How to decide: should you buy the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire?

Summary:The two devices are the same size and the same price. But there are differences. Which should you choose?

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

Back when I wrote for CNN, I was taught we had eight seconds to get the main point across. So, here goes. Buy the Nexus 7. Unless you're a huge Amazon user. Then get the Fire.

There you go. No beating around the bush. Just a simple answer. Or is it?

UPDATE: This article is about the original Kindle Fire. An article comparing the new Kindle Fire HD 7" to the Nexus 7 will be coming sometime soon.

Let's regroup for a second and really look at the question. The Kindle Fire is Amazon's $199 7-inch Android-based Kindle device. It's WiFi-only. The Nexus 7 is Google's $199 7-inch Android device. It's also WiFi-only.

Now you can see why there's some level of confusion. The two devices are the same size and the same price. There are some differences, however.

Physical device

The Kindle Fire weights 2.6 ounces more than the Nexus 7. It's 14.6 ounces, while the Nexus 7 is 12 ounces. In a handheld device, 2 ounces is something you'll notice.

More to the point, the Nexus 7 is a lot more machine for your $199. It's got a much faster CPU, a graphics processor, twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, and (for an extra fifty bucks) can store twice as much as the Kindle Fire.

On raw horsey-power, the Nexus 7 gets the win.

Android OS

Although both devices are based on Android, you'd be hard-pressed to notice Android on the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a Kindle first, with Android 2.3 running underneath, hidden from view.

On the other hand, the Nexus 7 is Google's current benchmark tablet, running Android 4.1 (otherwise known as Jelly Bean).

On Android compatibility, the Nexus 7 gets the win.

Software compatibility

Here's where things start getting interesting. You'd think the Nexus 7 would run more Android apps, but because it's the first Jelly Bean product in a 7-inch tablet form, many Android apps (like Instagram) won't run because they check the version number. 4.1 is higher than many apps are comfortable with.

On the other hand, the Kindle Fire runs apps primarily from the Amazon app store. While you can side-load regular Android apps, there's some hoop jumping involved.

When it comes to software compatibility, at the time of writing, neither wins the top slot. It's a draw.

Gaming

There are quite a few nice, little games for the Kindle Fire. But the Nexus 7 has a built-in Tegra 3 T30L graphics processing unit. Almost, without a doubt, and especially since the system also has twice the RAM, the Nexus 7 will be the better gaming machine.

Nexus 7 gets the win.

Security

This one is interesting. Android security is somewhat problematic, especially if you decide to download apps from secondary app stores. Apps purchased through Amazon have a much higher chance of being safe. In fact, the entire Kindle experience is tied into your Amazon account, and is secured by Amazon's relatively strong attention to detail.

For security, the Kindle Fire gets the win.

Media

Here's where Amazon takes the lead from Google. Amazon has a rich media experience, and also provides a substantial library of free movies and TV shows to Prime customers. Google Play isn't nearly as good. Jason Perlow also pointed out that only actual Kindle devices (not just those devices running Kindle software, like an iPhone), can take things out from the Kindle Lending Library. So if you want to read best-sellers for free, the Fire is your best bet.

On the other hand, the Nexus 7 will play that media better, because it has substantially more power and a higher-resolution display.

We'll call this a draw.

Which should you get?

Without a doubt, the Kindle Fire is a Kindle, while the Nexus 7 is an Android tablet. If you want a Kindle more than you want an Android tablet, then you might be happier with the Kindle Fire. Likewise, if you want to stay out of the morass that is the Android ecosystem and just want to stay in the welcoming, comforting arms of Amazon, you'll be happier with the Kindle Fire.

On the other hand, if you want a powerful, inexpensive, solidly designed pure Android tablet, the Nexus 7 is a no-brainer.

My wife and I have two iPads and two Kindle Fires at home. I'm honestly thinking about selling my Kindle Fire and getting a Nexus 7 to replace it. If you do decide to sell your Kindle Fire, make sure you remember to decommission it before you sell it. Otherwise, the device has access to your entire Amazon account.

Hmmm...maybe the Kindle Fire isn't that secure, after all.

Update: And yes, I did sell back my Kindle Fire (first edition) and get a Nexus 7. So far, I'm quite happy with the decision to do so. It's a very nice, little machine.

More Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire coverage on ZDNet:

Topics: Android, Amazon, Apps, Tablets

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.