How to decide: should you buy the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire?

How to decide: should you buy the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire?

Summary: The two devices are the same size and the same price. But there are differences. Which should you choose?

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TOPICS: Android, Amazon, Apps, Tablets
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Back when I wrote for CNN, I was taught we had eight seconds to get the main point across. So, here goes. Buy the Nexus 7. Unless you're a huge Amazon user. Then get the Fire.

There you go. No beating around the bush. Just a simple answer. Or is it?

UPDATE: This article is about the original Kindle Fire. An article comparing the new Kindle Fire HD 7" to the Nexus 7 will be coming sometime soon.

Let's regroup for a second and really look at the question. The Kindle Fire is Amazon's $199 7-inch Android-based Kindle device. It's WiFi-only. The Nexus 7 is Google's $199 7-inch Android device. It's also WiFi-only.

Now you can see why there's some level of confusion. The two devices are the same size and the same price. There are some differences, however.

Physical device

The Kindle Fire weights 2.6 ounces more than the Nexus 7. It's 14.6 ounces, while the Nexus 7 is 12 ounces. In a handheld device, 2 ounces is something you'll notice.

More to the point, the Nexus 7 is a lot more machine for your $199. It's got a much faster CPU, a graphics processor, twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, and (for an extra fifty bucks) can store twice as much as the Kindle Fire.

On raw horsey-power, the Nexus 7 gets the win.

Android OS

Although both devices are based on Android, you'd be hard-pressed to notice Android on the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a Kindle first, with Android 2.3 running underneath, hidden from view.

On the other hand, the Nexus 7 is Google's current benchmark tablet, running Android 4.1 (otherwise known as Jelly Bean).

On Android compatibility, the Nexus 7 gets the win.

Software compatibility

Here's where things start getting interesting. You'd think the Nexus 7 would run more Android apps, but because it's the first Jelly Bean product in a 7-inch tablet form, many Android apps (like Instagram) won't run because they check the version number. 4.1 is higher than many apps are comfortable with.

On the other hand, the Kindle Fire runs apps primarily from the Amazon app store. While you can side-load regular Android apps, there's some hoop jumping involved.

When it comes to software compatibility, at the time of writing, neither wins the top slot. It's a draw.

Gaming

There are quite a few nice, little games for the Kindle Fire. But the Nexus 7 has a built-in Tegra 3 T30L graphics processing unit. Almost, without a doubt, and especially since the system also has twice the RAM, the Nexus 7 will be the better gaming machine.

Nexus 7 gets the win.

Security

This one is interesting. Android security is somewhat problematic, especially if you decide to download apps from secondary app stores. Apps purchased through Amazon have a much higher chance of being safe. In fact, the entire Kindle experience is tied into your Amazon account, and is secured by Amazon's relatively strong attention to detail.

For security, the Kindle Fire gets the win.

Media

Here's where Amazon takes the lead from Google. Amazon has a rich media experience, and also provides a substantial library of free movies and TV shows to Prime customers. Google Play isn't nearly as good. Jason Perlow also pointed out that only actual Kindle devices (not just those devices running Kindle software, like an iPhone), can take things out from the Kindle Lending Library. So if you want to read best-sellers for free, the Fire is your best bet.

On the other hand, the Nexus 7 will play that media better, because it has substantially more power and a higher-resolution display.

We'll call this a draw.

Which should you get?

Without a doubt, the Kindle Fire is a Kindle, while the Nexus 7 is an Android tablet. If you want a Kindle more than you want an Android tablet, then you might be happier with the Kindle Fire. Likewise, if you want to stay out of the morass that is the Android ecosystem and just want to stay in the welcoming, comforting arms of Amazon, you'll be happier with the Kindle Fire.

On the other hand, if you want a powerful, inexpensive, solidly designed pure Android tablet, the Nexus 7 is a no-brainer.

My wife and I have two iPads and two Kindle Fires at home. I'm honestly thinking about selling my Kindle Fire and getting a Nexus 7 to replace it. If you do decide to sell your Kindle Fire, make sure you remember to decommission it before you sell it. Otherwise, the device has access to your entire Amazon account.

