As an iPhone and iPad owner, I've never seen much need for a 7-inch tablet. They are obviously too big to be a phone, but in my view too small to get any real work done.
However, for many people they hit the sweet spot in terms of portability and functionality. Now that the other shoe has dropped with the introduction of the iPad Mini, let's compare the state of the "big three" 7-inch tablets on the market today.
KINDLE FIRE HD:
The original Kindle Fire set the bar, and set it pretty low at that. Thankfully, we're on to version two, the Kindle Fire HD.
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With nearly all of its internals upgraded, it addresses many of the problems with the original. The lag is much less noticeable, comes with 16 GB of storage vs. 8 GB, etc. It runs a version of Android which has been heavily skinned by Amazon, but in so doing gives you access to the Amazon Android App Store which contains thousands of Android apps.
However, there are precious few apps that have been designed for the Fire -- mostly they are Android phone apps blown up to fit the screen. This has always particularly bothered me. Coming from the Apple world of Retina displays, the lower resolution screen already doesn't look as good, and now you add pixelated apps on top of that.
That is just a personal gripe though -- the Kindle Fire HD packs a lot of value into it's $199 price tag, but keep in mind they are able to hit that price by subsidizing the tablet with ads -- or "Special Offers" -- that you have to pay extra to get rid of. They appear only on the lock screen and aren't obtrusive but it might be a turn-off for some.
Who's it for? Anyone who is heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem, especially since it comes tied to your Amazon account right out of the box, giving you access to all your music, movies and apps if you already have them with Amazon.
GOOGLE NEXUS 7:
Hardware-and-price-wise, the Nexus 7 is right on par with the Kindle Fire HD with the exception of storage. It starts at 8 GB and a 16 GB version runs you $50 more, although rumors have it ready to receive a storage bump any day now.
So, really, its main selling point is that it lets you run the pure, un-altered Android experience.
And it's a very good experience at that -- the Nexus 7 comes with the latest version of Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean." It does a lot to solve one of the biggest issues Android has always had, which is lag and unresponsiveness. Again, I'm coming from the Apple world where iOS has run as smooth as silk from day one -- the advantage Apple has by creating both the hardware and the software.
Finally, Google has a device that doesn't irritate me when I try to do something as simple as scroll down a web page. The Android app store has the same problem as Amazon's, in terms of a lack of native tablet apps. That being said, the apps from Google are terrific.
Who's it for? Anyone who's first considering when buying a tablet is price and quality is second.
Let's get right to the elephant in the room. Apple surprised many, including me, by pricing the iPad Mini at $329. Of course, I have no idea why I should have been surprised -- Apple charges a premium for its products and isn't interested in a race to the bottom. With $100 billion dollars in the bank, it's hard to argue with their strategy, but it's still a little disappointing.
So what do you get for the extra $130 more than the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7? A larger screen at 7.9 inches, 4G connectivity options (tack on an additional $130 for it, though), five-megapixel camera on the back and HD camera on the front, 10-hour battery life and, most importantly, access to the 275,000 native iPad applications in the Apple App Store. I'd say that's worth it, but that's just me.
Who's it for? Anyone who wants the best seven-inch tablet on the market and has already purchased a great many apps from the app store that they want to continue to use with this new device.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.