPU performance of the latest iPad (the CPU will actually be one of the best mobile CPUs), lots of memory bandwidth and a GPU better than anything else on Android, that is on par with the iPad 4, all in a small ~80mm2 die; much smaller than the iPad 4's massive 123mm2 SoC. 

terça-feira, 2 de julho de 2013

Apple iPad mini review

The budget tablet market has thrived, first with the Amazon Kindle Fire and then with the excellent Nexus 7. After Android 7-inch tablets managed to make a dent in iPad sales, Apple had to win some of its lost market share back, and it (tried) to do so with the iPad mini. Apple's response to budget tablets is an extremely well built device and a pretty good display, but unfortunately it isn't really a budget tablet, as Android competitors offer as much, if not more, for much less money.

iPad mini Google Nexus 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Body 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm , 308g 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm, 340g 193 x 137 x 10.3mm, 395g
Display 7.9" 1024 x 768 (163ppi) LED-Backlit IPS w/ oleophobic coating 7" 1280 x 800 (216ppi) LED-backlit IPS 7" 1280 x 800 (216ppi) LED-backlit IPS
Storage 16/32/64 GB + 512 MB RAM 16/32 GB + 1 GB RAM 16/32 GB + 1 GB RAM
Camera (rear) 5 MP iSight camera w/ autofocus, F/2.4 aperture, face detection, 1080p video None None
Camera (front) 1.2 MP and 720p video w/ face detection 1.2 MP, 720p video 1.3 MP, no video
OS iOS 7 Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Custom Android 4.0
Chipset Apple A5 (32nm HKMG): Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 @ 1GHz + PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU + Dual-channel LPDDR2-800 memory NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30L (40nm): Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 420MHz + Single-channel DDR3L-1333 memory TI OMAP 4460 (45nm): Dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 @ 1.2GHz + PowerVR SGX540 GPU + Dual-channel LPDDR2 memory


There's no doubt of it; the iPad mini has by far the best design in the small tablet group. For starters, it's the slimmest of them all, measuring a mere 7.2mm of thickness (compared to the Nexus 7's 10.3mm), and it's also the lightest, weighing 308g (vs 340g in the Nexus 7). The iPad mini is one of the world's slimmest tablets, only beaten by the Xperia Tablet Z's 6.9mm body. Also, while other small tablets are made of plastic, the iPad mini's back is made of an aluminum unibody, hence it looks and feels much better than every other budget tablet. The iPad mini takes on a slightly different design than what has been on the iPad since 2011, as it gives up tapered edges in favor of a more rectangular body. The rest is the usual iDevice setup: black Apple logo in the center, device name (iPad) in the bottom, and a 5MP iSight camera on the top left. On the front, the iPad mini is very remiciscent to the iPhone, because the vertical bezels are surprisingly small. This is what keeps the iPad mini as portable as other 7-inch Androids, despite having a display almost one inch larger. Aside from that, the usual front-facing 1.2MP camera sits above the 7.9" display, and beneath the display is Apple's signature home button.


Quite uncharacteristic of Apple, but they made the iPad mini's display nothing special. That's not to mean that the iPad mini's display is a bad one, but it's not any better than its competition. One big win for the iPad mini's display is that it's larger than the competition (7.9" vs 7"). The difference isn't huge, but it does make the iPad mini noticeably better to use. I personally think that, for general use, the 4:3 aspect ratio is much better to use than the Androids' 16:10 screens, especially in the case of small tablets, as they're primarily used in portrait mode, and 16:10 is known for being too long and too narrow in portrait. The iPad mini's display, much like the Nexus 7's and the Kindle Fire HD's, is an IPS LED-Backlit display, which means that colors should be vivid, and viewing angles should be great. All good so far, but here's the achilles' heel of the iPad mini's display: resolution. The resolution of 1024 x 768 makes for a lackluster pixel density of 163ppi; very bad when compared to the Nexus 7's and the Kindle Fire HD's 1280 x 800 resolution and pixel density of 216ppi. As a result, text isn't very sharp and images/videos, not very clear in the iPad mini. But resolution aside, the iPad mini's display is ok.


Surprisingly, Apple also disregarded the performance factor in the iPad mini, as they used a 32nm die shrink of the Apple A5 (remember? the one that debuted in the iPad 2 in 2011). As expected, the iPad mini's very old SoC won't win any benchmarks, however it should be enough to deliver good performance (especially due to how streamlined iOS is). Even so, the performace that similar competitors boast is far superior. For a refresh, this Apple A5 is an SoC built on Samsung's 32nm HKMG process, consisting of two Cortex A9 cores @ 1.0GHz, and an old but still good PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processor. The Nexus 7, whose performance is admired, considering its $199 price tag, uses the once-premium NVIDIA Tegra 3 (T30L) SoC, which makes use of four Cortex A9 cores @ 1.3GHz and NVIDIA's own 12-core ULP GeForce GPU, which is on par with the Apple A5's GPU. Another similar competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, uses the Exynos 4412 chipset, which consists of four Cortex A9s @ 1.6GHz and a powerful Mali-400MP4 GPU. So, to break it down, the iPad mini has less than half the CPU performance compared to its competitors, but its GPU is on par with them. But, as this runs the ever so simple and optimized iOS, you would only ever have performance issues with the iPad mini if you try to play the most modern mobile games on it (e.g. NOVA 3 or Batman: The Dark Night Rises).


Now, this is the most important factor in this sector of the tablet market. The iPad mini, while supposed to be competitive with budget tablets like the Nexus 7, is way off in terms off price. While most noteworthy Android 7-inchers have a price tag of $199 (and sometimes even a bit less) for the 16 GB version, the iPad mini starts at a hefty $329 for 16 GB. And apart from being more than double the price, the iPad mini suffers from a generally worse display (albeit a slightly larger one) and worse performance than its main competitors. Considering that, I imagine the only reason someone would buy the iPad mini would be because of either the much better build quality, or the fact that it's available in an LTE version (many 7-inchers are Wi-Fi only, but the Nexus 7 is available with 3G connectivity), or if the buyer just really dislikes Android. Generally, though, there are overall better alternatives for a much lower price.