Which small tablet delivers the biggest bang for your buck?


Last week I recommended Apple’s iPad mini with retina display over the iPad Air, but how does it stack up against tablets its own size? To figure that out I’ve compared specs for the retina display-equipped iPad mini against two popular 7-inch tablets, Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX.

While both Android tablets are certainly a lot less expensive than the iPad mini, are they a better value?

iPad mini comparison chart

What’s the same?

Physically, all three tablets are pretty evenly matched. The iPad mini is just a little larger than the other two, but it also has nearly an extra inch of screen. All three are plenty portable and good companions for your next long trip or morning commute. Design-wise, Apple has a slight leg up on the competition, with a more distinctive design and two color options for the iPad mini, compared with the relatively staid black look of the other two tablets.

iPad mini

The screens are all comparable as well. The iPad mini features the highest resolution at 2048 by 1536 pixels. Across its 7.9-inch display, that works out to 326 pixels per inch. But the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HDX have slightly smaller 7-inch screens, so their 1920 by 1200 resolutions work out to 323 pixels per inch. That means it might be hard to tell the difference from one screen to the next.

Battery life is comparable across the board, though the Kindle wins out with an estimated 11 hours of battery life. Apple said the iPad mini will get up to 10 hours and the Nexus 7 is rated for 9. You should get at least a full day’s worth of battery life from any of these tablets with fairly heavy use.

What’s different?

The camera is where things start to get different, and the iPad mini and Nexus 7 have a definite advantage over the Kindle Fire HDX, which lacks a rear camera. I’m still not convinced that rear cameras are an important feature for tablets, but I’ve seen a surprising amount of tablet photographers throughout the streets of New York, so maybe I’m just not getting something. That said, if you find a rear camera to be a necessity, you can rule the Kindle Fire HDX out completely.

Nexus 7

The iPad mini and the Nexus 7 both feature 5-megapixel rear sensors, as well as 1.2-megapixel front-facing cameras. Amazon doesn’t specify a megapixel rating for the Kindle Fire’s front-facing camera, but it is capable of shooting 720p video, which makes it fine for video chat.

Another issue to consider is storage. None of these tablets come equipped with a microSD slot for expandable storage, so what you see is what you get. Apple provides storage options all the way up to 128GB, but the price for that model starts at a whopping $699. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX are priced much more reasonably, though the Kindle Fire tops out at 64GB and the Nexus 7 at 32GB.

I think most people use tablets to consume streaming media, though, so I’m primarily basing my opinions here on the 16GB models, which are also the least expensive.

What really makes a difference?

While we’ve seen some differences among the tablets so far, for the most part, none of them are deal breakers (aside from maybe the Kindle’s camera). Things start to get more heated when it comes to processing power.

The Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire are easier to compare, since both run a modified version of Android and both use Qualcomm CPUs. The Kindle Fire uses a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip, which is among the fastest processors on the market. The Nexus 7, on the other hand, uses an older 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro. It’s still plenty powerful, but it’s no match for the Kindle Fire.

The iPad mini, on the other hand, uses Apple’s new 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion coprocessor. It’s the fastest chip to appear in an iOS device yet, but Apple hasn’t released more detailed specifications, which makes it difficult to compare to the offerings from Qualcomm. Chip review site Anandtech has shown that the A7 is a 1.3GHz dual-core chip, which sounds like it should present no competition against the other offerings. But so far benchmark scores have shown that the A7 processor actually beats out phones like the LG G2, which is powered by the same processor as the Kindle Fire HDX. So from an overall power perspective, the iPad mini and Kindle Fire HDX are likely to be your strongest options.


Then there are some factors to consider that can’t be compared so easily in a chart. Apple, for instance, offers the most robust tablet app ecosystem by far. The Apple App Store is currently home to over 475,000 tablet-specific apps. Android has been improving its tablet app game and finally has plans to introduce its own tablet section to Google Play. But if you want access to the largest selection of high-quality tablet-specific apps, there is still no comparison to a tablet from Apple.

