Nexus 7 Beats the Pants off Kindle Fire

I've been using the new Nexus 7 Google tablet since I obtained one at the Google developer conference late last week. I also own a Kindle Fire, which I use regularly for reading and watching movies. After just a short time it's clear that the Nexus 7 beats the Kindle Fire, the best-selling Android tablet to date, by a mile.

Outside of the Amazon content universe the Kindle Fire offers a generally sloppy and lackluster tablet experience. Whether you agree depends on your expectations and whether or not you own an iPad. Some people argue that Kindle Fire, as a basic Kindle upgrade is great for the price. But as an owner of two iPads, my view is that it offers a poor overall experience beyond the borders and boundaries of Amazon's media and shopping content.

Beyond this, I'm not a fan of Android tablets in general. I owned the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, which was a real clunker next to the iPad. That's partly because there were and still are so few tablet apps for Android. Indeed, none of the 10-inch competitors to the iPad have sold well. By contrast Kindle Fire sold because there’s no Apple entry in the 7-inch category. But its rock-bottom $199 price and the Amazon brand were the big drivers of sales, which have now slowed.

Yet the Kindle Fire tablet is an Android device in a technical sense only; it marginalizes Google. Accordingly Google felt compelled to act and the company has now taken direct aim at Kindle Fire with its new 7-inch tablet, built by Taiwan computer maker ASUS. It’s priced identically at $199 (although there's a $249 version with more memory). Google has also followed Amazon’s lead and made content from its "Google Play" store a major part of the Nexus 7 experience.

After a week of very heavy use, I'm very pleased with the performance of the Google device. If I think of it as a tablet it still falls short of the iPad by a considerable margin. However if I think of it as a larger smartphone it's great.

It fits easily in your hand and the larger (than a smartphone) screen makes almost everything better about the experience. There are still relatively few tablet apps, and the 7-inch size is awkward in certain respects. Steve Jobs referred to it as a “tweener." It doesn’t fit in your pocket like a smartphone but doesn’t offer the full-screen experience of the iPad. However smartphone-optimized apps and mobile websites don't look as awkward on a 7-inch screen as they do on a 10-inch Android screen.

Unless you're a loyal Amazon Prime customer and/or a very heavy Kindle user, in choosing between the Fire and the Nexus 7, there's no question about which device to buy: the Nexus 7.

It offers such a superior experience for virtually everything you'd do on a tablet -- and you can download the Kindle reader Android app. Indeed, the full range of Android apps are available from Google Play. On the Amazon tablet you get a subset of Android apps (no Google Maps for example).

Google should have a very successful product in the Nexus 7. The one major challenge is that right now there’s no retail distribution. Google is selling it directly through the Google Play store. And while there’s a huge installed base of Android users who are the primary market for this device, Google will need Best Buy and other retailers to offer the Nexus 7 before it can realize its full sales potential.