If you’re hunting for a small tablet then you’ll have the wares of Apple, Amazon, and Google on your radar. Which is the best small tablet for you? We compare the iPad mini, Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire HD to help you choose.
Size isn’t everything. As smartphones have grown larger, tablets have been shrinking. The 7-inch tablet market was already competitive before Apple unleashed the iPad Mini. It was a hotbed of budget Android temptations like the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7. So how do these high profile tablets measure up? Let’s take a look at the iPad Mini vs. Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire HD.
It may seem unusual, but we’re going to start with price because there’s a big gap here and it informs all the other comparison points. The Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD have extremely slim profit margins and you can pick up the 16GB versions for $200. The 16GB version of the iPad Mini costs, on the other hand, will run you a clean $330. All three of these tablets are Wi-Fi only.
The more expensive versions are harder to compare directly because they don’t offer the same connectivity. The top of the line Kindle Fire HD is 32GB and you can pay to remove the adverts, which results in a price of $264. For a 32GB Nexus 7 with HSPA+ cellular connectivity you’ll pay $300. Only the iPad Mini supports 4G LTE connectivity, but the 32GB version with cellular is $560.
While 32GB is the maximum for the two Android tablets, you can throw down another $100 to get a 64GB iPad mini with 4G LTE for a whopping $660.
Tablets are all about content consumption and so the screen is important. The iPad Mini has a bigger display than its Android rivals at 7.9 inches, but a lower resolution at 1024 x 768 pixels. Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD sport 7-inch displays with a 1280×800 pixel resolution. But it should be noted that most of the difference in resolution comes from their aspect ratio. Both the Nexus 7 and Fire are widescreen, while the Mini has a more square-like 3:4 aspect ratio
You’ve got a lot more screen real estate to play with on the iPad Mini, but the picture on the Android tablets is sharper and more detailed. This could be particularly important if you intend to read a lot on your tablet. Text is definitely sharper on the Android offerings, especially the Nexus 7.
All of them use IPS technology for wide viewing angles. Amazon has also equipped the Kindle Fire HD with anti-glare technology, but it’s tough to see much difference between it and the Nexus 7 in direct sunlight. The iPad Mini is more reflective, but it remains perfectly legible most of the time.
The lack of the Retina display on the iPad Mini is definitely a disappointment, especially if you’ve used a Retina iPhone or full-sized iPad. It doesn’t look as good next to its Android competitors.
The iPad Mini is slightly taller than its competitors, but it is also slimmer and lighter. It’s one of the most comfortable and well-built tablets we’ve ever used. The Kindle Fire HD is the widest, thickest, and heaviest of the bunch, to a fault. The Nexus 7 actually has the lowest width, making it easiest to hold with one hand, but it is still quite weighty. Despite the larger screen, the iPad Mini has a thin bezel and a slim form factor that makes it very portable.
The rubberized, dimpled backing on the Nexus 7 is good for grip, but the aluminum construction and the light weight of the iPad Mini make it more comfortable to hold and better looking than the plastic and glass Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7. When it comes to design and feel, it is our favorite.
Take a look at the chart for the complete rundown of specs and we’ll just highlight the key differences.
Performance is fairly similar across the board, despite the use of different innards, though the Kindle Fire lags behind in overall speed. For watching movies, playing games, running apps, and web browsing you should have a good experience on all three, but the Nexus and Mini stand a leg ahead.
The Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7 only have front-facing cameras, so if you want to take photos, the iPad Mini is the obvious choice, but who buys a tablet for taking photos?
The Kindle Fire HD also lacks Bluetooth, but Amazon claims that the dual antennas and MIMO support makes the Wi-Fi up to 40 percent faster than the competition. If you do a lot of content streaming then that could prove important.
The iPad Mini has a proprietary Lightning connector which means you’ll probably need to splash out for adapters to use it with existing accessories or to hook it up to your TV’s HDMI port (Lightning to HDMI adapter is $50). The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD both have standard Micro USB connectors. However, the Nexus 7 does not support HDMI or MHL out, so you can’t hook it up to your TV to watch content on the big screen. The Kindle Fire HD has a Micro HDMI port so you can plug it into your HDTV and watch content hassle free with a Micro HDMI to standard HDMI cable (you can get one for under $10).
Ecosystem and content
Most people buy a small tablet for consuming content. Amazon and Google are banking on that. Their tablets are essentially sold at cost because the companies plans to make money through content sales. Does that mean it offers the best content? We’ll split this into three distinct areas to compare.
Apps and games
The iPad Mini has a clear advantage here. There are loads of apps and games optimized specifically for the tablet in the App Store. There are also more premium apps and games in general on iOS. You will find a much greater choice of polished games and classic ports. You’ll also find more stylish, top quality apps.