The Kindle Fire HDX, on the other hand, is probably the best choice here for first-time buyers and casual tablet users. Amazon’s Fire OS software, along with live video tech support via the Mayday button, makes it very clear what you can use the tablet to do. It also does the work of sorting out tablet-ready apps for you in Amazon’s app store, though it doesn’t come with direct access to Google Play. Provided you like Amazon’s content ecosystem it’s a great buy.

By comparison, the Nexus 7 offers a pure version of Android, which is hard to find on other devices. And you’re not tethered to Amazon, so the Nexus 7 is more of a blank slate you can customize as you see fit. If you want to receive the latest software updates from Google in a timely manner, it’s the small-screen tablet to get. And while Google Play is still not the easiest place to find tablet apps, most phone apps look great on the Nexus 7’s screen.

So which is the right tablet for you? In my mind, tablets are about apps, and no small-screen tablet offers a better app experience than the iPad mini with retina display. It’s also the only tablet here that makes no compromises — the Kindle Fire lacks a camera and the Nexus 7 uses an older processor. If you’ve got the money to spend it’s the tablet to buy.

That said, the iPad mini costs nearly twice as much the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HDX. And for many people, that gap is wide enough to make you think twice about whether you really need all those extra apps. In that case, I’d put my money towards the Nexus 7. Although it has a slower processor, its stock Android build offers a much more open platform than Amazon’s locked down Kindle Fire. And it gives you unfettered access to Google Play, where you should be able to run most apps without a hitch.

  1. Christoph Möller Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    This is a good idea to compare these, but you totally forgot the LG G Pad 8.3 which could dominate this market after the Nexus 7:

  2. Christoph Möller Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    LG’s G Pad 8.3 is available in the US for only $349.99.

    LG is the same company which manufactures the Nexus 7 for Google. Here is a review from PhoneArena:

    1. LG does manufacture the Nexus 7, it’s Asus.

    2. @Christoph Moller, the Nexus 7 is made by Asus, not LG

  3. “The Nexus 7, on the other hand, uses an older 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro.”

    The Nexus 7 has long been shown to be using a disguised, downclocked Snapdragon 600.

  4. @Alex Colon

    I can’t for the life of me understand why these comparisons so heavily favor the Apple product. You didn’t even mention the lack of a GPS chip in the iPad that both the Nexus and the HDX have. Yes, the cellular model has one but this is a wifi tablet comparison and that is a major omission. Especially if you want to use it as a nav device paired with your phone.

    The Nexus 7 also has NFC and Qi wireless charging. While this may not be big for some, it is huge for others who use things like mobile payments, smart tags, or lock screen disablers. The case of Qi wireless charging is largely viewed as a gimmick, however, after having it for my Nexus 4, it is now a requirement. It is so convenient. I think everyone has experienced that situation where someone calls, they grab their phone forgetting it is plugged in, and jar the cord. Wireless charging solves that and it also eliminates the need to fumble around looking for a cord at night, just drop the device on the charging pad. Some people have even built them into furniture by thinning the wooden surface and placing the bad below it so it is invisible.

    1. NFC is in the process of being abandoned by all including Google’s Android.

    2. What you try to say are irrelevant and no one even cares to have those; GPS chip in a wifi model is non-sense.
      Why would one want a GPS while they can’t even connect to network on the move? Using as a navigation pairing with 5″-6″ android phone which already had GPS on its own? Are you serious? I don’t think anyone would do that to kill battery on both devices for a single purpose instead just using their big screen phone instead.
      OMG, here again, wireless charging “they grab their phone forgetting it is plugged in, and jar the cord”…are you 3 years old? If you don’t know how to plug or unplug a phone which my 5 years old can do, you don’t deserve to use any electronic device…”to fumble around looking for a cord at night” sounds really dumb.
      NFC…let’s see…0.0000000000000001% people owing a tablet actually use it. Sure, big market there, mr. Tech.

  5. Personally I find the lack of a comparison on the actual screen real estate fundamentally flaws comparisons like this. How about including how many square inches each screen is since you can’t compare 4:3 screen diagonals to 16:9. I think the larger iPad screen helps explain a large part of the price difference.

