Best 7-inch tablets for Black Friday buyers

There's a lot of 7-inch tablets out there now, but which one is the best for you and where can you get the best prices? Here are some answers, unfortunately there aren't any great deals.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Many people love the full-sized iPad, but some of us, like yours truly, prefer smaller, 7-inch tablets. Over the last few months, everyone, even Apple, has decided that small tablets are great. Since then, I've bought several of the latest and greatest and based on my own experiences here are my recommendations for what you should look for on Black Friday and, indeed, any other day of the year.

I prefer the smaller tablets because I find them to simply fit me better. For me, tablets are primarily for consuming data. I watch videos on them, I read books on them, I use them for Web-browsing, and I use them for e-mail. If you want to use a tablet for a work, you really want a full-sized tablet such as the iPad 4, Nexus 10, or a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Me? I'll use a laptop. For sheer enjoyment though give me a mini-tablet any day of the week.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. No one is really offering "deals" on any of the top 7" tablets except for the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. For all the rest, expect to pay full price. That said, you should look for bargains on such accessories as the microSD cards for more storage and cases.

If you love Amazon, you'll love the Amazon Kindle Fire. It's also the only small tablet that will be on sell relatively cheaply this holiday season.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD

I wanted to love the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, but even though I'm an Amazon Prime member I never could warm up to it. Don't get me wrong, it's a good 7" Android-powered tablet but... well it had problems.

First, with its 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP4460 ARM processor, it's under-powered. It felt sluggish.

Also, while some people, such as display expert Raymond M. Soneira prefer the Kindle Fire HD display over its rivals, but for me its display was the dullest of the lot.

I also didn't like the fact that this device, more than anything else, is a dedicated Amazon tablet. Apps, books, videos, whatever, if Amazon doesn't provide it, good luck getting it. I'm also annoyed that Amazon ships the device, ala Windows 8 PCs, with advertisements built-in. TO get rid of the ads, will cost you an additional $15. It's not much, but it still bugs me.

Again, I use Amazon a lot, but I don't want to use Just Amazon. Let's say you do love Amazon, here's the best deals I could find for the Kindle Fire HD: 

  • Best Buy: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199.99 free $30 Best Buy Gift Card included
  • Office Max: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $25 Office Max Gift Card
  • Staples: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card
  • Staples: 32GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $249, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card

One last word: The first generation Amazon Kindle Fire is still available out there for about $50 less. Unless you're on a really tight budget, get the Fire HD, its a much better tablet.

Are you an Apple fan who wants a small tablet? Then the iPad mini is for you. Alas you'll be paying full price for it.

Apple iPad mini

If you read a lot of my stories, you know I generally prefer Android over iOS. I still do, but that said, I quite like the list price $329 iPad mini. I just don't like it $130 better.

The good news is that its dual-core A5 processor is enough to give it snappy performance. True, it doesn't have a Retina display, but I still found its interface to be attractive and bright.

As always, iOS applications tend to work well. There are, of course, unfortunate exceptions like Apple Maps. That affair made it clear that Apple can blunder just as much as any other company.

If you're already a member of the church of Apple this is a no-brainer. This is the tablet you'll want if for no other reason than it will work hand-in-glove with all your other Apple products.

The bad news for shoppers is, as always, Apple knows darn well that you're willing to pay premium prices for their goods. So as in every year, the Black Friday "deals" for iPad Minis aren't the kind of thing that will have you standing in line early Friday morning. To see what's what from the official Apple outlets click to the Apple shopping event at midnight. I have a bad feeling that there won't be any iPad minis for sale this year.

The only deal out there I see for iPad fans is that it is expected that most retailers will be offering the older, but still quite nice, iPad 2 for $41 to $61 less than usual. I also expect that at brick-and-mortar stores these will be only available in limited quantizes.

Nook HD
Want a great e-reader that also makes a passable tablet? Then the Nook HD is for you.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD

I've always liked Nooks and the latest 7" model, the $199 Nook HD is still a winner. It is alas, better as an e-book reader than as a tablet.

With its 1.3GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor, I found the Nook HD to be a good deal snapper than its Amazon rival. The screen was also sharper. I also continue to find it to be the best "in hand" of the tablets.

That's the good news. The bad news is that this Android 4.x tablet is even more locked down than the Kindle. Oh it does have some nice Android 4.2 style features.

The most significant of these is that every tablet user can have their own profiles. That's handy if you want to read Wolf Hall, your son is always playing Angry Birds, and your fifteen-year old can't wait to see what happens next in The Hunger Games.

I also wish that the base model had more than 8GBs of storage. All the other tablets come with a minimum of 16GBs of space. True, it's easy to add storage to it with a microSD card, but still it would have been nice to have the extra room from the start.

What it all comes down to is that if what you really want is an e-reader with some tablet functionality, the Nook HD is for you. If you want more, look elsewhere. Me? It's already replaced my last Nook on my bed-side table.

Unfortunately, just as with Apple, you're not going to have much luck finding Black Friday deals for their latest and greatest tablet. If all you want is a simple e-reader you will be able to buy a Nook Simple Touch for $59.

The best tablet, for my money, is the Android-powered Nexus 7.

Google/ASUS Nexus 7

For my money, the best over-all tablet is the $199 Nexus 7. It's a full, open Android 4.2-powered tablet at a great price.

With its quad-core Tegra 3 CPU it's faster than any of the other tablets, and I found its screen to be outstanding. The software and the Google Play Store is where it really shines. If a program can run on Android it can run on this device at a good, fast clip.

Could it be better? Sure. It would be nice to be able to add storage to it and a rear-facing camera would have been nice, but all-in-all this is my favorite tablet. I'd be lying though if I said I wouldn't consider an iPad mini... if the small Apple tablet only came at a more reasonable price. As it is if I could only have one tablet, it would be the Nexus 7.

Once more, you'll need to pay the full price. It seems only Amazon is offering deal this holiday season. That's not too surprising. For Amazon, the Kindle is a loss-leader. They can afford to lose money on every unit sold because it's real purpose is to tie you to the Amazon market.

That said, at $199 both the Nook HD and Nexus 7 are well worth the money. The iPad mini... maybe not, but if you already love Apple products anyway and you want a handy sized tablet, you'll want to go ahead and buy one even at its higher price.

One final word of warning, my e-mail box has been stuffed with iPad offers for "90% off!" and only "$99 Black Friday only!" Don't believe them. They're scams. I'd love to be able to report lots of great deals for small tablets, but for the 2012 holiday season the only real deals will be from Amazon and friends.

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