How to decide: should you buy an iPad mini, a Kindle Fire HD, or a Nexus 7?

How to decide: should you buy an iPad mini, a Kindle Fire HD, or a Nexus 7?

Summary: You might think the big decision is about which has the best hardware, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the big decisions are all about price and ecosystem. David Gewirtz has the details inside.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google
93

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

The tablet market is moving at warp speed. Back in July, I wrote How to decide: should you buy the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire? -- and already, we've moved to a new generation of approximately 7-inch mid-size tablets.

The Kindle Fire updated to a new, improved HD version. The Nexus 7 added more memory for the same price. And Apple, better late than never to the party, has finally gotten around to introducing the tablet Steve Jobs said would never be: a 7-inch iPad mini.

The ground rules

Before I dive into the details of these three tablets, let's discuss our usual "how to decide" ground rules. The first is the most important: this is not a review. I'm not reviewing these products and telling you which is better. Instead, I'm helping you understand the various elements of each product, so you can make up your mind which best fits your needs. This is all about you and how you will use the device.

There are two big deciding factors between these devices: price and ecosystem.

Second, I'm only talking about the 7-inch (ish) mid-size tablet offerings. Each of these vendors offers a larger 9- or 10-inch variety, and I'm not going to talk about them at all. You need to decide if you want a smaller or larger tablet (or both). This article is just about the 7-inchers.

And that brings me to the last of the ground rules. Within this article -- and this article only -- when I talk about "tablet" I'm speaking of the device that's approximately 7-inches in size. That's just so I don't have to type "approximately 7-inch tablets" over and over, and you don't have to read it.

So, let's get started.

The big differences

There are two big deciding factors between these devices: price and ecosystem. Put simply, the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 enter the market at $199 while the iPad mini debuts at $329. If you want to spend less money, the iPad mini probably won't be your choice.

The second big factor is ecosystem. Each of these devices is very firmly attached to its own ecosystem: Amazon for the Kindle Fire HD, Android for the Nexus 7, and the mega-kahuna of them all, Apple's iOS for the iPad mini.

If you already have a big investment in any of these three ecosystems, the device choice may turn out to be a no-brainer. Let's look at those ecosystems in a bit more detail.

The Kindle Fire vs. the Kindle Fire HD

In this guide, I won't really be talking about the Kindle Fire (the first generation color Kindle). As of November 9, 2012, the Kindle Fire was still available for $159. But since it got beaten handily by the Nexus 7 on features, and the Kindle Fire HD is only $40 more, I won't be comparing the original Kindle Fire to the other machines in this article.

If you're dying for a tablet, and you can only afford $159, get the original Kindle Fire. My wife still has hers, and she loves it. But if you can spend even just $40 more, there are better choices. Read on.

The app world

According to Wikipedia, Apple's App Store contained more than 700,000 applications as of September 12, 2012. Interestingly, Wikipedia also reports that Android also has more than 700,000 apps available for download from Google Play.

While it is possible to run Google app store Android apps on the Kindle Fire HD, there is some hacking and fiddling involved. According to The Verge, Amazon's Appstore for Android had 50,000 apps as of September -- but only a subset of them will run on the Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD.

An important factor (perhaps the most important factor) to keep in mind is that if you already have a substantial app investment, that investment transfers to the new device. So, for example, if you already have a full-size iPad with a pile of apps, you get those apps again on your iPad mini for free. That, alone, might justify the added price.

Clearly, when it comes to the absolute volume of available apps, the iPad mini and the Nexus 7 handily beat the Kindle Fire HD. But if you're buying a Kindle Fire HD, you're probably not buying it for the app store.

Next: application security and variety (plus hardware and more)

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google

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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

93 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Playbook

    Only journalists have decided that the playbook is not suited for this kind of comparison, users don't agree. The playbook is a heck of a good tablet, priced right and a very fast With videos, photos and most apps.
    gbouchard99@...
    • Have to agree

      Bought my wife one last week, she loves it. Her mother has an iPad which my wife tried but she prefers her Playbook.
      pjc158
    • PlayBook all the way

      They keep updating the OS and it will soon be updated to BB10 OS with peek and flow; astonishing UI
      sagec
      • NX7 with JellyBean 4.2 is just the best

        I have all of these, even the Mini on loan. The most versatile of all is NX7 hands down.

