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Windows RT Surface vs. Nexus 7

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October 18, 2012

Is the smaller Nexus 7 a match for the full-sized Surface?

Is the smaller Nexus 7 a match for the full-sized Surface?

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The tablet wars have begun. Though the iPad remains in the driver's seat, the last year has shown strong competition from several other companies. Two tablets that will be duking it out for your dollars this holiday season are the Microsoft Surface RT and Google/Asus Nexus 7. Let's see how these two (radically different) tablets compare.

Dimensions

They're almost as different as two tablets can be
They're almost as different as two tablets can be

Nobody is going to get these two confused. Surface is a full-sized tablet, while Nexus 7 is a mini-tablet. Microsoft's slate is intended for landscape mode, while Asus' is primarily a portrait device.

Despite its much larger build (or maybe because of it?), Surface is a bit thinner than the Nexus 7.

Weight

Surface is twice as heavy as the Nexus 7
Surface is twice as heavy as the Nexus 7

Surface is exactly twice as heavy as the Nexus 7. This lends itself to Microsoft's more productivity-focused brand, while the Nexus 7 is more in line with the Kindle Fire. They're both great for casual one-handed reading, browsing, and gaming.

Display

Until we see it, we're skeptical of Microsoft's raves about Surface's display
Until we see it, we're skeptical of Microsoft's raves about Surface's display

Microsoft insists that its ClearType display boosts the "perceived resolution" in Surface, but until we get our hands on one, we're skeptical. For a 2012 tablet, Surface's resolution is sub-par. It barely has more pixels than the Nexus 7, despite toting an extra 3.6 (diagonal) inches.

Processor

The tablets' Tegra 3 chips are fraternal twins
The tablets' Tegra 3 chips are fraternal twins

The tablets' chips are almost identical. Both rock NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoCs; the only difference is that Surface sports the (slightly higher clocked) T30 model, while the Nexus has the T30L.

RAM

Double the RAM for Surface
Double the RAM for Surface

This could potentially give Surface the edge in performance, as its 2GB of RAM double the 1GB in Nexus 7.

Storage

Surface offers much more storage, but that may be changing soon
Surface offers much more storage, but that may be changing soon

These numbers could be changing soon. Leaks have shown a 32GB Nexus 7 model coming for the holidays at the same price point as the present 16GB model. As it stands now, though, Surface offers more storage.

Wireless

Nothing but Wi-Fi
Nothing but Wi-Fi

Neither device (at present) offers mobile data. You'll need a Wi-Fi network to connect to both tablets.

Cameras

Microsoft's cameras are a mystery, while the Nexus 7 only sports a front-facing shooter
Microsoft's cameras are a mystery, while the Nexus 7 only sports a front-facing shooter

Microsoft hasn't revealed the full specifications for Surface's cameras, but it does have two "720p HD" shooters. The Nexus 7 only sports a front-facing camera.

Battery

This looks like a huge advantage for Microsoft, but the Nexus 7 gets terrific battery life
This looks like a huge advantage for Microsoft, but the Nexus 7 gets terrific battery life

Surface's battery hardware is superior, but it's also powering a larger display. The Nexus 7 gets terrific battery life, though, and Microsoft would be fortunate to see similar uptimes.

Intangibles

Windows RT and Touch Cover, or the more established Google Play? (Android image: kamotegir...
Windows RT and Touch Cover, or the more established Google Play? (Android image: kamotegirl)

As physically different as the two devices are, they may differ even more in software. Surface runs the new Windows RT branch of Windows 8, while the Nexus 7 runs Android 4.1, Jellybean. Since Windows RT doesn't run traditional Windows desktop software, the Nexus 7 has a big advantage in terms of apps. Microsoft has worked with developers to make sure Windows Store doesn't launch as a ghost town, but it has some catching up to do.

The Touch Cover keyboard is Surface's killer feature. As an optional add-on (an extra US$100 bundled, or $120 separately), it can quickly transform the tablet into something resembling a laptop. The accessory features unique pressure-sensitive keys, and it can fold over to protect the display (similar to Apple's Smart Covers). The tablet's built-in kickstand and bundled Microsoft Office only accentuate its work-oriented brand.

... then there's the matter of price. The 32GB Surface (without keyboard) costs US$500, while the 8GB Nexus 7 is a mere $200. For the price of one Surface, you could buy two Nexus tablets and still pocket $100. Apple sells $500 iPads in bunches, but it's the established market-leader; Microsoft is walking on shaky ground with its unproven Surface.

Summing up

Surface and Nexus 7 are two different devices, with different strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is angling for a new kind of device with Surface: a tablet that takes a bit more from laptops, and a bit less from smartphones. Whether that works for you is your call, but remember that few outside of Microsoft have even touched one. Until the device gets in customers' hands, much is still a mystery.

The Nexus 7 is already established as one of the best 7-inch tablets on the market. The iPad Mini, however, is looming on the horizon. Unless you're fervently pro-Android or anti-Apple, it couldn't hurt to wait for the event before plunking down for a new Nexus 7.

What do you think: was Microsoft smart to go straight for the high end of the tablet market, or would it have been wise to start with something more affordable? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
7 Comments

This Christmas season the big bucks are going to go for the Mini tablet market, Apple may or may not price appropriately memoried Minis to make the IPad Mini a practical option.

The Nexus is a great general purpose proven and software available 7" Android Tablet. And the new 32gb one will seriously up the Ante.

The Surface was made and priced to compete with the Full sized IPad, and hardware wise it comes close, with screen resolution being a major disappointment.

But software wise for the Surface RT barely exists.

Right now the Surface RT is for Windows RT developers and people who want a tiny word processor.

Microsoft is in this for the long haul and probably has no illusions about capturing the Christmas market. They will eventually probably get Windows RT to be an effective competitor to Apple, but not anytime soon.

Apple on the other hand has one shot at the 7" market, and if they don't get their various Mini prices right, it is going to cause them more harm than good.

Gary R McCray
18th October, 2012 @ 06:48 pm PDT

@Garry. There are already over 5000 apps on the "Windows Store" that are compatible with Windows RT. That's alot. I don't think Android has that many tablet apps yet...there are alot of scaled up phone apps for Android tablets but barely any proper tablet apps.

Aron Mayo
18th October, 2012 @ 10:26 pm PDT

I will get the Windows 8 tablet with Intel CPU and backward compatibility and not Windows RT ARM CPU

also a proper universal BT tablet keyboard that works with PC, Tablet & Smartphone like New K810 by Logitech

Khaled Mourad
19th October, 2012 @ 04:11 am PDT

Win8 is a complex, next generation software that requires next generation processors. You cannot load it into the same low spec package that is being used for Android. The Surface RT is the bottom end and when the Haswell processors hit then W8 will be ushering in the post PC era.

Munoz-Nieves Jose
19th October, 2012 @ 10:22 am PDT

@Aron Mayo

Android has over 400,000 apps -- bit more than less than 5,000.

Ben Hammond
19th October, 2012 @ 03:09 pm PDT

The Nexus 7 doesn't compare with the Surface. The surface is a PC that connects to printers, external hard drives, monitors and TVs. Also, there was not one mention of the fact that the Surface comes preloaded with Microsft Office. The Surface can replace a laptop or a PC. And because it has a keyboard, it is all a student needs for a school computer. The Nexus 7 and comparable tablets are only additional devices that cannot replace a PC. They are not comparable to the Surface.

Brenton Klassen
19th October, 2012 @ 07:13 pm PDT

I'll buy one of each if they support user replaceable batteries....

Dennis Learned
19th October, 2012 @ 08:13 pm PDT
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