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

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.

TOPICS: Amazon, Apple, Apps, SMBs

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Amazon has launched its latest round of Kindle Fires, the HD series. Of particular interest is that the old e-ink Kindle DX appears gone, and there's a new big boy in town: the Kindle Fire HD 8.9".

First: lousy name. The double prime indicated by the single set of double quotes makes it tough to write about. Weird punctuation screws up content management systems, and it's just not as catchy as, say, Kindle Fire Full-Page. But, fine. Product managers will be product managers and there's not much we can do about that.

The big question I've been getting these last few days is whether to hold out until November for the big Kindle Fire, or just get an iPad.

Here's the short form answer: it's not quite as simple a decision as you might think.

This is only about the big one

First, let me say that this guide is only about the larger of the Kindles, the 8.9 inch version. Amazon also refreshed its original 7 inch Kindle Fire, and I'll probably look at that new one as compared to the Nexus 7.

I compared the original Fire to the Nexus 7 in How to decide: should you buy the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire?, but the new 7 inch Fire is a more powerful beast than its predecessor.

For now, though, we're going to focus on the 8.9" version, which I'll simply call the big Kindle Fire.

The price

Before I even go into the functional differences of the big Kindle Fire and the iPad, it's important to acknowledge the very, very big difference between the two devices: price.

The big Kindle Fire is a lot less expensive than the iPad.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos gave everyone an insight into his company's strategy, vs, say, that of Apple. Bezos said, "We want to make money when people USE our devices, not when people BUY our devices."

So here's the dealio:

  • The Kindle Fire HD 8.9" with WiFi (but not 4G) is $299.
  • By contrast, the third generation iPad with WiFi (but not 4G) starts at $499 (although Apple also still sells the older second generation iPad for $399).
  • The Kindle Fire HD 8.9" with WiFi and 4G is $499.
  • The third generation iPad with WiFi and 4G is starts at $629.

Clearly, there's a big price difference. You can get the big Kindle Fire for two hundred bucks less than the modern iPad. Even the last generation iPad is still a hundred dollars more.

Interestingly, when you make the jump to 4G, the Apple products cost $130 more, while the big Kindle products take a whopping $200 jump for the addition of a 4G chipset.

Now, this isn't Apples-to-apples. In order for us to properly keep track of things, I'm going to compare entry-level version to entry-level version, so keep that in mind.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - No matter how you add up the cash and the various product versions, the big Kindle Fire is always cheaper than the iPads.

The price, part 2: ads

Amazon came up with an interesting scheme a few years ago. In return for about a $20 price savings, Amazon could plaster ads on the Kindle's main screen.

These were called "Special Offer" Kindles and were relatively well behaved. The ads never showed up while you were actually reading your Kindle books, and sometimes even contained pretty good deals.

Now, however, all the new Kindle Fires (big and small) are, by default, "Special Offer" Kindles in that they have ads right in the interface.

A lot of people raised a stink in the five minutes since they were announced, so CNET now reports that you can turn off that "feature" for a mere $15 opt-out fee.

Winner: iPad - Even though it's only $15 and the price still doesn't make the Kindles much more expensive, it's just a cheesy way to go to keep the advertised price down under $300.

The price, part 3: 4G edition

There's one other price component to all this. Amazon has historically provided free 3G wireless-anywhere service for its e-ink Kindles. The original Kindle Fire was WiFi only, so it didn't have any 3G service.

The new, big Kindle Fire has the available option of 4G, but it costs an extra $200 to get it. But once you do, Amazon offers a much lower price on 4G service. The question is: is there a catch?

First, Amazon says it will provide "250MB a month for 12 months with a one-time payment of $49.99 - no monthly payments." That's on AT&T.

By contrast, AT&T's 250MB/month plan for the iPad is $14.99. For a year, that would cost $179.88. Seems like a heck of a deal, doesn't it?

Now, normally, Amazon doesn't use open-ended tactics with its pricing, but this one is a little sneaky. The wording of the deal is "for 12 months". Notice that they don't say it's a one-time payment of $50 for each 12 months. I haven't yet been able to ascertain whether the price goes up to $14.99/mo after the first year.

Interestingly, if you want 4G, you'll have to update to the 32GB version, so you're making a jump of $200, but you are also getting more RAM than the base big Kindle Fire unit.