Hmmm...maybe the Kindle Fire isn't that secure, after all.

Update: And yes, I did sell back my Kindle Fire (first edition) and get a Nexus 7. So far, I'm quite happy with the decision to do so. It's a very nice, little machine.

More Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire coverage on ZDNet:

Topics: Android, Amazon, Apps, Tablets

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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28 comments
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  • Don't forget...

    Don't forget, you can also install the Amazon Android market app on your Nexus 7 and dowload all the Free Ap's of the Day you've accumulated (I'm assuming it's compatible with Jellybean... or soon will be).
    dsf3g
  • What about waiting for the improved version of the Kindle Fire?

    Won't that cause some need for more than three sentences? I am of course assuming that the next gen Kindle Fire has similar specs to the Nexus 7.
    ikissfutebol
  • Forget the Amazon Kindle Fire, the BB PlayBook is now the best low cost tab

    According to zdnet, a well respected trade resource:

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/mobile-gadgeteer/forget-the-amazon-kindle-fire-the-bb-playbook-is-now-the-best-low-cost-tablet/5498
    sagec
    • Is it February yet?

      By all means, if your calendar, like the quoted article, says 'February 2012' then get the PlayBook. Heck, the Nexus 7 isn't even available yet.
      Spatha@...
      • Also

        Also, if it's February 2012, RIM has a good 6-9 months left before it has to declare bankruptcy.
        dsf3g
      • Gee, the kindle fire was

        Since it's no contest, per that article, why is the kindle even in the lineup?

        Did I even mention the nexus? No?

        I will now:

        "nexus 7 has been a disaster"
        http://betanews.com/2012/07/23/is-demand-really-why-google-stopped-selling-16gb-nexus-7/
        sagec
    • That's what I got

      A few months ago I bought the Playbook, 16Gig version at 199$. Great little tablet, I like it. But now RIM stopped making the 16Gig one, only the 32 and 64 Gigs are still made (250$ & 300$) but you might still find the other one in stores. Also read recently that an LTE Playbook is coming for those interested...

      Though had I known back then that a 7" Android tablet would be available a few months later for the same price I would have waited (I don't consider the Kindle a real tablet but just an e-book reader and e-books don't interest me, still like to feel the paper in my hands when reading a book).
      lepoete73
  • Your mileage may very...

    do your research. New Kindle Fire, may be worth looking at, depends upon how much it gets cluttered up and if you prefer the Amazon Environment over the Google one.
    I think if Nexus allows you to do Amazon, you could add that later. Not sure if Kindle Fire will allow as much flexibility as Nexus would. If ALL you want is an Ereader/basic Amazon experience, then I wonder what old Kindle Fire prices will drop to after new ones are released ?
    jkohut
  • I'm looking for specialized papers eReader with long battery

    I'm looking to get a 7" tablet for reading ebooks in PDF.

    I have purchased dozens of eBooks trough technical journal websites, so reading in PDF is a must.

    I don't care about online reading services since I download my books outside of the Google and Amazon websites.

    I also would like to watch movies I have bought in wmv (Windows Media) and m4v (iTunes) format ocassionally and connect my eReader to a non Wi-Fi large HD display via HDMI or VGA.

    So pretty much I'm looking for the better battery tablet which supports pdf and has video output connectivity via VGA or HDMI cables since my HD display has no Wi-Fi
    Gabriel Hernandez
    • The topic here is pretty lame: these two are NOT the only choices

      I've been a big fan of Ainol, the Chinese Tablet maker who produced the first Android ICS tablet. The company changes its line up of what's available with frightening frequency, but the range runs from the "no frills bargain basement" to the "Wow! That's got a better spec than the new iPad!" and ALL at readily affordable prices. I own the MIPS based Ainol Paladin already - basic but with amazing battery life, and (if you can still find any in stock) One of the cheapest tabs on the market; running Kindle, or PB Reader, or Aldiko it makes a fine ebook reader (with a 1Ghz CPU). I've just ordered their "Aurora 2" tablet, after considering (and rejecting) the Nexus. Why? The two tabs have very similar specs and performance, but the Nexus (in the UK) costs 200 GBP, while the Aurora costs a mere 110 GDP. And the Aurora's 16 Gug of storage CAN be expanded with Transflash cards.
      BigRonW
      • these two are NOT the only choices

