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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Battery life

We have no idea. None. Amazon hasn't said anything.

Winner: iPad 3 - The iPad 3 is known to have quite good battery life. Without something amazing from the big Kindle Fire, we have to give this to the iPad.

Camera

The iPad has a front-facing and rear-facing camera. In the iPad 2, the camera sucked. In the iPad 3, the front-facing camera sucks, but the rear-facing camera isn't bad.

Winner: iPad 3 - We haven't tested the big Kindle Fire's front-facing camera, but since there's no rear-facing camera, the iPad 3 wins. The iPad 2 does not. It's not really a camera. More like a hole in a box you can shine light into.

Software ecosystem

Wow, here's a place for the fanbois to start boiling over. But I'm going to go for it. Both the Android ecosystem and the iOS ecosystem are huge. Enormous. Big. Kinda massive.

There is no doubt there will be an absolute metric truck-ton of apps written for the big Kindle Fire, but there will still probably be more for the iPad.

Winner: tied - I'm giving these a tie for two reasons. First, iOS wins for more apps and it will probably always have more apps. Second, the Kindle Fire wins because you can run what developers want to write, not just what Apple will approve (although there's a limited approval process for the Amazon app store and an even less limited on for the Google Play market). So, since each wins in a different way, a tie.

Security

Normally, I'd give any security win that compares iOS to Android to iOS. Android has all sorts of problems.

But Kindle Fires have been much less problematic than their native Android cousins. That's both because fewer Fire owners have been inclined to "root" their devices, and because Amazon does have some better security in its app store.

Winner: tie - I'm going to call this a tie. While the underlying Android OS could be pretty easily corrupted, the Kindles have been pretty solid. The architecture isn't much different from a native-Android tablet, but since so much is tied to the Amazon ecosystem and Amazon watches that with great care, you're probably pretty safe with any one of the Kindles (unless you purposely do something stupid).

Media Ecosystem

Amazon has the entire Amazon shopping experience. Apple has the iTunes store. Amazon has Prime where you can get free movies. Apple has nothing of the sort. Amazon integrates its entire shopping experience into the Kindle devices. Apple kind of does, but it's always annoying. Amazon has the free Kindle Lending Library. Apple doesn't. However, as one of our readers mentioned in the comment below, the Amazon ecosystem is quite limited outside the U.S.

On the other hand, Apple does have AirPlay which allows you to blast your iPad display (except, bizarrely, for HBO Go) onto your TV set if you have an Apple TV. You can also integrate your iTunes account with your Apple TV, giving you a convenient set-top viewing experience. Amazon has nothing like this.

Winner (ecosystem): Kindle Fire HD 8.9" - Amazon has a completely vertically integrated ecosystem, Apple does not. This is a win for Americans, not so much for people outside the U.S.

Winner (viewing options): iPad - Apple has some great set-top box options that use their existing ecosystem and your purchases. Amazon has nothing like this.

Which should you get?

If you just add up number of wins for each product, the big Kindle got seven wins to only four for the iPad. So, if you were going purely by the numbers, the big Kindle Fire would be the somewhat surprising winner.

But you should never buy something by the numbers. Instead, you should decide based on how you want to use the device. In that regard, it comes down to two key issues: price and media.

First, if you're particularly price sensitive, the big Kindle is a better deal (by a hundred bucks or more) than the iPad. But, since the Kindle Fire is designed around getting you to spend more with Amazon, any savings may well be eaten up if you can't control your spending.

Let's say you've got great One-Click self-control. In that case, the big Kindle Fire has considerably more bang for the buck, and is probably a better deal.

Still, Apple products have always sold well against better deals and more bang for the buck, and this is no exception. The Apple ecosystem is vast, with all sorts of aftermarket products, mounts, cases, stands, apps, gimicks, and geegaws.

On the other hand, the Amazon ecosystem comes with free movies, free books to borrow, and, well, Amazon.

Here's what I'm going to recommend to friends who ask:

  • If you're a heavy Amazon user, want to save some bucks, and aren't particularly tied to Apple and Apple products, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you're a loyal Apple user, want lots and lots of apps or lots and lots of add-on gadgets, or do a lot of heavy traveling where you need to rely on the tablet as a partner, get the iPad 3.
  • If you're trying to save money and are trying to decide between the big Kindle Fire and the iPad 2, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you're a big reader, have a ton of Kindle books, want a larger reading device, and want to borrow and read free books, get the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you already have an iPad 3, don't bother getting the big Kindle Fire.
  • If you already have an iPad 2, and are thinking of upgrading, get the iPad 3 if you want to take your Apple ecosystem with you, or get the Kindle Fire if you want more power at a cheaper price.

So there you go. This one is not nearly as clear-cut as almost all of Amazon's previous Kindle offerings. It'll be interesting to see how the market responds.

My wife and I own a first generation iPad and an iPad 3. We also have a first-generation Kindle Fire (my wife's). I recently sold my first-generation Kindle Fire and upgraded to the Nexus 7, in large part because of the reasons I discussed in my last how-to-decide column.

We're not going to buy a big Kindle Fire. If we decide to upgrade the old first-generation iPad, we'll get another iPad 3 (or an iPad 4, when that comes out). We're going to sit out this round of Kindle Fire releases. On the other hand, I'm thinking seriously about getting a Windows 8 Surface tablet when that comes out next year.

Remember, though, that's us. How you decide has to be entirely about your lifestyle and your needs.

More Kindle HD coverage on ZDNet:

UPDATES: Commenter @tpettyrox double-checked my 4G math. Corrected. @danbi points out US-only. Mentioned. Thanks to both

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