Winner (barely): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - You do save a net on your first year, but you're spending more on the base unit (but also getting more capacity). You might not be saving on subsequent years.

Physical device

At 9.4 inches tall, the new Kindle Fire is only a tiny bit shorter than the iPad's 9.5 inches. However, since the Kindle Fire is a 16x9 aspect ratio device (like your HDTV) and the iPad is still (weirdly enough) an old-school 4x3 aspect ratio device, the big Kindle Fire is almost a full inch narrower than the iPad, at 6.4 inches, to the iPad's 7.31 inches.

In terms of thickness, the big Kindle Fire falls between the second generation iPad's 0.34 inches and the current iPad's 0.37 inches.

If you think the iPad is heavy, the big Kindle Fire is close. The iPads range from 1.325 pounds for the second generation WiFi only model up to 1.44 and 1.46 pounds for the third gen WiFi-only and 4G models, respectively. The big Kindle Fire weighs 1.25 pounds, just under 2 ouces less than the lighter iPad.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - The big Kindle Fire wins -- at least if you're planning on playing movies -- because the movies will use the entire screen of the big Kindle Fire, and not leave bars along the top and bottom. It's also narrower, which might make it fit better in some larger pockets. Plus, it's slightly lighter than any of the iPads.

Next up: screen, memory, and processor performance

Topics: Amazon, Apple, Apps, SMBs


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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  • How much self-respect do you have?

    Are you really going to PAY Amazon to shove ads in your face, and then PAY them not to?

    The fact that that they're trying to pollute a product you BOUGHT with ads and then lie about their "opt out" scam should keep any self respecting person from voting for them with your dollar.

    If you actually want to read on one of these devices, there's one thing to remember: how stupid a glossy screen is.
    Oscar Goldman
    • Ipad contricts you

      I have 2 Ipad 2's because they were gifts. It is only good for wasting time browsing the internet. I cannot Trade, download any programs and use it in a productive way. There is no flash. I cannot believe that American's are so poorly educated and lazy that they see no use for the desk top or lap tops. I think they are being misled through the media etc... to decrease American's access to Freedom of speech via our computers. Listen to the George Carlin speech about this on youtube. I cannot even sell my Ipads, no one really wants them. Every and I mean EVERYONE that I know that has an Ipad .. after a month or so is frustrated and angry and wished they had bought 2 lap tops! Wallstreet is just manipulating the information. Honestly, that is why all the big guys are shorting Apple each time it rises because they know this IPAD BUBBLE IS GOING TO BURST SOON.
      • constricts! lol sorry

        see.. ipad sucks... lol
      • Whoa

        There's a concept calling "laying it on too thick." It often happens when you launch into a passionate rant. Before you know it, nothing you say is believable and you sound like a nut.

        You don't like your iPads. You don't know about eBay. We get that. But leave the educational system, Freedom of Speech, the media, Wall Street, and the Bavarian Illuminati out of it. Thanks.
        Robert Hahn
      • Whatever man

        I have an iPad and a Nexus 7 and I can honestly say, this is BS!

        There's a lot of things an iPad can do both work and for home use.

        Most people I know, who bought a tablet, admit, it is nice because it allows them to spend less time in front of a computer and these aren't only iPads they're using.
        • Makes no sense


          using a tablet device "...allows them to spend less time in front of a computer". This statement makes no sense to me.

          A person either stares at a desktop screen or stares at a handheld screen. Your argument isn't clear.
          • Makes perfect sense

            You still staring at a screen but with the tablet you can be staring at a screen where ever you want.
          • Makes sense

            What slickjim said makes perfect sense. Many of the things my family did exclusively on their desktop computers (or notebook computers) they now happily do on their iPad. i.e email, web browsing, shopping, casual games (words with friends for instance), photos, Facebook and other social apps.
      • buy a big Kindle Fire HD or an iPad?

        NEITHER ONE!

        They are both overpriced and under functioneing toys to divert us from seeing the games corporations are playing.
        (As did Rome with Gladiators fighting to 'entertain' and distract the citizens, from pending doom.)

        When corporations were first created, there were huge restrictions on them, in fear of what actually came to pass NOW, since they have successfully eaten away at those restrictions to the point that all restrictions on them are gone, completely.
        They are on a huge ego high. (as in: "Don't you know corporations are 'people'?")

