I’ve been alternating between the iPad mini and Nexus 7 tablet for over a month now and a clear winner has emerged. But first, a note about these two devices as applied to schools. That was the original genesis of my interest in both. Unfortunately, neither device meets the minimum requirements for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing. This takes both out of play for student use. Perhaps that might change in the future, but for now I don’t recommend purchasing large numbers of devices unless they can run the new state testing regime.
As for teacher use, I came across on interesting discovery while testing iPads as Document Cameras the other day. Running an iPad3 as a doc camera using the rear facing camera works great. The image is clear and can be zoomed in without loss of quality. A critical feature when wanting to display text to a room full of 2nd graders. However, when I switched to the iPad Mini I found that zooming in on text produced pixelated and blurry images. Doing some research (ok, I googled “iPad mini camera”) I discovered that the camera on the mini isn’t so great. Since replacing $500 doc cams with iPads is a big selling point for me at the moment, the weak camera performance rules out the mini for teachers. The Nexus 7 with it’s lack of a rear facing camera doesn’t qualify for use as a doc cam at all and it’s lack of AirPlay Mirroring further limits it’s effectiveness as a teacher presentation tool in my opinion.
So, bottom line, both the iPad mini and the nexus 7 aren’t a good fit for schools. But when it comes to personal use, it’s another story.
In my month of daily use, a clear winner has emerged for me personally. While the Nexus 7 is an excellent tablet and it’s the only android tablet I’m recommending to my budget conscious friends, my media lives in the apple echo system. As such, I’ve worked out a system for media access that works great for me. I use a product called Air Video Server to play all the DivX files I’ve accumulated over the years (you do remember DivX, don’t you? It was great for compressing all those DVDs). While I’m slowly converting to H.264, Air Video on the iPad Mini streams non-H.264 content to an iOS device like a champ. Paired with AirPlay Mirroring to the AppleTV on the big screen and I have a complete media streaming service that works across all of the iOS devices in the house. iPhones (3GS to 4S) and iPads (iPad2, iPad3 & iPad Mini). If only Apple would release Apps for AppleTV, I could cut out the middle man and stream direct from the Air Video Server to the AppleTV.
Now, before you lambast me with comments, yes, I am aware of alternative, non-apple solutions to my particular media problem. I’ve tried most of them at one point in time or another. XBMC, MythTV, Windows Media Center, Plex, etc… None has worked as seamlessly and effortlessly as Air Video Server. To the point that my Wife and my 7 year old can both now access our media library on their own iOS devices. Not that we spend every waking hour watching Thailand vacation videos or Notting Hill. But we could, if we wanted to. And quite easily too.
But I’d be pretty shallow if my main reason for liking a device was how easily it can access media from a home server. I also find the reading and web surfing experience on the mini more user friendly. The mini is more responsive than the nexus in everyday use. Despite the goodness of Project Butter, there are still times I find myself waiting for the Nexus to respond to a touch command. I’m also severely bugged by the “soft” home button. Maybe I’m so used to the iOS devices and their physical home button that I’m programed for that experience now but for whatever reason, it really annoys me. I find I actually like the mini’s wider screen for reading on the web, although I do end up holding it in landscape view more often then portrait because of the width. I hold the Nexus in portrait mode more often than not. Mainly because the primary app I use on it, Flipboard, doesn’t give me the option to go into landscape mode (UPDATE – the latest version of Flipboard on the Nexus 7 does provide for landscape view, however I’m finding the narrow screen doesn’t lend itself to this view as well as it does on the wider iPad mini). Strange as it seems, I miss the “freedom” of iOS when using the Nexus 7. Also, the mini feels ligher. That might change when I put a case on it though. I do like the rubber non-slip back of the Nexus 7. I’ve been running the mini naked but it really does need some protection if it’s going to survive long term.
To sum up, I don’t see either device being the perfect 1:1 solution for schools. Sometimes price isn’t everything. If Apple revs the camera in the next version, then maybe the mini will be a good fit for teachers. I think they’d appreciate hefting the lighter weight around all day. As for the Nexus, without a rear facing camera and AirPlay support, I just don’t see it as a teacher tablet device. Even in a Google Apps environment, which I haven’t really talked about, neither device really makes sense for edTech (yet). For personal use, the iPad mini is the clear winner for me. It’s light, responsive (my previous experience with performance issues was probably related to trying to install a dozen apps right out of the box) and it works in my media environment. The killer app for me is AirPlay Mirroring. When Android might support AirPlay natively, I don’t know but I hope they look to do it at some point. Even Plex, the awesome media server app, is baking in AirPlay support. It really is stupid simply and very powerful.
Based on my environment, the iPad mini is the little tablet for me. Android just isn’t there for me yet (or maybe I’m so deep into iOS, I can’t see a way out). Wether or not I actually need a little tablet when I have an iPhone (two actually since my 3GS returned from the dead) and an iPad is a discussion for another day.