(Ars Technica) -- After months of rumor roundups and speculation, Apple's iPad mini has finally been announced—and the 7-inch tablet market has just heated up. This growing product category now has more to offer than Android devices with differing UI skins and varying components—or that BlackBerry PlayBook that's not selling too hot.
That's not to say that Apple's entrance into the mini-tablet game is solely what's fueling the fire. Up until now, only the first-generation Kindle Fire and the recently launched Google Nexus 7 were considered worthy buys. Add the iPad mini to the mix, and this particular product category has a little more steam.
But not everyone wants a $329 iPad mini, and there are certainly other 7-inch tablets that are worthy options. Or not, depending on your specific needs.
To help you out, we've put together this roundup of 7-inch tablets that are slated to arrive soon or are already available for purchase. If you're the "TL;DR" type, scroll down to the bottom and check out the comparison chart for a quick cheat sheet.
Google Nexus 7
Google's flagship Nexus 7 tablet has done well by our standards and it's quite a deal at $200. Built on the internals of the Asus Memo 370, the tablet has a 1280×800 IPS display with 226ppi, a 1.3GHz Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, up to 16GB of internal storage (with a rumored 32GB model on its way), and a 1.3MP front-facing camera.
It also comes with a stock version of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and because it's Google-backed, it's ensured that it will be supported for future Android updates. Our benchmarks show that it's one of the speediest 7-inch tablets currently available.
Kindle Fire HD
The first iteration of the Kindle Fire did exceedingly well, but its successor has left a bit to be desired. The Kindle Fire HD, priced at $199 (or $214 for the ad-free version), comes with a 1.3GHz dual-core OMAP-4460 processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 1280×800 display—the same resolution as Google's Nexus 7. It comes preloaded with Amazon's Appstore, which has limited offerings compared to the Google Play store, and it runs a custom version of Ice Cream Sandwich, an Android version behind its major competitors.
This device is best suited for those who devour e-books or are especially invested in the Amazon ecosystem.
Barnes & Noble is slated to update its Nook tablet this holiday season; the device will be available for preorder for $199 beginning November 1. The Nook HD includes a 1440×900 resolution and a 243ppi display—putting it within a stone's throw of the 4G iPad's 264ppi Retina display—and is fueled by a 1.2GHz dual-core OMAP 4470 processor. Like the Kindle Fire HD, it will also come with its own skinned version of Ice Cream Sandwich, and will be best suited for committed consumers of the Barnes and Noble e-book store. However, it's important to note that unlike Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, Barnes and Noble's Nook HD will not require the extra $15 to enjoy it without advertisements.
Acer Iconia Tab A110
Acer isn't new to the tablet game. Its Iconia Tab series includes the 10.1-inch A500 and A700 tablets, but the A110 marks the company's second foray into the 7-inch product category. The A110 will come with a Tegra 3 processor and run Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, though it will be limited to a 1024×600 display—a major fumble in a tablet world overrun by competing devices with higher resolution displays. It also features a microSD expansion slot and micro-HDMI, but for $229—one of the more costly of the 7-inch tablets in this roundup—the A110 will need to offer a lot more than expandable storage to stay a player in the game.
The iPad now comes in a 7.9-inch "mini" flavor, which makes it one of the largest of the mini-tablets. It's got all the aesthetics of its 9.7-inch counterpart, though it's limited by its non-Retina 1024×768 display. The iPad mini is also incredibly thin—just 7.2mm thin, 23% thinner than the iPad. If you're already a faithful Apple user, you won't have to leave the ecosystem.
It comes in different flavors (16GB for $329, 32GB for $429, and 64GB for $519), so onboard storage isn't an issue, and you can purchase an LTE-capable model for $130 more—a feature that a majority of the tablets featured in this round-up do not offer. But the $329 base price is significantly higher than the competition, and the 1024x768 display resolution isn't much better than the Acer Iconia and pales in comparison to that of the Nook HD's 1440x900 and the 1280x800 Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.
COPYRIGHT 2011 ARSTECHNICA.COM