        Tablet optimized apps are an Apple gimmick, all Android apps work well on a NX7, it doesn't need a special version like iPad does. Now quality of some Android apps need work, no doubt. But those you really need work just s good or better on Android than iPad.

        Playbook is too slow to be practical.
        Uralbas
        • How does the speed compare?

          I just bought a Fire and its nice, but the speed is frustrating me. Is the ipad faster in execution of apps and web pages?
          Helena Handbasket
          • Yes

            Yes the iPad is much faster in execution of apps and the web. The Fire runs Android so the lag and choppiness will continue to be present.
            dave95.
          • Nexus 7 is blazing fast.

            The Nexus 7 is easily the fastest of the bunch, as it runs native Android, and is updated regularly straight from Google. The Kindle Fire is slow as it runs a gimped version of Android, but the slowest of em all has to be the surface.
            JoeAUser
        • Re:Tablet optimized apps are an Apple gimmick

          Uralbas,

          Some of the iPad Apps are a gimmick. But some of the apps that I use on a regular basis actually are significantly different and many times are quite an improvement.

          Iain
          CanadianTrooper
        • Tablet Optimised Apps a gimmick?

          "Tablet optimized apps are an Apple gimmick". Sounds like a poor excuse. Remember when the iPad first came out and there was little but phone apps? Less than ideal as they make poor use of the screen real estate. The one criticism I hear of the Nexus 7 and other Android tablets is the lack of tablet optimised apps. An example of an optimised app is Adobe's PS Touch (a potential killer app for the Galaxy Note tablet; iPad has neither Wacom pen nor SD card reader). It needs the screen real estate and if it had been a phone app running on a tablet would suck terribly just as running for instance a phone Facebook app on a tablet sucks. Personally I don't have any, but the smaller form factors appeal to me, be it 7" or the iPad Mini size. I'd prefer a Retina display for reading though. For my photography, a high-res screen with accurate colour and SD card slot would be good. Apple could do this if they chose as they do have the best screens out there according to DisplayMate - just not on the Mini.
          msandersen
    • Playbook

      Just ordered our third Playbook. At $230.00 for a 64GB model it can't be beat. David should have included it in his analysis, especially when it comes to security.

      Jch
      j.crugerhansen@...
    • Can't agree

      In my home right now, I have a 3rd gen iPad, a 10-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, a Nexus 7, a 16GB PlayBook, a new Kindle and a Kobo Mini. The PlayBook definitely gets the least use. It's not a bad device and the price is (now) good, but everything it does is covered by Android or iOS tablets, and both of those do a lot more than the PB.
      I just don't see any reason to choose it over a similarly priced device.
      pwolchak
      • which of the craps?

        Which of the craps out there covers the playbook's security and real time multitasking ? Any OS that can't play flash is not good enough to be called an Os for a tablet. Ios is only good for a phone and tablet because a tablet needs to support flash.
        perryy
        • Ummmmmm....

          You do know that flash has been Sun setted and that over the next couple of years it will vanish from the web. Similar to the fate of the Playbook.
          KBabcock75
          • apologist excuses

            So buy an ipad and wait for flash to dissapear?
            I want a tablet that I can confidently access any website TODAY, not in a couple of years, no ifs buts or maybe.
            I'm not waiting for the mountains to move to suit my device.
            The other issue is the lack of desktop mode in safari so you end up with the cripled mobile sites. If you can live with limitations like that then ipad is for you.
            warboat
          • Since I could count on one hand and have fingers left over

            how many times the lack of flash has been an issue on the iPad I don't think I will lose any sleep over it.
            non-biased
          • umm, no it hasn't

            Development for mobile devices was halted. That's it.

            RIM is a source code licensee, giving them yet another competitive edge.
            sagec
          • ?

            The same thing was assumed several years ago but Flash is still widespread on the web so why limit yourself to any mobile phone or tablet that only runs html 5 when you can have one that runs html 5 AND Flash right now?
            trob6969
          • Why?

            Lets see, because we don't want Flash on our mobile devices.
            non-biased
        • All anybody had to do was read the title of your post to

          realize that you are not mature enough to have a open minded conversation about this or probably anything. Come back and see us when you grow up.
          non-biased
    • thee best tablet in the world as of now is the playbook

      thee best tablet in the world as of now is the playbook. I long dump my ipa that will only give me enlarged mobile webpage unlike my paybook that gives real desktop experience plus the unbeatable multitasking capabilities. Apple journalist , enough of the sentiment.
      perryy