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Google’s Nexus 7 Tablet: The Best $200 You Can Spend on a Gadget Right Now

Microsoft is making tablets now, so why shouldn’t Google? The company behind the Android phone/tablet operating system (plus the Chrome web browser, Gmail and a pretty big search engine) is jumping into the hardware game with the Nexus 7, a seven-inch touchscreen tablet that will sell for $199.

Dan: With a 7-inch screen, the Nexus 7 isn’t really competing against the 9.7-inch iPad, though rumors of a 7-inch iPad are rearing their head again. This is aimed at the Amazon Kindle Fire and, to a lesser extent, the Barnes & Noble Nook tablet. These are all 7-inch tablets that cost $199, and each ties in with a big movie, music, and book ecosystem.

Libe: I’m an unapologetic iPad fan, but in terms of the more affordable tablets, I’ve always preferred the Kindle Fire. That’s not because of the hardware or tech specs, but because Amazon has a superior book and magazine selection in the Kindle Book store, plus Amazon Instant Video and the Amazon MP3 store. It’s the closest you can get to the Apple online shopping experience without spending more than twice as much for an iPad.

The Google Play store, which is the multimedia backbone of the Nexus 7, comes close to mimicking the Apple and Amazon experience. You can find a decent selection of movies, music, and books, but at this point, people are more likely to have a big investment in Apple or Amazon for content, which may work against Google in the long run.

Dan: On the other hand, the big advantage the Nexus 7 has is that it’s a pretty stock Android tablet (unlike the Kindle and Nook, which force you into a proprietary storefront view), it’s easy to find and install apps such as Netflix or games. I think the ability to install and run a much wider range of apps, much as one would on an iPad, is really going to sell this over the other 7-inch tablets.

Libe: Apps as the big selling point? Really? Only major tech nerds are really into finding and installing apps. I’d argue that the majority of people are just looking a basic web reader or movie player, and any of these 7-inch tablets will work fine for that. All of these tablets also pretty much look the same: glossy screen, thin body, black bezel. You know, like an iPad. The Nook looks a little more toy-like, but I bet that’ll change in the next version.

Dan: That’s why it’s so important for people to give devices like this a hands-on test drive before buying. At least you can try the iPad and Nook in stores easily. When I got a chance to play with the not-yet-released Nexus 7 tablet, the thing that really jumped out to me was how responsive the touch screen was. Using a Kindle Fire, for example, there’s just the tiniest amount of lag, which really made it feel sluggish compared to an iPad.

The Nexus is the first 7-inch tablet I’ve tried that feels just as fast, and that’s because it has a much better CPU and graphics system (Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3, if you’re into specs) than other 7-inch tablets, and a higher resolution screen. Put another way, this is probably the most advanced technology you can buy for $199 right now.

The Google Nexus 7 is available for pre-order now. The 8GB version is $199, the 16GB version is $249. Both are expected to ship in late July.