How to decide: should you buy a big Kindle Fire HD or an iPad?

Summary:This is totally NOT the simple choice you might think it would be. There are a lot of reasons why you might choose either device. If you really want to make an informed decision, read this guide.

All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide
This project: How to decide: tech buying guides for DIYers and small business

Battery life

We have no idea. None. Amazon hasn't said anything.

Winner: iPad 3 - The iPad 3 is known to have quite good battery life. Without something amazing from the big Kindle Fire, we have to give this to the iPad.

Camera

The iPad has a front-facing and rear-facing camera. In the iPad 2, the camera sucked. In the iPad 3, the front-facing camera sucks, but the rear-facing camera isn't bad.

Winner: iPad 3 - We haven't tested the big Kindle Fire's front-facing camera, but since there's no rear-facing camera, the iPad 3 wins. The iPad 2 does not. It's not really a camera. More like a hole in a box you can shine light into.

Software ecosystem

Wow, here's a place for the fanbois to start boiling over. But I'm going to go for it. Both the Android ecosystem and the iOS ecosystem are huge. Enormous. Big. Kinda massive.

There is no doubt there will be an absolute metric truck-ton of apps written for the big Kindle Fire, but there will still probably be more for the iPad.

Winner: tied - I'm giving these a tie for two reasons. First, iOS wins for more apps and it will probably always have more apps. Second, the Kindle Fire wins because you can run what developers want to write, not just what Apple will approve (although there's a limited approval process for the Amazon app store and an even less limited on for the Google Play market). So, since each wins in a different way, a tie.

Security

Normally, I'd give any security win that compares iOS to Android to iOS. Android has all sorts of problems.

But Kindle Fires have been much less problematic than their native Android cousins. That's both because fewer Fire owners have been inclined to "root" their devices, and because Amazon does have some better security in its app store.

Winner: tie - I'm going to call this a tie. While the underlying Android OS could be pretty easily corrupted, the Kindles have been pretty solid. The architecture isn't much different from a native-Android tablet, but since so much is tied to the Amazon ecosystem and Amazon watches that with great care, you're probably pretty safe with any one of the Kindles (unless you purposely do something stupid).

Media Ecosystem

Amazon has the entire Amazon shopping experience. Apple has the iTunes store. Amazon has Prime where you can get free movies. Apple has nothing of the sort. Amazon integrates its entire shopping experience into the Kindle devices. Apple kind of does, but it's always annoying. Amazon has the free Kindle Lending Library. Apple doesn't. However, as one of our readers mentioned in the comment below, the Amazon ecosystem is quite limited outside the U.S.

On the other hand, Apple does have AirPlay which allows you to blast your iPad display (except, bizarrely, for HBO Go) onto your TV set if you have an Apple TV. You can also integrate your iTunes account with your Apple TV, giving you a convenient set-top viewing experience. Amazon has nothing like this.

Winner (ecosystem): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - Amazon has a completely vertically integrated ecosystem, Apple does not. This is a win for Americans, not so much for people outside the U.S.

Winner (viewing options): iPad - Apple has some great set-top box options that use their existing ecosystem and your purchases. Amazon has nothing like this.

Which should you get?

If you just add up number of wins for each product, the big Kindle got seven wins to only four for the iPad. So, if you were going purely by the numbers, the big Kindle Fire would be the somewhat surprising winner.

But you should never buy something by the numbers. Instead, you should decide based on how you want to use the device. In that regard, it comes down to two key issues: price and media.

First, if you're particularly price sensitive, the big Kindle is a better deal (by a hundred bucks or more) than the iPad. But, since the Kindle Fire is designed around getting you to spend more with Amazon, any savings may well be eaten up if you can't control your spending.

Let's say you've got great One-Click self-control. In that case, the big Kindle Fire has considerably more bang for the buck, and is probably a better deal.

Still, Apple products have always sold well against better deals and more bang for the buck, and this is no exception. The Apple ecosystem is vast, with all sorts of aftermarket products, mounts, cases, stands, apps, gimicks, and geegaws.

On the other hand, the Amazon ecosystem comes with free movies, free books to borrow, and, well, Amazon.

Here's what I'm going to recommend to friends who ask:

  • If you're a heavy Amazon user, want to save some bucks, and aren't particularly tied to Apple and Apple products, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you're a loyal Apple user, want lots and lots of apps or lots and lots of add-on gadgets, or do a lot of heavy traveling where you need to rely on the tablet as a partner, get the iPad 3.
  • If you're trying to save money and are trying to decide between the big Kindle Fire and the iPad 2, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you're a big reader, have a ton of Kindle books, want a larger reading device, and want to borrow and read free books, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you already have an iPad 3, don't bother getting the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you already have an iPad 2, and are thinking of upgrading, get the iPad 3 if you want to take your Apple ecosystem with you, or get the Kindle Fire if you want more power at a cheaper price.

So there you go. This one is not nearly as clear-cut as almost all of Amazon's previous Kindle offerings. It'll be interesting to see how the market responds.

My wife and I own a first generation iPad and an iPad 3. We also have a first-generation Kindle Fire (my wife's). I recently sold my first-generation Kindle Fire and upgraded to the Nexus 7, in large part because of the reasons I discussed in  my last how-to-decide column .

We're not going to buy a big Kindle Fire. If we decide to upgrade the old first-generation iPad, we'll get another iPad 3 (or an iPad 4, when that comes out). We're going to sit out this round of Kindle Fire releases. On the other hand, I'm thinking seriously about getting a Windows 8 Surface tablet when that comes out next year.

Remember, though, that's us. How you decide has to be entirely about your lifestyle and your needs.

More Kindle HD coverage on ZDNet:

UPDATES: Commenter @tpettyrox double-checked my 4G math. Corrected. @danbi points out US-only. Mentioned. Thanks to both

Topics: Amazon, Apple, Apps, SMBs

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.