There are a number of 7″ tablets available for purchase now, ranging in price and capability, with the cheapest retailing for around £60 up to the iPad Mini at the top end of the price bracket. As the price increases, so – as you might expect – the capability of the devices increases. The only exception being the iPad Mini which is to a large degree sub-standard when comparing the competition. This is really a review of Kindle Fire vs Kindle Fire HD vs Google’s Nexus 7. For completeness’ sake, I have also mentioned other options but they won’t be described in as much detail as the two Kindle Fire devices and the Nexus 7.
It’s worth getting this gadget out of the way before continuing the discussion. Partly because I have not used one but mainly really because the only reason I can see that someone would buy one over everything else in the market is if they were already heavily invested in iOS devices / apps. Apple have created a device which is meant to offer a larger screen in a similar package to the other 7″ offerings currently on the market. They have achieved this, but looking at the measurements and comparing other similar devices, I expect that the iPad Mini would be pretty uncomfortable to hold in ones palm for very long.
Apple have managed to make the device incredibly – almost impossibly – thin. Other than that, there don’t seem to be any features to redeem this tablet. The price is high. The screen resolution is lower than other 7″ tablets.
I am hoping to be able to get hold of one of the tablets either made by NATPC or LélikTec which typically retail for between GBP50 and GBP100 on Amazon. There are a number of tablets in this price bracket (made by a small variety of manufacturers) with specifications ranging from 512MB memory 1GB, single-core 1Ghz chips to dual-core, with storage space ranging from 8GB to 16GB.
Generally, the customer reviews seem to be pretty polar. If someone purchases such a tablet and understands that a lower price means lower performance then they are not disappointed and give the tablets 5 star reviews. For those who expect these devices to perform as well as quad-core devices such as the Nexus 7, one tends to find that they are pretty disappointed with what they get. If what you want is something that will allow you to read books and browse the Internet (without much need to multi-task) then a cheaper tablet may suit you. Until I am able to test one, I cannot really comment on just how versatile these devices may be.
It is important to note that the Kindle Fire devices run a branched version of the Android operating system (OS). As a result, if you are used to Android as a result of using a smart phone or other Android devices, you may be surprised how different the Fire and Fire HD are. For example, the Google Play store is not available on these devices. When first released, the Play store was simply where one would download their apps, but it has since become a centre for downloading books, movies, music and magazines. Amazon offer an app store too, with a smaller set of applications which have been vetted by Amazon. The last time I tried to manually install an application on to the Fire manually, I was able to with little trouble, though I cannot be sure if this feature has been disabled in any recent updates.
For me, the biggest downside to both the Fire and the Fire HD is that they are running a branched and hacked version of Android. This means that updates will not come as frequently as they might on other devices which run the standard installation of Android. As the look-and-feel of the Fire devices is so different to that of the standard Android installation it is something which may bother some people – given the choice I would rather each of my devices have some resemblance if they’re running the same OS. Further, the fact that they are more tied into Amazon is a little of a disadvantage in my opinion. Part of the joy of Android is being able to install the Kindle app and access your Amazon content, but also to be able to access Google Play books, music, videos etc. To be more limited and tied into Amazon to me goes against what Android (and to some degree, Kindle) is all about.
It was recently revealed by Amazon that the Kindle Fire devices are sold at (or close to) cost price. This means that they are relatively cheap (though as noted above are not the cheapest).
Neither of the Fires allow their storage to be upgraded via MicroSD cards (which is also true of the Nexus 7).
The Kindle Fire was first released in North America in November 2011 (in time for the holiday season). As a result, the tablet is (in tablet-terms) a little old. It has had a few software updates along the way (automatically downloaded and forced by Amazon) which will likely have made small improvements but nothing major. The software which runs on the Fire is a branched version of Google’s Android operating system, which I believe was branched from Androd 2.3. I don’t know whether subsequent software updates have been branched from more recent versions of the operating system.
The Fire is a very square device with vertical sides (as opposed to the bevelled, curved edges of devices such as the iPad Mini and Nexus 7). It is not too wide to hold comfortably in ones palm and is made of a relatively rubbery material, preventing it from slipping. The device is a decent size though and pretty comfortable to hold in portrait mode in one hand – which is ideal if you’re going to be using it as a reading device above all else.
The lack of camera on the tablet is an indication that it is meant predominantly as a viewing device for Amazon content – in other words, Amazon planned it to be a limited device. There is only a single button on the device to turn it on / off and to lock / unlock the screen. The only port is a micro-USB port which allows connection to a computer, and is also used for charging the device. There is also a standard 3.5mm jack port.
The tablet has two speakers which are located on the top of the tablet (meaning if you watch a film in landscape mode you won’t get stereo sound out of the speakers).
