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The Tablet Test: iPad mini vs Android Nexus 7, featuring Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Round two
Product: Need for Speed: Most Wanted | Genre: Racing
Need for Speed: Most Wanted Multiformat, thumbnail 1
Gaming fanatics have been arguing over consoles and computers since the invention of the microchip.

Whether it's the Spectrum versus the C64, or the schoolyard rivalries of the SNES and Mega Drive, everyone wants to be backing the best device.

With that in mind, we like to conduct head-to-head battles between two popular devices, in a series we call The Tablet Test.

In the first instalment of The Tablet Test, the (now-deleted) iPad 3 went toe-to-toe with Google's Nexus 7 on Phosphor Games's Unreal Engine-powered beauty Horn.

This time around, we're putting Apple's new iPad mini up against Google's popular 7-inch Android tablet. And we're using Firemonkeys's feisty street racer Need for Speed: Most Wanted to settle the fight.

The gadgets

The Nexus 7 is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset, with a quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A9 CPU. It also has 1GB of RAM. For just £200, then, you're getting a boisterous little tablet at a very budget price.

That 7-inch display has a pixel density of 216ppi, and a 1280x800 widescreen resolution.

The iPad mini, meanwhile, is basically an iPad 2 that has shrunk in the wash. It has the same dual-core A5 chip, the same 512MB of RAM, and the same 1024x768 resolution as the second-gen iPad.

Apple's iPad mini has a pixel density of 132ppi, by the way.

The game

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a fast and furious street racer in which you rise through the ranks to take on the city's top 10 most wanted drivers. You'll also fight off the cops as you head towards the top.

Unlike its console and Vita brethren, this is not an open-world game. It features disparate levels and insular courses (with a few shortcuts here and there).

As mentioned above, this mobile version was made by Firemonkeys, the team currently working on Real Racing 3.


In static screenshots, it's very difficult to differentiate between the two devices. They both have murky textures on road-side props (though you'd normally speed past too fast to notice), and the background details are almost identical.

You will see some jagged edges on the Android edition, mind. If you're playing with the chase cam view on, the cars generally look smoother on the iPad mini.

iPad mini (see full screenshot) vs Nexus 7 (see full screenshot)

iPad mini (see full screenshot) vs Nexus 7 (see full screenshot)

iPad mini (see full screenshot) vs Nexus 7 (see full screenshot)

Loading times

The two versions of the game seemed pretty well matched in this regard. The Android edition would boot at the same time as its iOS counterpart if it didn't perform a mandatory update check on every load.

Load from home screen

iOS - 21.2 seconds
Android - 29.2 seconds

From map to race start

iOS - 29.0 seconds
Android - 29.6 seconds

It's also worth noting that if you switch back and forth between another app on iPad mini, you'll jump straight back into the game. On Android, however, you have to sit through an annoying EA logo every time.


To ensure a fair testing environment, we rebooted both tablets, and made sure no other non-essential apps were running.

Surprisingly, the Android version comes across as more sluggish than the iPad edition - despite the Nexus 7's power advantage. The game runs as smooth as butter on the iPad mini, while the Android tablet seems to run the game at a lower framerate.

It feels like the Android version kicks into a smoother framerate 'gear' when you're inside an enclosed environment like a tunnel, but goes choppy again when you go back outside. On iPad, the framerate is locked down like Fort Knox.

And then there's this.

We put the two games head-to-head, with the same car on the same track on the same race. Touch steering was set as the control method in both games. We then let them drive themselves forward until they inevitably hit a wall.

Despite starting at the exact same time, the iPad edition always ended up ahead of the Android version. It would slam into a concrete barrier at the end of the straightaway, then the Android edition would follow along seconds later.

I don't know if that's a framerate thing, or if the game just runs at a slower pace on Android, but it's the best example of the performance difference between the two test gadgets.

Does this performance hit affect the gameplay? It's hard to say. The iPad mini version feels a little smoother and more responsive, but that could just be the result of a better accelerometer component.

But, there does seem to be a little more pop-up on Android, and on tracks where you can see quite far into the distance the road becomes hazy and blurry. This can result in a few more prangs and last-minute swerves in the Android version.


Despite the Nexus 7's considerable technical advantage over the iPad mini, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an altogether better game on the Apple device.

It looks nicer, it runs smoother, it loads faster, and it might just play a little better.

It's a fine game on Android, and if you never played the iPad version, you wouldn't feel let down by the game. But, put the two gadgets next to each other and it's pretty plain to see which is the winner.

Reviewer photo
Mark Brown 19 November 2012
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Show: Latest | Oldest
Nov 2012
Post count:
Tuwdc | 20:33 - 19 November 2012
Lol! Quadcore CPU is useless when the tegra 3 is GPU is junk! The A5 is Double as powerful as tegra 3. in no Way Nexus 7 has a technical advantage!
Jun 2012
Post count:
llnond | 04:05 - 21 November 2012

I pity you and your ignorance.

Do some research. The A5 chip is a dual-core chip that maxes out at 1GHz, whereas the Tegra 3 in the Nexus 7 is quad core and runs at 1.2 GHz.

Think about it.
A5: 2 x 1GHz = 2GHz
Tegra 3 (Nexus 7): 4 x 1.2GHz = 4.8GHz

So, this means that the TEGRA 3 has more than twice the power of the A5.

Now, how about you keep your mouth shut and we go about our business.
Jan 2012
Post count:
PatricRMD | 08:56 - 21 November 2012
Mark, llnond and Tuwdc,

It is one thing to compare tablet hw capability, and an entirely different thing to compare a game that has been optimized for these two platforms/devices to different degrees. You can have a 3x faster device that still runs a game slower and with worse graphics than the 3x slower device. It's all up to how the game has been optimized for that device, and in this case also that platform/OS. I used to struggle with this stuff back in the days when working for Futuremark, and faced the same hurdle now at Remedy when porting Death Rally from iOS to Android.

The iOS versions of games are more likely to be further optimized than Android versions for the simple reason that the hardware variety is smaller. Unlike the previous comments, game speed is more up to graphics performance than CPU. All iOS devices use IMG GPUs, and all higher end such have the same SGX54x generation. Optimize for this hw and you'll have a faster running game on a very high percentage of all devices out there. On Android you can optimize for Tegra 3, but then there are the IMG devices, Qualcomm, ARM Mali etc etc. It's just not worth it from a business perspective to make the same polish for all Android devices on the market. iOS devices are therefore likely to win all this kind of comparisons, but it does not necessarily mean that the hw would be better.
Jun 2012
Post count:
llnond | 05:21 - 22 November 2012

I understand what you are saying and I agree with you. However, I was responding to the ridiculous claim that the A5 chip was more powerful than the Tegra 3.
Dec 2012
Post count:
Michael Pearce | 02:21 - 24 December 2012
sigh, the a5 does in fact have a much better GPU than the Nvida built Tegra 3. Though in well optimized titles featuring well-threaded game code and lots of CPU extensive calculation (real time physics, for example) the Tegra may have an advantage or, even, elevated capability respective of titles. Certain processor exhaustive games are incompatible with non Tegra 3 devices, though I'd venture to guess they are few and far in sum.

I'm speaking here as a proud owner of installment 7 & 10 of the Nexus range as well as Transformer Infinity ( which has marginally better graphics capability hanks to DDR3 operating at 1.6 GHz) Kudos to Nvidias developer relations advisory program for extracting as much GPU performance as it had considering it features 4 pixel and 8 vertex shaders. The fat quad core, though, doesn't hurt.