Though the budget seven-inch tablet may have been pioneered by Barnes & Noble, there's no question that the two dominant players in that field today are the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. The 2013 version of the Nexus 7 is still hot off the press, while Amazon's 2012 Kindle Fire HD is nearing the end of its initial run. While the two are still going head-to-head, why not see how their specs and features compare?
The Nexus 7 is the taller, thinner tablet, while the Kindle Fire HD is the short stout one. Google's slate is about four percent taller, while the Fire is 20 percent wider and 17 percent thicker.
Though the Nexus 7's narrow bezels give it a smaller overall footprint, those wider bezels on the Fire make it a bit easier to grasp on its side with one hand.
Both tablets' backsides are made of a matte plastic. We don't have huge complaints about either, but we do find that the Nexus 7 has a bit more of a solid, premium feel.
This is a big advantage for the new Nexus 7, as it's 26 percent lighter than the 2012 Fire HD.
Another round won by the Nexus 7. Screen sizes won't influence your decision, as both are seven inches on the diagonal with 16:10 aspect ratios. The advantage comes in the Nexus 7's resolution: it gives you 125 percent more pixels than the Kindle Fire HD does, making for crisper text and images.
This is what happens when you compare last year's model with this year's. The Nexus 7 also has a far superior processor, with its zippy Qualcomm S4 Pro. There's no contest between it and the Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 in the Fire.
The Nexus 7 also doubles the Kindle Fire's RAM, with 2 GB.
Storage is even, as each tablet is sold in 16 GB and 32 GB models. Neither has a microSD card slot.
Both tablets are also Wi-Fi only ... at least for now. If you want a mobile data-enabled Kindle Fire, you can buy the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 in an LTE model. There's no LTE version of the Nexus 7 quite yet, but a 32 GB LTE version will be here "in the coming weeks."
The Fire HD holds more juice, and will also probably deliver a bit more battery life. That high-res display in the Nexus 7 left battery life as one of the few areas where the Google/Asus tablet isn't at the head of its class. With that said, we wouldn't consider it a major concern either.
The Kindle Fire HD doesn't have a rear camera. The Nexus 7 gives you a solid-enough 5-megapixel rear shooter. Both devices have serviceable front-facing cameras for video chat.
The Nexus 7 has a near-field communication (NFC) chip, in case you like sharing local files with a bump.
There's usually some subjectivity when talking about software, but it's hard to argue that the Kindle isn't at a huge disadvantage here. It basically runs a virtual Amazon shopping mall, built on top of a nearly two-year old version of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich). The Amazon Appstore has a solid enough app selection, but Google Play it is not.
The Nexus 7 not only gives you the latest version of Android (4.3 Jelly Bean), but it's also "Pure Google" Android. The Fire doesn't officially support any Google services; the Nexus 7 supports them all. You get a much larger app selection, a more mature operating system, and the far superior software, period.
Just to hammer this point home, this isn't a level playing field. We're comparing Amazon's 2012 tablet to Google's 2013 tablet. We expect to hear about this year's crop of Kindle Fires within the next month or two.
The Fire HD is technically a little cheaper, but never mind that, as this isn't a good time to buy it. It's already overshadowed by the Nexus 7, and will soon be overshadowed by its own successor. It's also possible that the Fire HD will stick around and see a price drop (maybe by around US$40) after the new models launch.
Wrap-upSo there you have it. If you want a Kindle Fire, a short wait will likely net you a lot more bang for your buck. Otherwise the new Nexus 7 gives you a much sharper screen, far superior performance, and much more versatile software. We'd recommend snagging the Nexus 7 now, or waiting to see what the new Kindle Fires look like later. Splurge on last year's Fire HD now, and you're practically throwing away money.
If you're ready to throw down for a new Nexus 7, why not check out our review, just to make sure?