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Review: Google's New $199 Killer Tablet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This is a 7-inch tablet made by Asus that is running the pure Google (GOOG) "Nexus" version of Android, and it will be shipping within the next couple of weeks. You can buy it directly from Google for a bargain $199 by going to play.google.com and order it already.

The first thing on the investor's mind is of course: Is this a threat to Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN)? The answer is yes, but with some caveats with respect to Apple. This little tablet powerhouse offers most of the iPad's performance at the price of the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is a powerful proposition -- for those who have a chance to try it.

But for many reasons, in its current format it will not knock Apple off its market-leading position. Let's just start with marketing. A tablet is something most people buy only after having touched it and played with it. The place to do that is the Apple store. Game over.

Google doesn't have stores, and physical retailers who may carry this tablet in the future are, in the consumer's minds, relatively seedy places such as Fry's and Best Buy (BBY) -- simply not in the same league as the Apple stores. The only competitor to those are the Microsoft (MSFT) stores, but there are only 20 or so of those, and obviously they won't be carrying this Google-based product.

I will be discussing the actual product metrics below, but until Google opens 500 or so stores world-wide, in premium locations, just like Apple, it can offer a superior product all day long, at lower prices, and Apple will remain the market leader. Google has tens of billions of dollars in cash, and this is the best way invest it, capische?

All right, so what about the actual product? The answer is that it is excellent. Class-leading. Second to none. Let's start by outlining the positives:

  • 1. Basic physics: Unlike the iPad, this tablet is very light, so you can easily hold it with one hand. It's also got an outstanding rubberized back, making it non-slippery. While the iPad is slippery and requires a protective cover, the Asus Nexus 7 is light and grippy. The overall quality feel is essentially flawless. The price is $199, but it feels like $499.
  • 2. Screen: 800x1280 in a 7-inch form factor is not as good as the new iPad 3, but it's close enough. It is not the best display in the industry, but 99% of users will not have any complaint at all.
  • 3. Ports: There is really only one thing of note here, and that is that this tablet may be the first after the BlackBerry PlayBook to charge via standard MicroUSB. I ranted about this before in this article from March 24, 2011. Anyway, this is a huge relief compared to almost every other tablet in the market. You no longer have to keep track of a separate charger for the tablet. Just use the same one that works with every smartphone in the market -- except the iPhone, of course.
  • 4. WiFi: Here is a bit of a sad note. The Asus Nexus 7 supports only 2.4 GHz -- not the much more capable 5 GHz version of 802.11n WiFi. It is funny that Google would introduce this device, and hand out some 6,000 units to developers, at its annual i/o event in San Francisco, when their conference attendee name tag reads as follows: "To avoid excessive interference on the 2.4 GHz frequencies and ensure yourself the best connectivity experience at Google I/O, we recommend that attendees use 5 GHz capable WiFi devices wherever possible."
    Yeah, except the device you just handed out to those 6,000 people. According to Google: "Good for me, but not for thee."
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