When Amazon released the Kindle Fire in 2011, it became the first tablet to gain real traction against the Apple iPad. And while the iPad continues to dominate the high end spectrum of the tablet market, the Kindle Fire created a new class of entry-level tablets that are much more affordable. But with the release of the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon faces more competition as both Google and Apple release their own set of affordable tablets. So with the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini competing with the Kindle Fire HD, which one is the best?
Amazon Kindle Fire HD
The Kindle Fire HD comes in two sizes, a 7-inch version starting at $199 for 16 GB of storage and a bigger, slightly more powerful 8.9-inch version starting at $299. The two different sizes really blur the line between the smaller, cheaper models and larger, more powerful models. Smaller than a full-sized iPad, the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD is big enough and cheap enough to make it a rival.
The Kindle Fire HD series also represents a nice upgrade over the original Kindle Fire. The 7-inch version sports a 1200x800 display capable of 720p video and powered by a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor while the 8.9-inch version has a 1920x1200 display capable of 1080p video and is powered by a 1.5 Ghz dual-core processor. Both tablets start with 16 GB of storage and support dual-band Wi-Fi, with the 8.9-inch version also capable of 4G LTE with an entry price of $499.
The biggest advantage of the Kindle Fire HD is the low price tag, which is partially supported by advertisements on the 'lock screen'. Amazon also sells the device at a loss, which ultimately means you get pretty good hardware for what you are paying.
The Kindle Fire HD does come with disadvantages. Compared to other Android tablets, it has a very closed ecosystem. You won't be able to choose from any Android app, rather, you will be forced to go through Amazon's own Appstore. You also won't be able to bring any of your Android apps with you if you own a non-Kindle Fire Android device. You will also be guided to Amazon for music, movies and books, with Amazon's hope being that the money you spend on other products will offset the loss they take when you purchase the device. This makes the Kindle Fire HD a 'media consumption device' in the truest sense when other tablets are edging more into the productivity side of computing.
The Google Nexus 7
If you are already part of the Android ecosystem, whether you own an Android-based smartphone or have a full-sized Android tablet, the Google Nexus 7 will make a very attractive 7-inch offering.
The Nexus 7 is powered by a quad-core 1.3 Ghz processor and is available with either 8 GB of storage ($199) or 16 GB of storage ($249). The 7-inch display is capable of 1280x800 graphics, making it 720p compatible, and the device supports near-field communication as well as Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the Nexus 7 doesn't support 3G or 4G LTE.
The Nexus 7 is slightly more expensive than the Kindle Fire HD when the 16 GB models are compared, but the Nexus 7 also packs more power. This ultimately makes it better for playing games and using higher-end applications that will tax the processor. The Nexus 7 also pairs nicely with the Nexus Q, which will allow you to play video or music on your TV or home stereo system.
But the biggest selling point of the Nexus 7 over the Kindle Fire is that it is pure Android. This means access to the latest and greatest version of the operating system as well as unfettered access to the Google Play app store. For some, the $49 extra for the 16 GB model may be well worth it for a device that can ultimately do more and doesn't display advertisements on the lock screen.
The iPad Mini
The iPad Mini has two major selling points compared to the competition: (1) a larger 7.9 inch display and (2) access to Apple's App Store.
The larger display size may not seem like much, but it amounts to a 35% increase increase in available screen space, with 29.6 square inches of space on the iPad Mini compared to 21.9 inches on 7-inch tablets. The iPad Mini also has the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the full-sized iPad, which makes it more natural when viewing web pages. (Most web pages are designed for the same 1024x768 screen resolution as the iPad Mini.)
But the big advantage for Apple is the 275,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad -- and that means designed for the iPad Mini. With the same screen resolution as the original iPad and iPad 2, the iPad Mini will be perfectly compatible with almost every iPad app available in the App Store. And in addition to over a quarter of a million iPad apps, it will also run most iPhone apps in the same compatibility mode as the full-sized iPad.
While the iPad Mini doesn't have a Retina Display and it has a slower processor, it does have the basic features of a 10-inch iPad. This includes front-facing and back-facing cameras as well as support for 4G LTE networks. The iPad Mini is also compatible with Siri and has Apple's new Lightning connector.
The biggest disadvantage for the iPad Mini? The price. The iPad Mini begins at $329 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model, which is significantly more than the $199 entry-level price of its rivals. And while cheaper than a 10-inch iPad, this price point may be hard for some to swallow. While it does have a larger display, Apple is relying on the App Store and the Apple ecosystem to really sell the device.
Ultimately, the choice in tablets is always a personal one with no one-size-fits-all winner. Still, it is hard not to put the Amazon Kindle Fire HD at the bottom of the pile with the iPad Mini and Google Nexus 7 at the top.
The iPad Mini is the clear choice for anyone wanting the Apple experience, with the extra price well worth it for access to iPad apps. For those who love the openness of the Android, the Nexus 7 has a bit more power and a lot more options available than the ad-supported Kindle Fire HD. But the one area where the Kindle Fire HD wins out is with the 8.9-inch version, which has a really great price tag compared to the size and the features. However, it may end up being at that awkward size that loses the portability of the 7-inch tablets without gaining the elbow room of the 10-inch tablets.