With the new Nexus 7, Google (GOOG) has taken a tablet that was already very good and made it great.

The original Nexus 7, which the search giant debuted last year, was a well-built, powerful and compact. It had a fairly high-resolution screen that ran a streamlined version of Android and carried a bargain price of just $200.

The only real reservation I had about it was its lack of available content -- the selection of movies, games and television shows in the device's native digital store was poor compared to what was available for Apple's (AAPL) iPad and Amazon's Kindle Fire.

With the new Nexus 7, which Google unveiled earlier this summer, the company has largely addressed that shortcoming while making the device better in numerous ways.

The new Nexus 7 is lighter and thinner than the previous model, but still feels solidly built. Although it's still thicker than Apple's paper-thin iPad mini, the difference is minimal and the Nexus 7 weighs less than Apple's device.

It also sports a powerful new processor. I put the Nexus 7 through a battery of tests designed to measure the capabilities of smartphone and tablet application and graphics processors. Google's tablet in most cases far exceeded scores posted by rival devices. While these tests sometimes don't mean much in the real world, the Nexus 7 is snappier and more responsive than other tablets, launching apps quickly and speedily switching between them.

But the highlight feature of the updated device is its new screen, which has more than twice as many pixels as that of its predecessor. That gives the new Nexus 7's display a pixel density about equal to the so-called Retina display in Apple's iPhone 5 and greater than that in Apple's full-sized iPad.

What that means for you and me is that text is ultra sharp and readable, even at small font sizes. It also allows the device to display movies and television shows in full 1080p high definition, something its predecessor couldn't do.

The screen is beautiful. My only quibble is that I wish it were a bit bigger. I prefer the 8-inch screen size, which offers much the same portability as the Nexus 7, but can display larger text and icons that can be easier to read or interact with. I also like devices that have more squarish screens, because they can be held and used more easily in both vertical and horizontal orientations.

Another thing to like about the new Nexus 7 is that it has a rear camera. It's only 5 megapixels, but that's pretty much the standard for tablets. It also has stereo speakers, unlike its predecessor. And the base model has 16 gigabytes of memory, up from 8 gigabytes previously. Google will soon offer two different 32-gigabyte models, one of which will be able to connect to a cellular data network.

According to Google, the Nexus 7's battery should endure 9 hours of "active use." I didn't test that precisely, but the device did last for more than a day of intermittent use without needing to be recharged.

Since the first Nexus 7 debuted last year, Google has greatly improved the offerings in its Play store. All of the top 20 movies and most of the top TV shows in Apple's iTunes store are now available through Play. The games selection is more hit or miss, but it's better than before.

Some consumers may be unhappy that the storage space in the Nexus 7 isn't expandable; unlike many other Android tablets, it doesn't feature a memory card slot. But that didn't concern me that much, since the content you might want to enjoy on the device will likely be stored in the cloud.

The base price of the new Nexus 7 is $30 higher than last year's base model. But the $230 price is what Google charged for the 16 gigabyte version of last year's model, so the company can argue that it hasn't raised its price.

Regardless, it's well worth the price. The Nexus 7 is a great gadget.

I couldn't say the same of another new tablet, the 8-inch version of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3.

While I like the size of the Galaxy Tab's screen, the device is inferior in many other ways to the Nexus 7. Its screen is of much lower resolution and looks far less sharp when compared side to side. Its processor ranked in the middle of the pack compared to other Android tablets and smartphones in my tests. And unlike the Nexus 7, the Galaxy Tab 3 has Samsung's customized interface running on top of Android, and it's less easy to use and just too busy.

To be sure, the Galaxy Tab 3 is not a bad device. It's well-built, lightweight and offers some cool features. For example, it won't shut off its screen if you are looking at it.

But at $300, it compares poorly to the Nexus 7, which has a great screen, a zippy processor and is a much better deal.

Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or twolverton@mercurynews.com. Follow him at www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.

What: Google Nexus 7 tablet
Likes: Inexpensive; lighter and thinner than last year's model while adding a rear camera and stereo speakers; has a high-resolution display, zippy new processor; available offerings much better than before.
Dislikes: Base model more expensive than last year's; game selection still spotty; would have preferred a larger, wider screen.
Specs: 1.5 GHz quad-core processor; 7-inch 1920 x 1200 display; 1.2 megapixel front and 5 megapixel rear cameras;
Price: $230 for 16 GB Wi-Fi only model; $270 for 32 GB Wi-Fi only model; $350 for 32 GB Wi-Fi and LTE model
Web: www.google.com/nexus/



What: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0
Likes: Thin, light with ideal-sized screen; custom software offers cool features like the ability to recognize when someone is looking at the device.
Dislikes: Relatively low-resolution screen; processor offers middling performance; customized Android interface is annoying to use.
Specs: 1.5 GHz dual-core processor; 8-inch, 1280 x 800 display; 1.3 megapixel front and 5 megapixel rear cameras.
Price: $300
Web: www.samsung.com