Great Debate postmortem: Kindle Fire vs. iPad

ZDNet Great Debate put Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Apple iPad: Violet Blue picks Fire for the top holiday tablet.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Last Tuesday's ZDNet Great Debate pitted Amazon's new Kindle Fire against Apple's iPad in a tablet-on-tablet fight to the finish for which slab would be this holiday's best pick for gadget gifting.

I didn't really expect that I'd be the girl in the Kindle Fire camp - not at least until I got one in my hot little hands. And after watching my colleagues take their Fires out for some revealing road testing where the Fire stayed Internet-speedy when everyone else choked thanks to Amazon's cloud.

Strong motivation was that when I'd talk to friends (and even strangers) about gifty gadgets for this year's sweet surprises, so many of them were wondering which tablet they should pick.

If you know the tablet genre, you're already on the up and up that these tabs are wholly different beasts. But that's not how general consumers seem to see it. Just look at Nook's current competitive holiday commercials on TV right now (if you're in the US, anyway) and you'll undertand what I mean.

As illustrated in the tough debate, the Fire has a world of fun and practicality going for it. In fact, looking over the arguments, the Fire makes the iPad look stalwart and a bit crotchety - maybe even like it's not for, erm, younger generations.

The Kindle Fire is rugged. It is not made for flouncy, delicate-handed white-gloved folks that maybe don't code as much anymore but love feeling productive on a big pricey dinner plate. Or those that prefer newspapers and magazines carefully screened to exclude any so-called offensive content through the Apple app store.

I'm a Silicon Valley and San Francisco native, and that's probably why I think the Kindle Fire is a bit more Barbary Coast WIld West than Cupertino. Censor or screen my media? Take your ball and go home, chump.

Kids like me have tech and openness in our DNA, and we need our gadgets to keep up with us. That means high expectations for entertainment and functionality, an open platform ethos (Fire is Android Gingerbread), freedom of choice, and something that can take a few knocks.

As I pointed out in the debate, UK based Books4fun got a Fire and then proceeded to attack it. Despite the Samsonite-like torture, it was flawless even after he stabbed the screen with a screwdriver and a woodworking tool. He also dropped it from three feet onto a stone floor and it was just fine; it kept playing the music video he was streaming.

He then tried an angled drop from six feet and it was unscathed. He finally damaged the Fire when he did a flat-face drop from from six feet; the deliberate drop cracked the internal LCD but not the gorilla glass.

You can see his video of the tests on YouTube: Kindle Fire Gorilla Glass Drop and Scratch Test.

What I'm saying is, an iPad isn't as much for superusers as it seems. Those of us that bang our tech around are really using it. The iPad isn't a work device if you are a high-output creative content maker. Ever try and write 5,000 words on one? Talk to any author about it (like me). For that, you need to add a bluetooth keyboard and then you might as well be back on your PC or like me, on my superlative MacBook Air.

There's just no way for us workers to get needed screen real estate on any tablet without a workaround: obviously Amazon realized this and focused on what tablets are actually great for. Watching videos, checking in with social, playing games, reading cool stuff, shopping, and surfing.

And unlike recent issues with spyware trackers like CarrierIQ, privacy-minded surfers can easily turn off the Fire's Silk browser cloud function for privacy.

This season, lots of people will be wondering which one to pick. I think that except for people in the SV bubble, few people can afford to make a bad choice.

And Amazon is making it very desirable for its Prime customers. Prime peeps get all kinds of goodness for free.

What if Apple had a version of Prime, and for a reasonable flat fee (Amazon's $79) you could have thousands of movies and TV shows in iTunes streamed for free? (This is what Prime offers free on the Fire.)

Or a paid app a day - and not the cheap ones, either?

Apple doesn't.

Oh how I wish they did.

Families will certainly pick the Fire because it's inexpensive, scratch-proof, drop-proof and kids really love it. And, if they talk to anyone with a Fire (like me) I can say they won't regret the $199. Or the nice casesalready available.

At $199, the Kindle Fire is the clear winner. You can get two for the price of one iPad and it doesn't ever feel like you're settling for less. The Fire is $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad and $630 less expensive than the 64GB model with 3G.

I'm a serious and longtime Apple user. So it really surprised me when I got the Kindle Fire and found myself diving into it deeper and faster than my first iPad encounter. And I should disclose that the second time I touched an iPad I accidentally scratched it by nudging it - simultaneously ruining a gadget and a friendship.

The Fire?

Unscratchable, like every friendship should be.

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