Given the popularity of tablets, I expect that they will be found underneath a lot of Christmas trees this year, and what a good time for it, since consumers are going to be spoilt for choice. With Amazon and Apple both having tablets at the ready for the holiday spending extravaganza, and judging by my mailbox, people are having a hard time making up their minds as to which is the best.
So, let's put Apple's iPad Air 2 up against Amazon's 10.1-inch Fire HD 10 and see which comes out the winner.
The Fire HD comes in three flavors – 6-inch, 8-inch, and 10.1-inch – but for the purposes of this piece I'll be focusing on the 10.1-inch version as this is the one closest in size to the iPad Air 2.
Since the display is the bit that you're going to be spending the most time looking at, let's begin there.
- The iPad Air 2 is equipped with a 9.7-inch 2048-by-1536 resolution LED backlit IPS display with a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch. It features a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating and an antireflective coating.
- The Fire HD 10 comes with a 10.1-inch 1280-by-800 resolution IPS LCD display with a pixel density of 149 pixels per inch, which means that this isn't a retina display.
A big huge win for Apple here, unless you want the extra fractions of an inch that the Fire HD 10 has to offer.
At the heart of all tablets is a processor, and while the screen is what we look at, the processor can make or break a device.
- The iPad Air 2 makes use of Apple's triple-core ARMv8-A 64-bit A8X processor running at 1.5GHz and an 8-core PowerVR 6XT GXA6850 GPU.
- The Fire HD 10 features a quad-core MediaTek processor, with two cores running at 1.5GHz and two running at 1.2GHz.
This is a tough call. Apple's A8X is undoubtedly a fast processor, but the MediaTek part has more cores to throw at heavy tasks when the going gets hard.
Since I'm convinced that in both cases the processing power is adequate, I'm calling this one a tie.
Apps, photos, and videos all take up storage space on tablets, so you want enough to hold all of your digital life.
- Apple offers the iPad Air 2 in 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB versions, with each storage bump adding $100 to the price. There is no option for expanding storage by using microSD cards.
- Amazon offers the Fire HD 10 in 16GB or 32GB, with the storage bump adding $30 to the price. There is also a microSD card slow for expanding storage.
The microSD card slot means the Fire HD 10 is the winner here given how you can pick up a 128GB card for under $100.
Size and weight are a concern when you expect to hold a device for extended periods.
- The iPad Air 2 weighs in at 0.96 pound, and measures 9.4 inches by 6.6 inches by 0.24 inch (240 mm x 169.5 mm x 6.1 mm).
- The 10.1-inch Fire HD 10 measures 10.3 inches by 6.3 inches by 0.3 inches (262 mm x 159 mm x 7.7 mm) and is actually lighter than the iPad Air 2, weighing in at only 0.95 lbs.
While the Fire HD 10 is larger than the iPad Air 2, it manages this while still being fractionally lighter. This means that you can choose either with no trade-off in terms of weight, which is why I'm calling this a tie
Two totally different platforms.
- The iPad Air 2 runs Apple's latest iOS 9 operating system, and apps are restricted to those available from the App Store.
- The Fire HD 10 runs a heavily modified version of Android 5.0, which Amazon calls Fire OS 5.0. Apps are restricted to Amazon's App Store and users cannot use Google's Play store.
To be honest, when it comes down to which app store is best, it is pretty much a matter of personal preference. Apple's App Store is the biggest and best curated, but there's nothing wrong with Amazon's offering either. I use both, and while on the whole I find that Apple has a better selection of apps, Amazon's is not bad either.
If you're already locked to one ecosystem or another then this might sway you, but otherwise it's not really much of an issue which platform you happen to choose.
Durability is an important consideration if you are a butterfingers or little ones are going to be using the tablet.
- The iPad Air 2 features a glass and aluminum construction.
- The Fire HD 10 features a glass and plastic construction.
Being a user of both tablets, I can tell you that the Fire HD 10 is far more durable than the iPad Air 2. I wouldn't call the iPad fragile, but the thin aluminum and tight tolerances mean that even a small drop puts the display at risk.
When it comes to durability, the Fire HD 10 wins.
An important consideration for any mobile device is battery life.
- Apple reports that the iPad Air 2 delivers "10 hours of surfing on the web on Wi-Fi, watching videos, or listening to music."
- Amazon reports that the Fire HD 10 delivers "up to 8 hours of reading, surfing the web, watching video, and listening to music."
The iPad wins by a clear two hours, and this is quite noticeable during real-world usage.
Want to glam up your tablet?
- Apple has the broadest accessory ecosystem, with no end of accessories that you can connect or wrap or use with your iPad Air 2, from cases to model aircraft.
- You can get a decent selection of cases for the Fire HD 10 (Amazon's own cases are excellent, albeit expensive), but apart from that, that's about it.
If you're looking for a mature ecosystem of accessories to go with your tablet then the iPad Air 2 is the one to go for here.
Down to the dollars and cents.
- The iPad Air 2 starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, while the 16GB Wi-Fi plus cellular version costs $629.
- The 10.1-inch Fire HD 10 starts at $229 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, while the 64GB version costs $259. There are no other versions on offer.
If the choice is down to price, the Fire HD 10 is the clear winner. Another hands-down win for Amazon.
So, which is the best tablet of the two?
What's weird is that when I ran the comparison a year ago, and compared the 8.9-inch Fire HDX to the iPad Air 2, the Fire HDX was the clear winner. A year on and it's clear that Amazon is making design decisions based on bottom line rather than building an iPad-beating tablet.
This time around the decision is down to one factor – price. If you want a cheap tablet then the Fire HD 10 for $229 is an excellent tablet. Sure, you don't get a retina display screen, and you have to put up with ads everywhere, but it's only $229, and you do get a microSD card slot thrown in.
However, if price is not an issue – and remember that you are looking at a difference of over $250 – then the iPad Air 2 is the clear winner from a hardware perspective. You might still be swayed to buy the Fire HD 10 if you're more into the Amazon ecosystem or previously owned an Amazon tablet, but this is a personal thing.
The Fire HD 10 might be a good tablet, but it's not a patch on the earlier 8-inch Fire HDX.
Given the price difference between the two, I think the Fire HD 10 does a good job of holding its own against the iPad, but the downgraded display, poorer battery life, and no cellular data options make the Fire HD 10 more of a budget tablet than a real competitor to the iPad.