At £130 (£140 without ads), the Kindle Fire on the surface offers great value for money. It is a dual-core device so is pretty capable and certainly should handle books without any problems, as well as video streaming. Having got used to the more powerful devices that were released throughout 2012, though, I think I would personally be a little hesitant to buy the Fire. This is added to by the fact that the device only has 8GB of internal storage, compared to a minimum of 16GB in both the Fire HD and the Nexus 7.
The Kindle Fires I have tested have all handled everything that I have asked of them. Such tasks have included reading books (both flowed and KF8 fixed layout), as well as streaming video and listening to audio. I have accessed the Amazon app store and as mentioned above have also played with installing apps manually.
Battery life is pretty respectable. There was an early bug which, if a book was left open with the screen off, resulted in a drained battery. Thankfully this issue has been resolved though.
The screen resolution of the Kindle Fire is 1024×600 which gives it a pixel density of 169ppi.
The Kindle Fire HD, whilst offering the same size screen is a different beast entirely to the Kindle Fire. It has speakers on its sides and a camera mounted in the centre of the screen when held in landscape, indicating that this device is more about video than it is about reading content. This is backed up by the fact that the tablet (in portrait orientation) is quite a bit wider than the original Fire, and subsequently much less comfortable to hold in one hand for reading purposes.
The screen resolution is 1280×800 giving it a pixel density of 216ppi. The picture on the screen is lovely, and does look HD, though the colours on the model I have used are a little cool, with the whites having a very distinct blue-green tinge to them (which I find a little off-putting). Incidentally, I found the retina display of the third generation iPad to be similarly cool in colour.
The look-and-feel of the UI is very similar to that of the original Kindle Fire – which is to be expected as Amazon will want to keep things intuitive to anyone upgrading from the original Fire.
Despite the upgrade to the screen, the processor within the 7″ tablet is the same ARM A9 1.2GHz dual core unit as in the original Fire. Thus there is not a whole lot more to write about the capability of the processor as the performance will not differ too much from that of the original Fire. If anything, the additional processing required for the higher resolution screen will result in poorer overall performance. I cannot say that I have experienced any such drop in performance.
The edges of the Fire HD are bevelled from the back to the front which makes it feel a lot more natural, though as mentioned above, the width of the device in portrait more renders it less comfortable to hold in one hand.
The Fire HD has an additional port to the original Fire – a Micro HDMI port which would allow the device to be plugged into a television (or any HDMI device). For this, you will need a Micro HDMI cable. This further reinforces the idea that this device is aimed more at video than it is at reading Kindle books.
The nexus 7 seems to be Google’s way of trying to reduce to some degree the popularity of the the Kindle Fire devices, ensuring that the main Android platform remains popular rather than the hacked versions such as those seen in the Kindle Fire devices. As a result Google have produced an impressive 7 inch tablet for the same price (virtually) as the Kindle Fire HD. It is interesting to put this tablet against the two Fires as it is in some way a cross between the two. For example, the screen is the same resolution as the Fire HD yet it seems to be aimed more at portrait use than landscape. The dimensions of the tablet are very similar to the Fire meaning that it is particularly comfortable to hold in one hand vertically. Further, the home screen on the 7 inch display is locked to portrait mode. Once in an app, the orientation of the tablet can be changed. Both the Fire and Fire HD allow the home screens to be displayed in both portrait and landscape – a feature I prefer.
The edges of the Nexus 7 are bevelled from the back to the screen which makes it, in my opinion, more comfortable to hold in one hand than the standard Fire.
Whilst there are some similarities between the Kindle Fire devices and the Nexus 7, there are also some significant differences. The Nexus 7, for example sports an impressive quad core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. Whilst this is an HD device, it does not have an HDMI-out port like the Fire HD, but is rather lacking in terms of external ports with only a charging port available.
The tablet is largely free of buttons, much like the Fire devices, however it does sport a volume rocker as well as the single power switch. I personally like having the ability to alter volume using the rocker as when listening to music, for example, the volume can be changed without having to turn the screen on.
If what you want is the cheapest available 7 inch tablet that you can be confident works well and is reliable, then there can be no doubt that of the three devices discussed in detail above, the original Kindle Fire would be the tablet for you. If, however, you are more interested in performance and screen quality, then we see the battle fought between the Fire HD and the Nexus 7, both of which are very similarly priced (and let’s face it, not really all that much more expensive than the standard Fire). Between the Fire HD and the Nexus 7, there is no doubt in my mind that the Nexus 7 wins on the vast majority of battlegrounds. If films are your thing, you may consider the Fire HD over the Nexus 7 due to the location and quality of the speakers. For all other users, the Nexus 7 is a great all-rounder, which will allow books to be read albeit via the Amazon Kindle Android app or the Play book store or any other app, as well as music and videos to be played. For the price, you really are getting more for your money in my opinion than the Fire HD.