News

The Golden Tablets

10.11_kindle
10/11/13
In the Magazine
Ted S. Warren

Isn't it nice when two giants fight for your affection like overeager suitors? That’s what’s going on now in the tablet wars. Amazon unveiled the newest iteration of its Kindle tablet last week, and the specs are way up and the retail price is way down. The Kindle Fire HDX has a 7-inch screen that is nearly identical to that in the Nexus 7, Google's new touchscreen. Both devices are priced at $229, which is close to what it costs to make them, so the usual "Maximize quarterly profits!" mantra isn’t applicable here. Both companies want to run the table in the tablet wars, and both have excellent products. But that's not what you want to hear. You want to know one thing: which is better? The answer depends on how much of a Droid-head you are.

Kindle Fire HDX is shipped "with special offers" (which the rest of us call advertisements) that play while the device's screen is off. You can get an ad-free version for an extra $15, and 4G LTE service (AT&T and Verizon) costs an extra $100. The Nexus 7 charges only $80 more for 4G LTE connectivity (AT&T or T-Mobile; Verizon says that support on its networks will be available soon).

Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch screen has nearly double the resolution of last year's iPad Mini, and both have 323 pixels-per-inch versus the Mini's 163 PPI. 

The main difference between the two newbies is under the hood: This Fire has a faster, more powerful processor and a more powerful graphics processor. Other specs for the two tablets are comparable, with the Fire available in a 64GB model, whereas the Nexus 7 tops out at 32GB.

The Kindle's Fire OS 3.0 (Mojito) brings Mayday to Kindle Fire HDX tablets, which provides live video customer support, and a "reading mode" that changes display settings to reduce battery usage. Amazon has also updated its X-Ray service to provide lyrics and other information for music, in addition to IMDB data for movies – which gives actor and film information with a touch.

Since both companies are offering a similar package and Amazon is throwing in a more powerful chip, the deciding factor becomes: Who has the better ecosystem?

Amazon Prime members can watch free video on Kindle tablets from the company's streaming service, but Amazon has not made that available on other Android devices. Amazon has also added a new trick to Prime Instant Video with the Kindle HDX – the ability to download videos for offline viewing.

Points for the new Nexus 7: There are more than 1 million Android apps available on Google Play, and less than 100,000 on the Amazon Appstore. 

Owners of the Nexus 7 will be able to upgrade their tablets to the newest version of Android before anyone else, as the updated OS will be offered by Google as soon as Kit Kat (Android 4.4) launches later this year.

The bottom line: The Kindle Fire HDX might be a better value for families and Amazon Prime members, whereas the next-generation Nexus 7 is likely a better fit for those happy with the Android operating system. Tech-savvy users should also consider the HDX – if you are willing to void its warranty, you can unlock the device's boot-loader and install a modified version of the Android OS and run Kit Kat. 

That would give you the best of both tablets.

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