iPad 2 vs. Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet: specs showdown
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The Holiday 2011 tablet selection in your local electronics store is going to look much different than it was in 2010. Though few of the non-Apple tablets have managed to gain much traction yet, 2011 saw just about every electronics manufacturer you could think of releasing at least one tablet. You may find it a little surprising then that it's so very easy to pick out the top choices for the majority of customers. The Apple iPad 2, the Amazon Kindle Fire, and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are easily going to be the cream of the crop for most people.
We're here to help with your buyer's dilemma by seeing how the tablets' specs compare.
Design and Dimensions
Here we have two nearly identical 7-inch tablets, and one big 9.7-inch tablet. While customers have largely voted with their wallets for the iPad's larger screen, many also enjoy the smaller and lighter form-factor of the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet. It's no surprise that the companies whose roots are in selling books would have the more compact size. Smaller tablets are easy to hold in one hand and fit into a bag. The iPad, meanwhile, gives you a much more spacious display that the smaller ones can only dream of.
Though the iPad 2 is bigger and heavier than the other two, it is actually considerably thinner. It has a solid, well-built feel to it, as will the Kindle Fire. The Nook Tablet has a plastic bezel that is easy to grasp, but it actually creaks if you squeeze it and can feel a little flimsy next to the constructions of the other two tablets.
The iPad 2 is easily the heaviest of the three, thanks to its larger form and metal materials. The Nook Tablet is the lightest, but the Kindle Fire is only slightly heavier.
The two smaller slates will obviously be easier to hold in one hand, though the iPad 2 is also light enough for brief one-handed use.
Here is another category where the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are equals (on paper), as both have identical display size and resolution. The iPad's larger screen actually has the same vertical resolution as the others, with only a slightly higher horizontal pixel count. That leads to less pixels per inch on Apple's slate, especially once you factor in the screen size.
Yet you don't hear many complaints about the iPad 2′s resolution. Text and images on all three devices should then be plenty sharp and colorful for most people.
You'll get speedy 1GHz dual-core chips on all three tablets. Nobody is likely to experience lag or have problems playing the latest games on any of the three.
The Nook Tablet doubles the RAM of its competitors. Will that mean that it performs faster and smoother than the other two? Probably not, but we'll look forward to testing the devices side-by-side.
The Kindle Fire has the least storage without any possibility for expansion. This appears to be a cost-cutting measure that Amazon took, using their cloud services as justification. They offer Amazon Prime for video streaming, Amazon Cloud for documents, and Amazon MP3 (Cloud Player) for music. From that perspective, 8GB should be enough for most people. Just don't expect to keep ten full Gameloft games installed at once.
The Nook Tablet doubles that to 16GB, and also has an SD card slot for expansion. The iPad 2 has no SD, but you can pay more for a 32GB or 64GB model.
When it comes to battery life, the iPad 2 is in another league altogether. Notice that the estimated times given by Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not only lower than Apple's, but they are with WiFi turned off. The iPad 2 gets several more hours, with WiFi on. This is a huge difference in battery life, and the iPad 2 is easily the best choice in this area.
Only testing will determine the true run time of the new tablets, but the iPad 2 has long been regarded as setting a benchmark for impressive tablet battery life. Most manufacturers are known to give the highest estimate that they can get away with, so don't expect any dramatic surprises from the Nook or Fire (at least not in a good way).
Are two crappy cameras better than none? That's the question in this category, as the iPad 2 is the only tablet to have cameras. It has front and rear shooters, but both are extremely underwhelming. However, it does make video chat possible, which isn't an option on either of the smaller tablets.
While it's not quite as scientific as the other categories, this could be the most important. What are those extra perks that each piece of hardware brings to the table?
The Kindle Fire brings one of the best bonuses you could ask for: an extremely affordable price. At just $200, this is the best tablet bang for your buck. Amazon is selling it either at cost or at a small loss because they know that they will generate extra sales from the digital content that's prominently featured on the tablet. As long as you don't mind seeing a lot of Amazon services in your UI, this is a win for everyone. The pricier Nook Tablet is also subsidized by content at $250, and the iPad 2 starts at $500.
Another win for the Kindle Fire is Amazon Prime. Purchasers of the Fire get the service free for one month. After that, they can pay $79 for a year's membership. Along with Netflix-like video streaming, Prime customers also get free book lending and free/discounted shipping on Amazon orders.
Finally, the Fire also has the speedy Silk web browser. It integrates with Amazon's servers to accelerate page loading times, and should make browsing even quicker than it already would be with the dual-core processor.
The Nook Tablet is by far the weakest of the three in terms of extras. What fun perks does it bring that the others don't? It's cheap, but not as cheap as the Kindle Fire. It has Netflix and Hulu Plus (including some native integration), but so do both other tablets. What's more, the Nook's overall app selection is weaker. That's not to say there's anything wrong with the Nook Tablet, but it doesn't have many unique bonuses.
One plus for the Nook Tablet is that it might be a little more hacker-friendly than the Fire. If it can boot from an SD card like the Nook Color, then it will be able to run custom ROMs without even being rooted. More importantly, it has twice the internal storage of the Fire, and the option for more on the SD. If you're rooting it and installing Cyanogenmod and the Android Market, it might be nice to have that extra space.
The iPad 2, meanwhile, is another powerhouse in terms of extras. The App Store is the most obvious advantage, as it provides the best selection of mobile applications. In terms of games, Apple's library is still well ahead of Android's. iOS is also a more mature platform than the customized Android that the other two tablets are running. iOS 5′s additions — like notifications, iMessage, and iCloud — only sweeten the pot.
One last thing to consider is that the iPad 2 is the only one of these tablets to offer the option of 3G data. You pay an extra $130 for the 3G-capable models, but the option is there. This will make the iPad 2 the only tablet option (at least out of these three) for some people who need to stay connected and don't want a MiFi or tethered connection.
The first questions you will want to ask are: whether you want a large or small tablet, and how much you're willing to pay. If you want the largest display and don't mind paying more for it, then the iPad it is. If you decide that you do want one of the smaller/cheaper slates, then you're still left with another decision.
The Kindle Fire may still be a better buy than the Nook Tablet. For most customers, the Fire's superior app selection, free month of Amazon Prime, and $50 discount will cancel out the Nook's slightly better specs. Content-hoarders, hackers, and B&N faithful will prefer the Nook, but most others would be wise to dive into Amazon's superior overall ecosystem.
Still, we can recommend all we want, but the tablet you buy will ultimately come down to your personal taste. You can view test results, specs, and stats all day long, but each of these three devices offers something a little different. Half the fun is in finding out which feature set is best for you.
Tags: Amazon, Apple, b&n, barnes & noble, comparison, hacking, iCloud, ipad 2, Kindle Fire, nook color, Nook Color 2, Nook Tablet, rooting, side-by-side, specs, tablets