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.

TOPICS: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google

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


You may have noticed that I've gotten almost 1,500 words into this article before I talked about a single hardware feature. That was on purpose. You see, I don't consider the hardware features key in almost anyone's decision-making process.

Yes, one has a slightly faster processor. Yes, one has slightly better speakers (although this is disputed by reviewers). And yes, one has slightly more screen real estate.

The thing is, if you're trying to decide between these devices, the hardware differences are, essentially superficial. They all run quite well, they all do the job well, they all play most games well, and they all play video quite well.

You can go ahead and read about the hardware features in many of the reviews all over the Web. But, fundamentally, you probably shouldn't decide on one of these three devices based on the hardware configuration. The ecosystem decision is far more relevant.

The iPad mini price issue

Okay, here's the thing. The iPad mini is $129 more than the base Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7 and comes with the same 16GB of RAM that they do.

In fact, you could buy a Nexus 7 and an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and still have $10 left over, for the price of an equivalent iPad mini.

That's a measurable price premium for what's arguably a placeholder device. This is an important detail. The iPad mini doesn't come with the higher-quality "Retina" display now standard on the iPhone and larger iPad. In fact, the iPad mini comes with a last-generation display that many users aren't happy with.

Our own Stephen Chapman called the iPad mini's display "atrocious" and described the iPad mini this way:

With almost every single device of Apple's now having a Retina display, the regression for the iPad mini immediately makes it feel like a half-hearted, disingenuous, and greedy effort.

Ouch. On the other hand, ZDNet's Joel Evans likes his iPad mini more than the iPad 3.

See what I mean? You have to choose what meets your needs. We each have our own impressions.

That said, if you do decide it's worth spending the extra $129, be aware that Apple is almost guaranteed to introduce a Retina display version of the iPad mini within six to nine months for the same price. This $329 device will likely wind up on their price list for $199.

So if you can't stand buying a device and then having it drop precipitously in price, don't buy the iPad mini. On the other hand, if you don't care much about the less-than-stellar display (it's as good as the iPad 1 and 2, but not as good as the iPad 3), want access to the iOS ecosystem right now, and don't mind parting with an extra $129, the iPad mini might be for you.

If you want a GPS

A reader sent me a note asking if the iPad mini had a built-in GPS. As it turns out, the WiFi-only model does not. You have spend an extra $130 to get the cellular version, and that will include GPS capability. The Nexus 7 already has GPS built into the WiFi only unit.

There's nothing on the Amazon site for the Kindle Fire that indicates GPS.

How to decide

Let's bring this story in for a landing, shall we? Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • If how much you spend is the most important, get the $199 Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7.
  • If how much you spend is really, really important, get the last-generation Kindle Fire for $159.
  • If the most important thing is using all your iOS apps, get the iPad mini.
  • If the most important thing is using all your Android apps, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you want the freedom to run apps that Apple might not approve of, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you want GPS and don't want to buy cellular service, get the Nexus 7.
  • If you're an avid Amazon customer and want all the benefits of Amazon Prime, free videos, and the ability to "borrow" Kindle books, get a Kindle Fire HD.
  • If you think you'll be infuriated when Apple introduces a better iPad mini for the same price and drops the price on this one, don't get the iPad mini right now.
  • If you want the most mainstream option, with better app security, and you don't mind spending extra for the privilege, get the iPad mini.
  • If you've never used a tablet or a tablet operating system and you want access to the most training resources and materials, get the iPad mini.
  • If you want to read magazines and books in the bathroom and don't want to freak out if you drop your tablet in the toilet, get the last-generation Kindle Fire.

There you go. Stay tuned. I'm going to do a full-size "how to choose" that will include the new Nexus 10-inch tablet, the full-sized iPad, the large Kindle Fire, and even the Microsoft Surface. That one will bring the fanbois out in droves, I'm sure!


Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Apple, Google


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.


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.
    • 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.
    • PlayBook all the way

      They keep updating the OS and it will soon be updated to BB10 OS with peek and flow; astonishing UI
      • 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.
        • 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.
          • 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.
        • Re:Tablet optimized apps are an Apple gimmick


          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.

        • 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.
    • 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.

    • 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.
      • 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.
        • 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.
          • 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.
          • 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.
          • 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.
          • ?

            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?
          • Why?

            Lets see, because we don't want Flash on our mobile devices.
        • 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.
    • 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.