Android is catching up, so the Nexus 7 does have access to a good range of apps and games through Google Play. You’ll find a higher percentage of free options than in the App Store, but overall quality is not as high and few are designed specifically for the tablet. Integration with Google services is better on the Nexus 7, but you can also access some of them on the iPad Mini.
Amazon has limited access to the Amazon App Store on the Kindle Fire HD and that means a much smaller subset of apps and games than you’ll find via Google Play. The advantage is more quality control and a Free App of the Day promotion.
Movies, TV, and Music
Content is king. Amazon is pitching the Kindle Fire HD as a window onto its content and it has plenty to offer. There are 140,000 movies and TV episodes to rent or buy which compares favorably to iTunes or Google Play. However, you can get access to all of Amazon’s content on the iPad Mini or the Nexus 7, as well. You can also access Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and many other services on all three devices.
Since you can’t access Google Play or iTunes on the Kindle Fire HD it’s actually the most limited for movies, TV shows, and music.
In terms of services and cloud storage, Amazon offers free, unlimited cloud storage for all of the content you buy on your Kindle Fire HD. For other content, Amazon Cloud Drive gives you 5GB free and an extra 50GB will cost you $25 per year. With the iPad Mini you get iCloud, but that only offers 5GB of free storage. For an additional 10GB, you’ll pay $20 per year; an additional 20GB will cost you $40 per year; and an additional 50GB will cost you $100 per year. Google Drive also gives you 5GB for free and you can add up to 16TB of extra storage. An extra 100GB will cost you $60 per year.
It’s worth noting that Google Music also allows you to store up to 40,000 songs, Gmail offers 10GB, and you can store as many photos as you like in Google+.
If you have a mixed collection that you want to add to your tablet and you want to store more than 5GB of content in the cloud, then the Nexus 7 is the best choice. Google’s cloud services are the cheapest and the most reliable, followed by Amazon. With Apple you will pay more. Even adding your existing music to iTunes will cost you $25 per year for iTunes match.
The displays on the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are better for watching movies. When it comes to audio, you should really use headphones for the best experience, but the Kindle Fire HD beats the Nexus 7 with Dolby audio, dual-driver stereo speakers.
Books and Magazines
Amazon has the biggest library and the most experience with books, but you can get access to it on your Nexus 7 or iPad mini as well via the Kindle app. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD offer the best reading experience because of that higher resolution and better anti-glare.
There are some good magazine apps available on all three and you can manage subscriptions through the various stores, but the iPad mini and the Fire HD offer more magazines. You may prefer the extra space and the 4:3 aspect ratio of the iPad mini for reading them.
The iPad Mini edges the win on battery life, but the other two are not far behind. They should all get you through a day of normal use. If you do a lot of gaming, then you’ll notice the iPad Mini’s superiority. For streaming video, you should get about 9 hours out of each.
It is worth mentioning Amazon’s Prime service. For just $80 per year, you get access to 30,000 movies and TV shows, 180,000 books for free with the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (one per month), and free two-day shipping on eligible Amazon purchases.
Amazon also offers the X-Ray feature for books and movies which gives you extra information on what you’re reading or watching, such as the actors on screen with links to IMDB profiles. Whispersync allows you to switch between devices and keep your place in the book you are reading or the movie you’re watching. You’ll also find Kindle FreeTime which gives you an easy to use set of parental controls.
If you get the Kindle app on your iPad Mini or Nexus 7 you’ll also have Whispersync (it only works for Amazon content though). You can also get apps for the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini that will give you a reliable and easy to use set of parental controls like FreeTime.
In terms of Kindle Fire HD exclusives, that just leaves the Kindle Lending Library and the X-Ray feature.
Before you buy one of these tablets, consider what you want to do with it. If you already use Amazon a lot and you want the tablet for movies, TV shows, music, and reading, then the Fire HD with Amazon Prime could be your best bet. But just realize that the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 have access to most Amazon content as well through official apps.
The iPad Mini wins on dedicated apps and games. It is a better tablet in some ways, but you pay a premium for that quality. It also makes the most sense if you already have an iTunes library of content, but the extra cost will be enough to turn off a lot of people. It’s not just the upfront price either, you also have to factor in the accessories, content, and cloud services. Though the Apple App Store has more apps, they are also slightly more expensive than Android.
If you’re looking for the most versatile, well-rounded tablet for the cheapest price, we recommend the Nexus 7. It runs the latest and greatest version of Android, has the best integration with Google services, and a great range of free and affordable apps and games. Any of Google’s 700,000 Play Store apps will run on the Nexus 7.
Are you going for Android, Apple, or Amazon? What gets your vote? Post a comment and tell us.