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The tablet wars heat up

Hot on the heels of last week’s introduction of the iPad mini and Microsoft’s release of Surface, Google today announced two new versions of its popular Nexus 7 tablet. The Nexus 7, which is manufactured by ASUS, will now be available as a 32GB Wi-Fi-only model for $249 and as a 32GB W-Fi + mobile data version for $299. The price of the existing 16GB Wi-Fi-only version will drop to $199.

Google also announced the Nexus 10, a brand new 10-inch tablet, which has been developed with Samsung. Google claims the Nexus 10 will be “the highest resolution tablet on the planet” with a 2560x1600 display resulting in over 4 million pixels. With a set of front-facing stereo speakers and a battery that delivers over 9 hours of video playback, Google clearly hopes the Nexus 10 will set a new standard for mobile entertainment.

Google’s Nexus announcement comes on the same day that Amazon, maker of the Kindle Fire HD, launched an aggressive campaign to defend its flagship product against any real or perceived threat posed by the iPad mini. In a home page feature that proclaims “Much More for Much Less,” Amazon lists some of the advantages of the Kindle Fire HD over its soon-to-be-released rival before highlighting the biggest difference of all – price.

Today’s moves by Google and Amazon clearly indicate that they are not ready to concede any of the 7-inch tablet market to Apple. Consider this: the 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPad mini is now $200 more than the equivalent Nexus 7, a price differential that rises to $260 when you add the mobile data option. Whatever you want to say about the excellence of Apple’s styling and engineering, it’s hard to justify paying that kind of premium.

The Nexus 7 Wi-Fi + mobile data option also breaks new ground in that it utilizes HSPA+ technology to access wireless networks. While not compatible with some of the newer, faster 4G networks, the Nexus 7 can operate on more than 200 GSM providers worldwide, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. The Nexus 7 W-Fi + mobile data option will ship unlocked, which means you can buy it with the SIM card of your choice pre-installed and then arrange for your own data plan.

Google is also managing to undercut the competition with the Nexus 10, just not to the same degree. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only version will sell for $399, which is $100 less than the iPad and Surface tablets. That $100 price differential is maintained for the 32GB version, which will retail for $499.

Clearly we are only at stage 1 of the tablet wars, with some manufacturers still to make their own moves in both the 7-inch and 10-inch markets and others waiting to see the market reaction to the iPad mini. But there is no doubt that there will be a much wider choice of tablets this holiday buying season and that’s good news for consumers.

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