Google and Amazon's pint-sized tablets might be more different than you think
Amazon's brand new Kindle Fire HD and Google's Nexus 7 are entirely different beasts, playing to the respective strengths of the parent companies that hatched them. They're both 7-inch tablets with Android under the hood and their price tags are identical, but that's where the similarities end. While these two tablets are natural head-to-head competitors, remember: there's an Apple announcement, and perhaps the legendary iPad Mini, just around the corner. And if price trumps all, a more basic update on last year's Kindle Fire will only cost you an eminently wallet-friendly $159.
When it comes to a tablet to compete with Apple's iPad, Amazon's 8.9-inch Fire HD is definitely a contender. The larger Fire HD is just a tad smaller in screen size than its Apple counterpart, but features all the bells and whistles of its smaller, 7-inch brother. Whether or not Amazon's list of features — and considerably more affordable price point — is enough to lure you away from Apple-land is, of course, entirely up to you. But now, let's focus on the smaller, 7-inch Fire HD and its most obvious competitor, the Google Nexus 7.
Hardware: Tech specs and design
Kindle Fire HD
- 7-inch 1280 x 800 IPS LCD display
- OMAP 4460 processor (Texas Instruments)
- 16GB of storage (32GB is $249)
- Advanced MIMO wifi technology designed to boost signal
- Dolby Digital Plus stereo speakers
- HDMI-out port
- HD front facing camera
Google Nexus 7
- 7-inch 1280 x 800 IPS LCD display
- Tegra 3 processor
- 8 or 16GB of storage (16GB is $249)
- 1 GB RAM
- 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera
- NFC support
- Micro USB port only
The Kindle Fire HD definitely upped the ante. On paper, the new Fire's amped-up speakers, HDMI-out port, processor, and wifi tricks give it a leg up. Amazon claims the new processor is faster than the speedy Nexus 7's Tegra 3, but we'll have to judge that after some time with the new tablet. And since the Fire HD packs 16GB into that $199 price tag, it wins hands down when it comes to space for movies, games, and music.
Winner: Kindle Fire HD. We like the Nexus 7's thoughtful design, but this one goes to Amazon.
Bag of tricks: Whispersync, X-Ray, FreeTime vs. Google Now on Android 4.1
The new Kindle Fire HD has some cool tricks up its sleeve that are sure to appeal to avid bookworms and parents alike. Whispersync with Voice pairs reading with an audiobook, which is notably cool, especially when Samuel L. Jackson is reading to you. X-Ray is a great way to track down all of the mentions of a specific term within a book, a handy perk for students. And FreeTime is a set of parental controls that lets parents set limits on time and content.
In the other end of the ring, we've got Google Now, Android 4.1's smart search engine, interwoven with its voice controls, that's designed to learn from your behavior and offer up information exactly when you need it without you having to ask. For now this is limited to bus times, weather, sports scores, directions and the like, but it's a platform more than anything — and it's getting smarter all the time.
Winner: Nexus 7. If you use your tablet as an e-reader or hand it off to your kids, the Kindle Fire HD's software tricks will wow you — if you don't, well, not so much. If you use your device more like a smartphone or a computer, you'll be amazed (or creeped out) by just how useful Google Now can be. But beyond Google Now, Android 4.1 is polished and thoughtful, with useful little flourishes at every turn.
Entertainment and Apps: Amazon vs. Google Play
Amazon has built a remarkable library of ebooks to power its Kindles, but the company's marketplace has been stocking movies, music, and TV shows at a quickening clip. If you're into watching new shows and downloading media at large, you'll probably be better served by Amazon's ecosystem. But if it's apps you're after, Google's Nexus 7 has the entire Google Play app market at its fingertips, which means a wider, better selection of games and software across the board. Again, this comes down to how you want to use your device: Is it a tiny TV or just a super-sized smartphone?
Winner: Tie. Amazon's got the entertainment, but its app marketplace is no Google Play.
These two devices share a price tag and they'll occupy about the same amount of space in a backpack, but they're totally different breeds. Amazon's new 7-inch tablet is a content-delivery superhighway — and all roads lead to the web retailer. If you use your tablet to devour books, movies, music, and TV shows, it's likely to fit like a glove. But since the tablet runs a modified version of Android, you'll be making some sacrifices when it comes to the open app ecosystem.
The Nexus 7 wants you to cozy up to Google Play's media storehouse, but with its full-blown version of Android 4.1 and its very tight integration with Google's toolkit (think Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, search, and more), the Google-flavored tablet is more of an info-junkie than a virtual storefront. But in a world in which a powerful little computer costs less than $200, you really can't go wrong.
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