Small tablet wars: iPad mini vs Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD

It's the battle of the little tablets, but which small slate will be crowned king?
Darren Allan

October 27, 2012

As you have very probably noticed, this week Apple rolled out its iPad mini device, the much talked about and rumoured compact version of the iPad.

iPad mini pre-orders have just gone live, with the device set to ship at the end of next week.

Google’s Nexus 7 is the established compact, wallet-friendly tablet which has been out for some months now, yet there’s another challenger, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, which was unleashed on Thursday.

So all of a sudden, UK punters have three compact tablets to choose from. But which is best? And we’re absolutely going to refrain from quoting Harry Hill at this point…

In terms of display, there’s one clear difference here – the iPad mini plumps for a larger screen. Maybe because Apple didn’t dare to put a 7 inch tablet out after Steve Jobs’ famous decrying of the devices.

Instead, Apple’s tablet is a 7.9 inch device, whereas the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are both true 7 inch tablets.

But the downside with the iPad mini is that its screen only has a resolution of 1024 x 768, whereas the other two tablets utilise a sharper resolution of 1280 x 800. And remember, that’s on a smaller screen, too, so Google’s and Amazon’s tablets are considerably sharper in terms of resolution.

Apple, however, argues that resolution isn’t everything, and that its screen is 35 per cent larger than 7 inch rivals in terms of actual real estate, which will make a considerable difference when it comes to viewing more content on web pages, e-books and so forth.

That’s true, but we’d have to give the nod to the mini’s rivals in terms of display quality (with the Fire HD just edging out the Nexus 7, by all accounts, it’s an excellent little display). What’s more, Apple’s larger screen means a larger sized tablet in terms of its area, with the device measuring 200mm x 135mm.

Apple has been clever here, though, as there’s barely any bezel around the display, to keep the slate size down somewhat. In fact, the 7 inch Kindle Fire HD is barely any smaller, at 193mm x 137mm (it’s actually a smidge wider, but not as tall). They’re pretty much the same size, really – and the iPad mini has the advantage of only being 7mm thick as opposed to 10mm.

But the overall winner when it comes to its compact area dimensions is the Nexus 7, which might be around the same height at 198mm, but is only 120mm wide. In other words, it’s more feasible to hold one-handed, and generally better for those with smaller hands.

However, the Nexus, like the Fire, is thicker than Apple’s tablet at 10mm, so the iPad mini wins in terms of thinness and a svelte feel. By all accounts, it has the “quality build factor” feel down.

When it comes to the processor, the iPad mini has an older dual-core A5 chip – but that should be fine as it doesn’t have a huge amount of pixels to push around with that 1024 x 768 screen.

The Nexus has a 1.2GHz quad-core Tegra 3 engine, and is fast and fluid in operation as a result. The Kindle Fire HD has a 1.2GHz dual-core Texas Instruments chip powering it – and the operating system, a custom version of Android, runs a little sluggishly by all accounts. So the Fire loses out here.

The Fire’s operating system is also something of an issue – it’s a heavily modified version of Android which is tied to Amazon’s ecosystem, to the point where you can’t access the Google Play store on the device.

That’s a distinct downer compared to the freedom and customisability of vanilla Android on the Nexus 7. Obviously, the iPad mini runs iOS and is locked to Apple’s ecosystem, but that’s stuffed with quality apps and far outstrips Amazon’s tablet in this respect.

In terms of cameras, the iPad mini wins that battle, as it’s the only tablet to have a rear camera, a proper 5 megapixel snapper. All of the slates have the usual front-facing webcam for video chats.

The Nexus 7 wins the battle of extra trimmings, though, with GPS and NFC on board. The Fire has neither, and the Wi-Fi iPad mini doesn’t either – but the cellular version of the mini does boast GPS (but not NFC).

And that’s the other advantage for the iPad mini – you can get a 3G/LTE model, although that will cost you an extra £100 above the Wi-Fi model.

And that’s the final issue: Price. Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are far cheaper, pitched at £159 for the base model; whereas the iPad mini is £269. The Fire and mini both have 16GB of storage, but the Nexus 7 does cut down here with only 8GB on its starter model.

However, you can now pick up the 16GB Nexus 7 for £170 at PC World, just £11 more than the base model.

So, which is the best slate overall? For your average tech consumer, the choice is between the Nexus 7 and iPad mini.

With the Nexus, you save £100, and you get a sharper screen, a more compact tablet, along with NFC and GPS on the basic model.

With the iPad mini, you get a larger display for a better web browsing and e-reading experience, a 5 megapixel rear camera, and access to Apple’s excellent apps ecosystem.

For us, though, the Nexus 7 is the overall winner, and excellent value for money at £159 or £170.

One final note: The Fire HD is still a very good tablet for the money, too, and it’s extremely easy to use. This makes it a good option for the non-tech-savvy consumer, who just wants to achieve basic tasks, and won’t be bothered about the lack of customisation options, app access, and so forth.


Comments in chronological order (2 comments)

  1. Del Burton says:

    Where’s the Samsung Galaxy in this round up?

    I have one of the original Galaxy 7inch tablets running Gingerbread and it’s fantastic.

    A family member has just bought an updated version of the Galaxy 7 inch and IMHO it’s every bit as good as the devices you’ve mentioned above. Also, it has one thing that none of the above tablets have. An SD card slot.

  2. Darren Allan says:

    Hi Del, it’s not intended as a full round-up of all the 7 inch (well, 7-8 inch) options out there - as there are many and I had to draw the line somewhere…. but you make a fair point, the Galaxy is a great option (and an SD card slot is a definite boon, particularly when you consider the premium storage adds to the price of these devices, especially in the case of the iPad mini).

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