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This year’s must-have gadget is a 7-inch tablet, but which one?

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

With the recent closely-timed releases of new tablet devices by Apple, Google and Amazon, the battle for control of the 7-inch tablet market has turned into an all out war. And with Japanese cellphone carriers wading into the fray by releasing tablets in the local market, it’s easy to get shell-shocked by all the options available here. To help navigate this rapidly expanding market here is our guide to the 7-inch tablet arena.

Apple, which essentially created the tablet market with iPad in 2010, is now looking to expand its presence with the new 7.9-inch iPad mini that hit stores last week.

In terms of tech details, the iPad mini could disappoint many, as it lacks some of the super cutting-edge specs of other tablets. It runs on the same dual-core A5 chip that is used in the iPad 2, a model two-generations older than the A6X chip used in the 9.7-inch iPad with Retina display. The iPad mini does not come with the high-resolution Retina display either.

But many still seem to be praising the mini for its lighter weight and portable size, since the 9.7-inch iPad is somewhat large to carry for any length of time. Also, despite not having a Retina screen, the pixels in the mini’s screen are much smaller than those in the iPad 2, giving it the same pixel dimensions — meaning it can run all apps made for iPad on the smaller screen.

A primary sticking point for many who are interested in the iPad mini may be the price, which starts at ¥28,800.

By comparison, in September, Google launched the 7-inch Nexus 7 in Japan for just ¥19,800 (16 GB version), a surprisingly low-price for a tablet device. It has apparently been popular with Japanese consumers, as many stores have sold out.

Despite its low price, the specs of the Nexus 7 are quite high with 1 GB of RAM and a quad-core processor. It also has a higher-resolution display than the iPad mini. One negative element is that it does not have a built-in rear-facing camera.

In addition Google released a 32 GB Nexus 7 on Nov. 3 for ¥24,800.

Amazon also announced on Oct. 24, the same day Apple disclosed the iPad mini, that Amazon’s 7-inch tablet Kindle Fire HD will be available in Japan in mid-December.

The device optimized for Amazon’s various services — such as shopping, reading books and renting movies — also has pretty much the same features as other tablets such as Internet browsing and video games.

The Kindle Fire HD is even cheaper than the Nexus 7 and is priced at ¥15,800 for the 16 GB model and ¥19,800 for the 32 GB model.

Lenovo also released a new 7-inch tablet in late October called IdeaTab A2107A, which is also priced at less than ¥20,000. Although it is a bit heavier than other rivals at 400 grams, it has a 2 megapixel rear-facing camera unlike the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, which only have front-facing cameras.

Japanese cell phone carriers are also launching 7-inch tablets, with exclusive tie-ups with some manufacturers.

NTT DoCoMo’s two latest tablets are the Galaxy Tab 7.7 made by Samsung and the Medias Tab made by NEC. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is powered by Google’s Android 4.0 operating system and has a 7.7-inch OLED (organic-light emitting display) screen. The Medias Tab takes advantage of NEC technology to create the world’s lightest 7-inch tablet, weighing just 249 grams and only 7.9 mm thin. Both tablets connect to DoCoMo’s 3G and high-speed LTE networks and are tethering-ready, while they also have one-seg TV function.

KDDI’s au for its part, plans to release the Aquos Pad made by Sharp in mid-December. The 7-inch display is made with Sharp’s latest panel for smartphones and tablets called IGZO (liquid gallium zinc oxide) panel, which is said to considerably conserve power. While the official figure for battery life has not yet been disclosed, a KDDI official said it is expected to last twice as long as previous Sharp tablets. The device also comes with a stylus pen that enables users to handwrite memos on the tablet, while it connects to KDDI’s 3G and LTE networks.