As expected, Amazon released the Kindle Fire HD in response to the Google Nexus 7 made by Asus. Apple, meanwhile, has not (as of this writing) released the long-rumored seven inch version of the iPad. Now you've got a difficult choice. Which tablet should be on your wish list this year?
For now I'm going to set aside the 8.9 inch model of the Kindle Fire HD, because if you wanted a bigger tablet, you wouldn't be comparing it to the Nexus 7. In that case, you should probably compare it to the similarly priced iPad. Perhaps I'll write a comparison between those. For now, we'll stick with the Android competition.
Let's break it down into the pros and cons.
Both devices have front facing cameras, and no rear camera. Both devices have 1280 x 800 screen resolution. Neither device has a card slot for expansion, so the storage you buy is the storage you're stuck with. Both support Bluetooth and have gyroscopes and accelerometers to let you tilt your screen for horizontal or vertical views. Both devices run on Android.
Kindle Fire HD
This tablet has easy shopping access to Amazon books. If you're a member of the Amazon Prime subscription service, you can use your Kindle Fire HD to view streaming movies and check out one free book per month through the Amazon Prime Kindle Owner's Lending Library service.
Your selection is limited to only those books that have opted into the service, and there's no take backsies. One book may be checked out at a time per month. I point this out, because if your only reason for subscribing to Amazon Prime is for this feature, you're paying more for the service than you likely would be to buy the books individually. If, however, you already use Amazon Prime for videos or the shipping discount, the Kindle Owner's Lending Library is just a bonus.
The Nexus 7
This tablet is made for users who want cheap, fast hardware with open choices about where they find their apps and other content. You can run Amazon App store apps on the Nexus 7, and you can install Google Play apps. You can read Kindle or Nook books, and you can play movies from many different sources. You do not get the bonus of the Kindle Owners Lending Library, but you can enjoy all other Amazon Prime perks. The Nexus 7 comes with a $25 coupon for purchasing Google Play content.
The Kindle Fire HD is the winner in this category. The Kindle Fire HD starts at 16 GB storage for the $199 model and goes up to 32 GB of storage for $249. The Nexus 7 starts at 8 GB and goes up to 16 GB for those same price points.
How important is this? If you want to keep a lot of music, books, or movies offline, this is important. If you're near Wi-Fi access, you can use cloud storage to stream content or exchange what you've downloaded. This is going to make the most impact for people who want to watch downloaded movies.
Currently the Nexus 7 offers no cell data plans, so the Kindle wins by default. However, the 4G LTE plan is only available in the 8.9 inch model with a price tag of $499, and the data plan adds an extra $50 to the price tag. If you want a tablet with a solid 4G data plan, you may be better off shopping beyond either the Kindle or Nexus models.
For regular Wi-Fi access, Amazon claims that the Kindle has a superior antenna that allows switching between the 2.4 GH and 5 GH data bands for faster connections. They claim this is 54% faster than "Google tablet," but whether or not you actually will notice a difference is questionable. Most home users probably don't have routers that take advantage of the speed upgrade.
The Kindle Fire HD also promises to add enhanced parental controls to allow parents to create a profile for their children. The profile allows the parents to determine access to books and apps on an individual basis and set time limits for activities, so if you wanted to set a time limit on movies but leave unlimited time for reading, you could do so.
The parental controls are (as of this writing) still theoretical and have yet to be released. If they behave as described, they are superior to what is offered on the Nexus 7. While you may be able to use parental control apps on the Nexus 7, there is no out of the box support for blocking app purchases or limiting screen time. Score Kindle.
With the exception of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library that lets you borrow a book already available in the Amazon market, there's no content on the Kindle Fire HD that you can't view on the Nexus 7. You can view Amazon Prime movies, listen to Amazon music purchases, and read Kindle books. So when Amazon makes claims about the available content, you can take that content and add it to the Nexus 7 on top of any available Google Books, any Nook or Kobo books, and all other third party products.
The Nexus 7 is the clear winner for someone who has eBooks in different formats or doesn't want to feel restricted to one market and one app store.
The Kindle Fire HD runs a modified version of Android without any of the Google features. Unless you completely wipe your Kindle and install a different OS on it, it will never run a single Google app. It's easy to use Kindle's Android, but it's a proprietary version only supported by Amazon, and updates are reliant on Amazon. It's also not the latest version of Android. It uses a customized version of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).
The lack of Google also means the Web browser is proprietary. Amazon calls their Web browser Silk, but don't expect it to have the same level of support as Chrome or Firefox, both of which run on the Nexus 7. As of this writing, you can download Opera and Dolphin browsers for Kindle Fire, but not Firefox. Chrome will likely never be supported.
The Nexus 7 was built to showcase the latest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean. That means it runs the widest variety of apps, including most apps built for earlier versions of Android. It features voice control and slick interface improvements. It also runs all the Google apps that were restricted from the Kindle. In the Android category, the Nexus 7 is the clear winner.
The Kindle Fire HD is for you if you:
- Only buy Kindle books and don't anticipate getting books from any other source.
- Download lots of movies or music and want to keep them on your device.
- Have young children that need to be restricted from accidentally purchasing items or want to electronically limit screen time. Or you want to give this device to a child.
The Nexus 7 is for you if you:
- Hate being restricted from installing apps or deciding where to purchase content.
- Have ready access to Wi-Fi and are comfortable storing most of your content in the cloud.
- Already have a digital library somewhere other than Amazon.
- Love Google features and can't live without Google apps.
What's in my bag right now? I've got a Nexus 7. My ten-year-old daughter uses last year's Kindle Fire model (which does not have parental controls), and I've never had a problem with her accidentally purchasing an app. Knowing that I'd get an email is enough to prevent her from the temptation. Your mileage may vary on that one.
Overall, I think these are both great tablets. I am philosophically inclined to go for the more open system, but I don't think either device will end up disappointing a new owner.