How to decide: should you buy an iPad mini, a Kindle Fire HD, or a Nexus 7?

Summary:You might think the big decision is about which has the best hardware, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the big decisions are all about price and ecosystem. David Gewirtz has the details inside.

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You may have noticed that I've gotten almost 1,500 words into this article before I talked about a single hardware feature. That was on purpose. You see, I don't consider the hardware features key in almost anyone's decision-making process.

Yes, one has a slightly faster processor. Yes, one has slightly better speakers (although this is disputed by reviewers). And yes, one has slightly more screen real estate.

The thing is, if you're trying to decide between these devices, the hardware differences are, essentially superficial. They all run quite well, they all do the job well, they all play most games well, and they all play video quite well.

You can go ahead and read about the hardware features in many of the reviews all over the Web. But, fundamentally, you probably shouldn't decide on one of these three devices based on the hardware configuration. The ecosystem decision is far more relevant.

The iPad mini price issue

Okay, here's the thing. The iPad mini is $129 more than the base Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7 and comes with the same 16GB of RAM that they do.

In fact, you could buy a Nexus 7 and an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and still have $10 left over, for the price of an equivalent iPad mini.

That's a measurable price premium for what's arguably a placeholder device. This is an important detail. The iPad mini doesn't come with the higher-quality "Retina" display now standard on the iPhone and larger iPad. In fact, the iPad mini comes with a last-generation display that many users aren't happy with.

Our own Stephen Chapman called the iPad mini's display "atrocious" and described the iPad mini this way:

With almost every single device of Apple's now having a Retina display, the regression for the iPad mini immediately makes it feel like a half-hearted, disingenuous, and greedy effort.

Ouch. On the other hand, ZDNet's Joel Evans likes his iPad mini more than the iPad 3.

See what I mean? You have to choose what meets your needs. We each have our own impressions.

That said, if you do decide it's worth spending the extra $129, be aware that Apple is almost guaranteed to introduce a Retina display version of the iPad mini within six to nine months for the same price. This $329 device will likely wind up on their price list for $199.

So if you can't stand buying a device and then having it drop precipitously in price, don't buy the iPad mini. On the other hand, if you don't care much about the less-than-stellar display (it's as good as the iPad 1 and 2, but not as good as the iPad 3), want access to the iOS ecosystem right now, and don't mind parting with an extra $129, the iPad mini might be for you.

If you want a GPS

A reader sent me a note asking if the iPad mini had a built-in GPS. As it turns out, the WiFi-only model does not. You have spend an extra $130 to get the cellular version, and that will include GPS capability. The Nexus 7 already has GPS built into the WiFi only unit.

There's nothing on the Amazon site for the Kindle Fire that indicates GPS.

How to decide

Let's bring this story in for a landing, shall we? Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • If how much you spend is the most important, get the $199 Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7.
  • If how much you spend is really, really important, get the last-generation Kindle Fire for $159.
  • If the most important thing is using all your iOS apps, get the iPad mini.
  • If the most important thing is using all your Android apps, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you want the freedom to run apps that Apple might not approve of, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you want GPS and don't want to buy cellular service, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you're an avid Amazon customer and want all the benefits of Amazon Prime, free videos, and the ability to "borrow" Kindle books, get a Kindle Fire HD.
  • If you think you'll be infuriated when Apple introduces a better iPad mini for the same price and drops the price on this one, don't get the iPad mini right now.
  • If you want the most mainstream option, with better app security, and you don't mind spending extra for the privilege, get the iPad mini.
  • If you've never used a tablet or a tablet operating system and you want access to the most training resources and materials, get the iPad mini.
  • If you want to read magazines and books in the bathroom and don't want to freak out if you drop your tablet in the toilet, get the last-generation Kindle Fire.

There you go. Stay tuned. I'm going to do a full-size "how to choose" that will include the new Nexus 10-inch tablet, the full-sized iPad, the large Kindle Fire, and even the Microsoft Surface. That one will bring the fanbois out in droves, I'm sure!


Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google


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

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