When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

Summary: Should you get an Android tablet like the Galaxy Tab or, well, an Android-based tablet like the Kindle Fire? Read this article to find out.

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I've been using my Kindle Fire more and more over the last week, and my wife recently got hers as well. I'm getting familiar with a machine that's not half bad, but also not perfect.

See also: 7 reasons the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad

See also: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

Ever since I wrote those two articles, I've apparently become the go-to guy among my friends and neighbors for holiday tablet purchases. The "should I get an iPad or should I get a Kindle" question is easy, because they are such different devices.

The one that I'm asked even more, though, is whether to get an Android tablet like the Galaxy Tab or, well, an Android-based tablet like the Kindle Fire. The confusion is that since they're both based on Android, what's the right choice?

So, let's clarify things a bit. The Kindle Fire is to Android like Mac OS X is to UNIX. The underlying OS for the Kindle Fire is Android (which, okay, is based on Linux, which itself is based on UNIX, sigh). But unless you hack your Kindle, you'll never see a traditional Android user interface.

So, then, let's get that over-with. You can buy a $199 Kindle Fire, hack it, and run a generic Android distribution on it, and it then becomes something of an Android tablet. But you have to want to do the hacking, have the time, have the technical chops, and not mind if you break stuff. Basically, if you want to tinker fer cheap, then the Kindle Fire might be fun.

Really, though, the question of Android vs. Kindle becomes more of what you want to use your tablet for and how much you want to spend. While the Kindle Fire is pretty inexpensive, it has some serious functional limitations. It doesn't have Bluetooth, so an external keyboard is either unlikely or very hacky. It doesn't have a camera. It has relatively little storage and RAM. And, unless you hack it, it doesn't have access to the main Android app store.

A typical (if more expensive) Android tablet has all those things. So, if you want a tablet for general purpose use, if you want to take it on the road to write or edit video or photos, you'll want something with more power than the Kindle. Essentially, if you want to produce content or have a general-purpose tablet, you'll want an Android tablet, and not the Kindle.

If, on the other hand, you want a tablet to consume content, and especially if you're very comfortable with the Amazon ecosystem like my wife and me, then you may want the Kindle Fire. In other words, if you want a backlit Kindle you can read in the dark, that'll also do some other stuff, then buy the Kindle Fire.

We have an iPad. We don't use it as much as most families, because I do most of my couch-reading on a large-screen HDTV. I'm also writing this on that screen. But my wife uses the iPad on the treadmill (she says it's the perfect treadmill tablet), she uses it to watch knitting videos, and I use it to power my teleprompter during interviews so I can look straight at the person I'm interviewing, rather than at a monitor.

By contrast, I use the Kindle Fire in bed, to read and occasionally watch Netflix videos. I also, sometimes, use it to carry around and read appliance repair manuals PDFs in one hand, while holding a tool in the other, trying to get something or other working in our new house. The Kindle is light enough for easy one-handed use, which is great for reading repair manuals.

So, assuming you're happily in the Android ecosystem (vs, say, the iOS world), get a Kindle Fire if you want a cheap consumption device, and get a real Android tablet if you want to do real work with Android.

Topics: Android, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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31 comments
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  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    Wait for the real tablet which is called Windows 8.
    owlnet
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @owlnet yeah, right...
      jgpmolloy
      • Windows Tablets are only good to pay the MS Tax.

        You wait for a Windows tablet.. be prepared to pay the Microsoft Tax.<br><br>If thats what you want in life... have at it. In the mean time. most of us will be working with Android Tablets.<br><br>Between a Kindle Fire and an Asus or an Iconia or else a Nook Tablet. Ill take Asus first, Iconia second..Nook Tablet third.. then maybe the Kindle Fire... and if nothing else is left I might use an iPad (try and delete files with your iPad... good luck. try multitasking with one.. no chance doing so... try to customize it so it does what you want.. no dice either...change languages and see the mess you end up with...). But under no circumstance would I consider a MS device.<br><br>But Asus is the real deal.. you add the keyboard a mouse .. an external drive and a large screen... it works!!! It works great! When you use your Tablet like that... and go to an iPad.. you feel that your hands are tied in every way. Even if you try other Android devices under this seutp.. its just doesn't work or feel right. The Iconia can do all of the above.. but the fact that the keyboard is separate.. just doesn't work the same.
        Uralbas
    • Win 8 tablet? That will be hard to swallow.....(NT)