        I should add that Ainol's oddly-named "Tornedos" (the most recent of their bargain basement offers) has an integrated HDMI out, AND is currently widely offered at a bargain 57GBP, or their higher specified "Mars" (also HDMI) sells for just seven quid more. Both handle a wide range of video formats. Personally, in your position, I'd go for the Ainol "Elf2" at a touch under 90GBP. There are dozens of retailers in China all offering pretty much the same special offers (incouding free delivery) Google is your friend!
        BigRonW
  • Simplification

    My mother has a Kindle Fire. I have a Nexus 7. I had the Kindle Fire and used it for a few hours the day I got it. She mentioned that she was going to buy one and I gave mine to her. She reads books and looks at photos of kittens and puppies online. I use mine for business related activities. She can't remember where she put her Kindle Fire. My Nexus 7 hasn't left my side since it arrived. Toy vs Tool.
    cabdriverjim
    • I concur...

      The Fire is great for media consumption, but what stinks is 8gb of storage. I use mine when I travel and I have to constantly rotate material on it. Forget about media streaming on GoGo inflight Internet either since the bandwidth stinks.

      Either way, if you are in the Googlesphere (use their apps, mail etc...) then go with the Nexus.

      I am a Windows guy and holding out for more powerful options that the Surface will bring (and more apps I can run including Office).
      omdguy
      • MS Surface vapourware is simply not in this race

        You *may* be able to do more with the Surface, when it eventually surfaces, but it cannot possibly be available at the price points we are talking about here - around $200 - unless Microsoft effectively gives away the hardware for free.

        If I were to buy on functionality, I would get an iPad; if price is my primary consideration, then I would be looking at the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7.
        non-sycophant
    • Calling B*S* on this one

      Having a Kindle Fire, a BlackBerry Playbook and having used the Nexus of a friend, I'm calling B*S*.

      You're belittling your Mom for using the computer the way she wants to? And, of course, you are so much more computer literate than her, your use of the computer is so much more valid than hers.

      Well, I'm the chief software architect for a $100M company, and both I and my CEO use a Kindle Fire for serious work. I also use the BBPB with the new 2.0 OS for serious work. I've seen the Nexus and used it briefly, and it's OK, I could do pretty much the same things on it.

      No Toy vs. Tool BS here. Unless you're talking about those silly, silly boys and girls with their cute white dinosaur sized tablets sitting at the Starbucks checking their Facebook page for views.
      chinese.bookie
  • Have both - Nexus Wins

    Owning both, after using my N7 for a few days, I will say the Nexus wins on all fronts.
    I am a huge Amazon user and loaded my Amazon items on the N7 along with my Google and other items.
    For user interaction, flexibility and the ability to shop across multiple ecosystems the Fire is quickly left in the dust. Add to that display quality, speed, Chrome, games, etc....

    For those considering both, even if you are tied into Amazon, I recommend giving the Nexus a serious look.

    Did I mention Google Now and Jelly Bean? Wow.
    rhonin
  • No choice for some of us

    The Kindle Fire is not available in the UK, so the Google Nexus is the only choice (out of these two) for us.
    tony@...
    • No choice for a LOT of us

      The Kindle Fire isn't sold in Australia, either.
      alan_r_cam
  • Why would anyone buy either?

    I suppose that if you don't care about having the best selection of apps as well as the best user experience and you are brain damaged, then you might consider a Kindle Fire or a Nexus 7... But you would have to be Forest, Forest Gump stupid is as stupid does kind of stupid.
    i8thecat4
    • Run Forest Run

      He wants you to invest your money in a fruit company...
      lepoete73