The iPad is great, but sometimes it's still a bit too large. For some people, the sweet spot is a device that is larger than a phone but smaller than a ten-inch tablet. Something that fits in your pocket or purse. Something about the size of a paperback book with an entire library of books stored inside it. Seven inches is about right for a multitasking e-reader, and this year we've got some great choices. It's an embarrassment of riches, even. The Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, and Galaxy Tab 7 Plus. They're all Android-based tablets, they're being released at about the same time, they have roughly the same processing power, and they advertise themselves as doing the same sorts of things, so how do you choose one?
Let's start with the Kindle Fire, since it made the most buzz when it was recently introduced. This is Amazon.com's first color e-reader, and they've already seen a huge volume of pre-orders.
The price tag is $199, which is the cheapest price of the three tablets we're comparing. Some experts believe this is actually a loss leader for Amazon, meaning that Amazon loses money when you buy the tablet, but they make up for it when you buy books, movies, and Amazon Prime subscription service. That may be a very smart strategy for Amazon, who has positioned themselves nicely to transition from selling physical books to selling them digitally.
The Kindle runs on Android, but you'd never guess it from using the device. You must use the Amazon App Store to run apps, and you're similarly bound to Amazon for music, movie, and book purchases. The Kindle Fire does have a Web browser, so you may be able to get around some restrictions by using the Web apps for reading books, listening to music, or watching movies.
There's no camera on the Kindle Fire. It's strictly for product consumption, and although there are many pictures of children reading books or playing apps, there's no indication from Amazon so far that there are additional parental controls on the Kindle Fire. That means children could potentially make accidental purchases from your account, so turn off one-click shopping. Once the Fire ships, I'll have more information on this.
If you own a Kindle Fire and subscribe to Amazon Prime ($79 per year), you can borrow one free e-book per month.
Advantages: Curated app store with apps guaranteed to work on your device, integrated ecosystem, low cost.
Disadvantages: Restricted to Amazon's ecosystem, Wi-Fi only, no camera, shortest battery life (8 hours).