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.

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TOPICS: Amazon, Apple, Apps, SMBs
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Screen

While we're on the topic of screens, let's compare the two devices. Apple's big thing for the current generation of iPad has been the Retina display, Apple's super-duper hi-res screen.

I've got an iPad 3 and its screen is certainly attractive, but I didn't want to make love to it like so many others who reviewed the iPad in the press. It's nice, but that's about it.

We haven't seen the screen on the big Kindle Fire, so we can't give it a complete comparison. That said, the resolution of the big Kindle Fire is 1920x1200 with 1080p video playback and 254 pixels per inch.

By comparison, the latest iPad has a resolution of 2048x1536 with 264 pixels per inch, giving the iPad a slight edge in resolution. Now, if you're thinking about the $100 cheaper iPad 2, that's got only 1024x768 resolution with 132 pixels per inch.

Oh, Amazon says the big Kindle Fire has less glare. We haven't had a chance to test the claim.

Winner: iPad 3 - The big Kindle Fire almost ties to the iPad 3, but only almost. The iPad 3 has better resolution and is a known quantity. We know the display is excellent. The real loser here is the iPad 2, with a vastly inferior (by the numbers, anyway) display.

Memory

The memory offerings in the big Kindle Fire are also a little confusing. The WiFi-only Kindle Fire comes in 16GB and 32GB models, while the 4G Kindle Fire comes in 32GB and 64GB models.

To compare these things, then, let's look at the memory size, and then the cheapest price of the various models:

  • 16GB - The base WiFi big Kindle Fire is $299. The base WiFi iPad is $499 and the 4G iPad is $629. The old iPad 2 is $399.
  • 32GB - The WiFi big Kindle Fire is $399, the 4G unit is $499. You're talking $599 for the iPad without 4G, and $729 for the iPad with 4G.
  • 64GB - You can only get 64GB on the 4G big Kindle Fire, and that's $599. Minus 4G, the iPad 3 is $699 and with 4G, you're slamming down a whopping $829.

Winner: Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - This is a no-contest win. Price performance goes to the big Kindle Fire in a big way.

WiFi

Who among us ever expected to be comparing WiFi implementations on a tablet? By now, WiFi is very much mainstream, so WiFi is WiFi is WiFi, right?

Well, if you believe Amazon, not so much. Amazon claims it offers dual-band streaming, so -- if your router supports it -- communication is much faster, streaming is more robust, and there are fewer dropped connections.

Dual-band WiFi is a real technology and most not-bottom-of-the-barrel routers sold in the last year or so support it. If it works and if it works well (no one's tested it thoroughly yet on the Fire), performance should be smoother on the big Kindle Fire.

Winner (provisionally): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - Until this gets tested in the lab, it's just a spec on a marketing document.

Processor performance

Apple has always said -- and in this, I agree -- that subjective performance is always more important than specifications. Without putting hands on the big Kindle Fire, we can't run a series of benchmarks.

However, we can look at how the iPad 3 performed against the Tegra 3 processor that's in many current Android tablets, and then compare that against the claims for the SGX544 graphics engine that's in the big Kindle Fire.

According to my Internet Press Guild colleague, Avram Piltch, the Tegra 3 -- in some ways, outperformed the A5X in the third generation iPad.

That was not expected. Next, my fellow ZDNet columnist, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, says that the big Kindle Fire's processor is supposed to perform about 50% faster than the Tegra 3.

If you read those tea leaves carefully (and you're not too concerned about the lack of real-world tests), and you add in the fact that the Kindle has fewer pixels to push to the screen, you might conclude that the big Kindle Fire will be faster than the iPad.

Winner: Undecided - I'm going to call this undecided, because so much depends on actual performance. One thing is pretty sure, though: the older iPad 2 performs more slowly. We can't really pick a winner here, but it seems that the loser would be the iPad 2.

Sound

The big Kindle Fire is supposed to come with spiffy, integrated stereo speakers and some slick new Dolby technology.

Since all the iPads have pretty anemic sound, it probably won't be hard for the big Kindle Fire to beat them, even though we haven't yet listened for ourselves.

Winner (provisionally): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - The proof will be when we can watch a major motion picture or play some serious tunes and listen to the beats.

Ports

Although the iPad has a USB port exclusively intended for connecting to iTunes, you can't connect it to your computer and load files on it from the file system. Many of my fellow tech pundits don't think that's a problem. I consider it one of the iPad's greatest failings (or, at the very least, annoyances).

Winner (by a frickin' mile!): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - Like most Android tablets, on the other hand, the big Kindle Fire has a USB port, you can connect it to your computer, and you can drag and drop files in a straightforward manner without having to deal with an annoying media interface. Hooray!

Next: Battery life, camera, sound, and how to decide

Topics: Amazon, Apple, Apps, SMBs

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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Talkback

157 comments
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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.
      IpadContrictsYou
      • constricts! lol sorry

        see.. ipad sucks... lol
        IpadContrictsYou
      • 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.
        slickjim
        • Makes no sense

          @slickjim,

          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.
          kaur
          • Makes perfect sense

            You still staring at a screen but with the tablet you can be staring at a screen where ever you want.
            non-biased
          • 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.
            dave95.
      • 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.
        billtech66
        • 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
          stano360
        • Be careful billtech66

          Your tinfoil hat seems to be a bit crooked.
          non-biased
        • 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.
          jelabarre
      • 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.
        Pdawg20
        • 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).
          Photog7
          • Wow

            You love your tablets, I wish I had your budget!
            stano360
          • "Wow"

            You like your "double quotes" too...
            kevintblack
      • 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.
        nbkz81f
      • 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?
        GoPower
      • 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)
        ronangel
      • How much are you selling them for?

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