      @owlnet

      NT
      linux for me
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @owlnet I have wait MS tablet for loooong time ago .... and it's failed me. Thanks, but no thanks, I better use iPad or Android than MS Tablet.
      Voltus
  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    "Consume content"? OK, what would the Coneheads buy?
    Vesicant
  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    Good Article: You hit all the major points and one should be able to make a wise decision from the information you have provided. I myself need something to down load Pictures in the field from my camera, so my workhorse Toshiba Thrive does the job nicely. And it has a great file system which is super easy to access.
    ypsrudy
  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    You should also cover the Playbook. ie. if you want a camera - future android apps and have blackberry etc. etc. etc The playbook is better hardware for the same price as the kindle.
    ahilden
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @ahilden
      Absolutely! See my post below. And especially here:
      http://www.zdnet.com/tb/1-111401#1_111401_2265910
      smather
  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    "So, assuming you???re happily in the Android ecosystem"

    Well, that takes care of about 5% of the market.
    neutrino23
  • I looked at them

    I have to say, the Kindle...whatever tablet you claim in that size... looks as useless, as do others of the same size. I do not understand that a piece of crap is getting such merrits. They are WAAY too small to do anything with. A glorified what?, phone, no. Web browser, too small to read. Oh yeah, I did look at them. If you overly zealous I need to have this new tech people think that this little format has a future? Really, I do not see a GOOD use for it. The ten inch units, now, there you have someting that is practical in size. IMHO
    Solution1
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @Solution1 It's actually quite a nice reader. And, about size, if you hold it next to a typical paperback book, it's just around the same size. People have been reading from objects this size for a very long time. A general-purpose computer, it's not.
      David Gewirtz
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @Solution1 That I will certianly agree on but if you want a device to read on then frankly the Nook color is the way to go. I do understand that the article's author is a Kindle owner so is partical but really. In the case of Kindle Fire or Kindles in general it's not what it cost to get but what it cost to keep. In order to store your stuff (and because you can not expand any Kindle device) you will have to pay yearly. You just don't need to do that with the Nook, you just add a simm card and needless to say all your content with a Nook is kept on Barnes and Noble site for free... do the math
      kah9932
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @Solution1, It has a great use - it is a cool toy. I have long suspected that lots of people never really grow up. Now, we can tell just how many by simply counting tablet users.
      ForeverSPb
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @Solution1 I own a 7 inch tablet. I have to say that I find my tablet very useful. I don't agree that they are WAAY to small to read. I can agree that a 10 inch tablet is easier to read but they are also bulkier by nature. I use it for reading and must say it is much more convenient for this purpose than a 10 inch tablet. I also like to take my tablet with me. I can relatively easily put one in the pocket of most of my pants. The 10 inch not a chance. Also if you notice the trends more tablet manufactures are including a 7 inch version for their customers. This is not to compete with their larger brethren but to give options to a growing market. There is a place in the market for both sizes. IMHO
      knkfan007
  • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

    If I had to choose, I would pick an Android tablet simply because it does more. Whether you need the "more" part may or may not be a big deal but it's there in case you need it. The less devices I have to fuss with, the better.
    omahapianist
    • RE: When to buy an Android tablet and when to buy a Kindle Fire

      @omahapianist This is why I am not getting a tablet at all. Phone + Laptop covers everything I need. I don't need a desktop, tablet, or e-reader. If I can carry a tablet with me, my laptop can go with me.
      Patrick Aupperle
      • Does your laptop last 16 hours?

        My Asus does.. and it powers my phone when the battery dies. It lasts over a week between charges.<br><br>When you power up your laptop.. it takes 60-90 seconds... you open your tablet.. everything is there.. no wait time.<br><br>An Android tablet is more efficient for the following tasks on the go:<br><br>a) email<br>b) quick surfing (editing or blogs are easier on a laptop)<br>c) reading books<br>d) watching movies<br>e) taking notes<br>f) searching for anything.<br>g) taking fotos or videos and sharing them.<br>h) Reviewing, adding or deleting calendar entries.<br><br>You need horse power.. than use a Laptop or a desktop. (Actually just a desktop).
        Uralbas
  • this clears it up sort-of

    the problem for me is that i don't know what i'll end up using it for though i think i might go for the asus transformer prime. it seems kinda awsome.
    jlm123hi
    • that would be a great option

      @jlm123hi ... i have a friend that has an ASUS Transformer and by his reckoning it's an amazing, multipurpose, computing device.
      thx-1138_