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Hands on ... Google Nexus 7

From £159.

Positives: a great tablet that delivers on size and affordability.

Negatives: occasional software bugs are irritating.

The first supplies of the much-anticipated Nexus 7 tablet by Google reached customers last week. Unlike previous third-party tablets based on Google's Android operating system, this one comes straight from the search giant.

Manufactured by ASUS to Google's specifications, the Nexus 7 is a smart-looking, lightweight tablet running the latest version of Android known as Jelly Bean. With a screen measuring seven inches and a sub-£200 price-tag the Nexus 7 isn't a direct competitor for the iPad. Rather, it goes head to head with Amazon's Kindle Fire, the colour version of the e-reader which has been selling well in the US but which has yet to go on sale here.

While Amazon's tablet was launched with break-even pricing, it now enjoys a healthy profit margin thanks to the falling cost of its components. Although identically priced, by coming later to the party Google's Nexus 7 sports better tech specs – it's 20% lighter, has a faster processor, twice the memory and a sharper screen. The other notable difference is that the Nexus has a front-facing camera, making it suitable for Skype video calls.

The other big-brand competitor in the 7in segment is the BlackBerry PlayBook. Originally priced at £399, the PlayBook failed to sell in significant quantities, forcing manufacturer RIM to slash prices. Now available at £169, the PlayBook is still an outside bet – it's the only device running PlayBook OS and, more than a year after launch, still enjoys little third-party developer support. The risk remains that it could go the way of Betamax.

Amazon's trump card has always been the Kindle e-book store, but this is now available as an app on the Google tablet, making the choice a pretty clear one: if you're in the market for a small tablet the Google Nexus 7 is the only sensible choice.

The Nexus 7 is a pleasure to use – everything is fast and fluid, while the simple interface is a joy. The experience is marred only slightly by occasional glitches which Google should hopefully fix in a future software update.

Judged against the iPad, the case for the Google Nexus 7 is less clear. The Nexus is half the price but its screen is also less than half the size. For some that portability will be a boon, but others will find a paperback book-sized screen is too small for writing documents or web browsing.

Perhaps more importantly, the quality and performance of third-party apps on the Nexus 7 is more of a mixed bag than on the Apple equivalent.

In short, if you want a Kindle that can do more than just read books, buy the Nexus 7. If you want a tablet that can replace your laptop, go for the iPad. You don't need to consider any of the 100 or so other tablets on the market – these two cover all eventualities.

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