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Tablet deathmatch: iPad Mini vs. Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire HD

Galen Gruman | Nov. 6, 2012
A new generation of small tablets has reinvented entertainment on the go, but which is best? Find out now and gear up for holiday gift-buying

The Kindle Fire HD's UI is very simple, using the Carousel interface you may recognize from the Kindle app on an iPad or Android tablet. You slide from one type of usage -- Books, Apps, Docs, Newsstand, and so on -- via a horizontal scroll list at the top of the screen, and the apps, media, or files for that usage appear onscreen. Media windows typically divide their contents into two panes that you must switch between: one showing purchases previously purchased but not downloaded (Cloud) and those on your device (Device).

The Home, Back, and Add to Home Screen buttons almost always display onscreen -- you have to tap the screen to see them when reading books or watching movies. But settings are hidden and you have to swipe from the top of the screen to see your settings options. The Kindle Fire HD's UI takes some time to get used to, mainly because it's so different from the approach in iOS and Android. In fact, it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. Its only real flaw is its hard sell of Amazon's content and app stores, which are frequently front and center.

The usability winner. iOS has long balanced ease of use with complex, capable applications. Although some aspects of iOS are harder than they need to be, such as switching to airplane mode, overall the iPad Mini is the most usable media tablet. Thanks to its larger screen, the device is even easier to use. However, the Nexus 7's front-and-center approach to media apps offers much easier use as a media tablet out of the gate. The Kindle Fire HD is simple to work, but it oversells its stores to the point of annoyance.

Deathmatch: HardwareThere's a fairly wide price range among media tablets, which typically reflects the degree of hardware punch. Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are somewhat underpowered. They're easier on the wallet, but their usefulness is limited by comparison.

Fully charged, all three media tablets reviewed here ran for at least eight hours on battery power -- often several hours more, with moderate use. The Kindle Fire HD and iPad Mini had a standby life of several days, whereas the Nexus 7 lasted only about a day and a half.

iPad Mini. The priciest media tablet is also the most souped up. It boasts the fastest processor and graphics of the lot and has a usefully larger screen. Unlike its competitors, the iPad Mini has a rear camera that can take good-quality photos and videos -- but not as good as the current iPod Touch, iPhone, and full-size iPad can, as it lacks a flash and support for HDR photos. These make a real difference for gaming, video playback, and photography. The built-in speakers' sound is much better than that of the Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7.


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