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Looking back at 2012, it’s clear: It’s been the year of the 7″ tablet. The competition in the mini-tablet market ramped up, and even Apple decided to join the fray, despite Steve Jobs once proclaiming this would never happen and that the 9.8″ form factor was ideal for a tablet. There are many offerings on the market right now, but three really stand out: the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and the iPad Mini.
All three of these tablets would make great holiday gifts and have their own advantages or niches. They also come with different ecosystems, support, prices and hardware. Let’s breakdown what each has to offer, so you can pick the best one for your needs.
The Nexus 7 was released in the middle of summer. It was seen as Google’s attempt to shake things up in the Apple-dominated tablet market. It was also seen as a tablet that can lead the Android charge and address Android fragmentation in the tablet market. It has done a lot of what was promised and then some. The Nexus 7 has been getting glowing reviews ever since it was released and is known to be one of the best tablets on the market today. It also comes at a very affordable $200 price tag.
The Nexus 7′s specs include a 1.2MP front-facing camera, NFC support (pretty unique for tablets), Android 4.2 Jellybean (not available on many Android devices yet), GPS, 1GB of RAM, 1280×800 resolution support, a battery life of about 10 hours, and a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor. You also have access to Google’s official Android Store, Google Live, which is only second to Apple in software offerings. It is great for gaming, watching movies, and light productivity. However, the actual display size or viewable distance lags behind the iPad Mini, which is almost 8” in form factor. Overall, it is a great tablet if you are willing to deal with less app support than the iPad Mini.
The Kindle Fire HD is a follow-up to last year’s Kindle Fire. It is a tablet that, like Nexus 7, comes with a very competitive price tag of $200. This 7″ tablet is designed around Amazon’s online ecosystem. It doesn’t even support the official Android Sore. You will be either purchasing content from Amazon’s Appstore or renting it out using Amazon Prime. However, the content doesn’t lack in quantity or quality. In many ways it goes beyond Apple’s App Store, especially with regards to books. Also, Amazon’s built-in software is great and designed with ease-of-use in mind. The voice-to-text feature on Amazon’s standard book-reading software (not even audio book software) is superior, in my opinion, to what Apple or Google offers for non audio books. The rental service with Amazon Prime is also the best in my opinion.
You will be tied to a single ecosystem, however, and a tablet that doesn’t offer superior gaming or graphical specs. The resolution is 1280×800, battery life around 11 hours, and it comes with a dual-core 1.2 GHz chip and 1Gb of RAM. The Web browser is a bit sluggish when compared to competition, although it is improving. It is actually based off of an ingenious idea of utilizing the cloud (EC2) for smoother browsing than if it was a native client. The Wi-Fi on the Kindle Fire HD is first to none and probably the best for any tablet. It comes with dual-band and dual-antenna Wi-Fi.
Despite its great Wi-Fi signal, the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t support 3G at all, which may be a low point for some of you who are always on the road. For books, audio books, music, and movies, the Kindle Fire HD is a great choice, but not for gaming or productivity work. Amazon’s Appstore also leaves something to be desired but it is currently growing.
Among these three choices, the iPad Mini is the latest latest 7″ tablet to hit the streets. It’s really an iPad 2 in a 7″ form factor. It comes at a more expensive price of $330 for the entry-model, but it is a great deal if you compare it to the price of other Apple products. The iPod Touch goes for $300 and the latest version of the full-sized iPad costs $499 for the entry model. You are also buying into Apple’s ecosystem, which has the most apps available out of the competition. It will also run any current iPad app or scale any iPhone app, so compatibility is first class.
Because the iPad Mini matches the iPad 2 in specs, it can run any game available right now off the bat. Web browsing, including using many Safari tabs, is also responsive and smooth. It comes with resolution support of 1024×768, so quite below a Retina, but for its display size it works quite well. The iPad Mini also offers a dual-core A5 chip, 1.2MP (front) and 5MP (rear) camera support, 1080p HD video recording, a battery life of up to 10 hours, and 512MB of RAM. What may be a bit disappointing to those of you who already own an iPad is that your power adapter will not work with the Mini. It comes with a separate Lightning connector, which I find a bit slow in charging speed because the connector is similar in size to that of the iPhone. When it comes to app support, navigation, and screen quality, the iPad Mini is really the 7” tablet that leads the pack.
So which do you buy?
Tablets with 7″ form factors are great devices for a wide range of needs. Reading, Web browsing and playing games work beautifully on them. Productivity is descent as well, and in my opinion, you won’t see much difference from the 10″ models in this regard. The advantage is really weight, portability and price.
The one you choose will likely depend on how much you want to spend and what ecosystem you are most comfortable with. Also, keep in mind before making your purchase that there are some decent alternatives to these offerings as well, like the Nook Color, but the ones I outlined are really what you should consider if you are a new tablet buyer. Personally, I would recommend buying the iPad Mini if you can afford it and plan on doing any productivity work at all or note taking, e-mail or Web browsing. On the other hand, I would go with either the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD if you want an entertainment-only tablet. No matter which you choose, you can’t go wrong in picking any of them up this holiday season.