        They have the world by the short hairs and KNOW it.
        Corporations control our governments by lobbyists so that now in the USA for instance, police are there to protect corporations, not the citizens.

        The laws are NOW all in corporations favor.

        Think about this example: how many 'user agreements' have you signed?
        Where they are always Unilaterally in favor of the corporation, comprising 40 to 100 pages of denial of responsibility, and where you have to agree NOT to hold them liable, can't sue them, any disagreement must be decided by BINDING arbitration.
        They blatantly say they can change the rules whenever they want. (You are signing a binding contract, but they can unilaterally change the terms any time they wish. This is OUTRAGEOUS!)

        We no longer have 'rights' as citizens, we only have to do what corporations decide we can do.

        Well, we dont' have to buy these stupid toys.
        • Take it to Huffington Post

          Hey, Occupy Trollville, this not a place for your Anarchist political rants. We're discussing tablet computers.

          That's beside the fact that you are horrbly absurd in your comments. Political parties are effected by many things, businesses (corp or private) are just one of them. Unions, environmentalist groups, trade organizations, etc. I see far more damage being done to my personal economy by environmentalist groups adding tens of thousands of dollars of cost to every home, or lawyers sending the cost of health care skyrocketing. Corporations? Hmm, Verizon: Fios has been great, Costo - great, Toshiba - great, Amazon - great. I'm sure many people on this post are Apple fans, they would feel they made a great exchange of their labor for Apples labor when they bought an iPad.

          You shouldn't have skipped Econ 101
        • Be careful billtech66

          Your tinfoil hat seems to be a bit crooked.
        • I'd agree with the "neither one"

          Really, neither one works for me. But I *would* say I'm much *more* disinclined to get the iPhad, just because I don't like the way Apple has been running their marketplace, their increasing lock-down of their devices, and finally for suing competitors because they sanded the corners smooth.

          In the end I'd rather get a device that is much more open. The alternative is to buy some older-generation device off the second-hand market and hack/root it with a vanilla Android.
      • Ability use an iPad

        It's sad that some people are so technologically challenged that they can't figure out how to use a device such as an iPad productively. Or maybe it's their closed minds to innovation.
        • Apple COULD make it easier

          I own an iPad 3 (which I do enjoy) and have owned several Android tablets, Kindles, Nooks, and both of the previous iPads. Apple could make it a LOT easier to use the iPad for business purposes, but they stubbornly cripple iOS to boost Air and Macbook sales (I also own two high-end laptops for my "serious" work). Now that the upcoming Surface tablet and its clones promise a true file system and mouse/touchpad capability, Apple may be forced to either "uncripple" the iPads or introduce a new, even more expensive tablet series with a true file system and the ability to use a mouse or touchpad. I hate the idea of running antivirus software on a tablet almost as much as I dislike the Windows 8 GUI, but like the author of this article, I'm going to take a real hard look at the Surface tablets. Just add "classic shell" to restore the Start menu, and you might have a versatile laptop in a tablet form-factor without all the file system, printing, and mouse/touchpad restrictions Apple has saddled iOS with. I certainly don't have a "closed mind to innovation" and I'm anything but "technologically challenged". But I believe Apple could easily make iOS much more powerful than it is. They choose not to. IF the Surface can deliver on its promises (a very big if), then the iPad3 will finally have some real competition at price parks above (Surface Win8) and below it (big Kindle Fire).
          • Wow

            You love your tablets, I wish I had your budget!
          • "Wow"

            You like your "double quotes" too...
      • iPad Constricts You

        Not sure what you missed but I do all kinds of stuff on my iPad. I create PDFs, I can work on speadsheets and I can print from my iPad. I rarely use my laptop as I can do most things on my iPad.
      • So you know the majority of the 83 million owners of iPads?

        I didn't think so... So your opinion is just that your's, and not the other 90% who are happy with theirs.

        You can't sell them? BS, how much do you want?
      • ipad sale

        put it on eBay AT A VERY LOW PRICE you will sell in no time. Problem solved...
        while I am here somebody is bound to bring out an app that enables kindle stuff to run on ipad/anaroid or mac or pc so end of problem two. I am very clever, or missing a hell of a lot. but as I do not intend to buy either will just get back to my pc (grin)
      • How much are you selling them for?

        I might be interested ...certainly I know many people in Asia who would be.