    1. I agree that actual screen comparisons should be discussed more. The 4:3 ratio cripples the iPad products when watching HD movies, but does make it easier to view full pages when web browsing in portrait mode.

      1. I believe number of people and amount of time they actually watch video on a small tablet are really small compared to using it for other purposes: web browsing, book reading, reading news or actually business related works. To me widescreen on a tablet is odd.

        1. Netflix is #11 on Android free apps right now, with 50-100,000,000 downloads and half a million reviews. You might be right – they might not have even upgraded to a tablet yet – they might be watching them on phones!

          1. Sure, maybe Android tablet owners like to watch movie on their tablets instead of big screen TV at home because most of android tablet sold were wifi version. BTW, I have Netflix on every mobile device in my house and we never watch on any of them. People downloaded the apps because it’s popular, actually use it, not so many. Go ask people about their Google + app…sure, they have it, but Google+ is like ghost town beside Facebook or Tweeter.

            1. Your anecdotal evidence is non-consequential. I use Netflix on my mobile devices all the time, both at home in bed and on the go in hotel rooms, at airports, etc. I use my tablet mostly to consume entertainment as do many other people. Just because you don’t, in no way means the rest of the word doesn’t.

  6. Which models allow users to install their own memory cards so they will not be limited in what they can store in the way of music, photos and videos?

  7. A key feature for me is that I can restrict my kids usage to specific apps: Android calls this “Restricted profiles”. In our house, everyone has their own user profile. iOS doesn’t have this feature. Therefore, in my opinion Android is better for families.

  8. Yes, a very week review. I agree that the Nexus 7 is the best buy, but I’m still not completely sold on the Nexus brand, they lack the expandable micro sd slot. The best part of any Android device is that you can use it as a memory stick and carry files with you, photos, videos or work documents and plug it into any computer and download or upload files just drag and drop no extra software required. No converting any files I mean any, movies, music and documents all work without having to be converted as in any Apple mobile product.

    1. I could care less about a SD card slot seeing how you can’t download apps onto them. So therefore no SD card slot not a deal breaker for me.

  9. Alexander Inglis Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    Isn’t it worth noting that you can’t actually buy the Apple iPad Mini Retina as it is not yet released?

    The Nexus 7 is a very sweet, extremely affordable tablet that sits incredibly comfortably in the palm of one hand for reading. For video, it’s snappy and uses the full 16:9 7″ plane to display (vs iPad which offers black bars top and bottom “wasting” the extra screen space).

    Plus the open platform Nexus 7 has distinct advantages over Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX — integrated access to Google Play and apps like G-Mail which lots of us use.

    Another poster mentioned profiles which, in a household with shared users, its a real boon.

    1. Noku Rukakikika Wednesday, October 30, 2013

      Please allow me to clarify something. When you talk bout 16:9 being ideal for video, you actually mean 16:9 is ideal for movies, and only movies. No other video in the world – TV shows, You Tube, Vimeo, etc. etc. etc. are encoded at 16:9, Given that screen ratio is good for only one particular, very limited use, the screen size is an odd choice. It doesn’t work well with 99% of what a tablet is used for.

      While you can’t but the iPad Mini yet, it will be out shortly. It is not vaporware. You did forget to mention, even though the author did, that with the Nexus you’d be buying a tablet that runs pretty much only phone apps. You get to use apps made for phones that look way too big for what they do. They do not contain any special functionality. That would not be the case with the iPad Mini, which has a fully stocked library of tablet apps. The iPad Mini is a tablet. The Nexus is a huge phone that can’t make calls.

      1. Noku Rukakikika, you are wrong about the aspect ratio. A lot of movies in US are in 2.35:1 (21:9), and most of the video resources, including digital TV, are in 16:9. The majority of monitors and TVs in market now are 16:9 (1920×1080), so it’s obvious that which is more widely used format.

  10. Thomas Brockmans Thursday, October 31, 2013

    Very weak review and quite weak comments. Everybody (except for covolution) is mainly talking about hardware. Also compare the intuitivity, security and creativity please. Don’t forget iOS is being used by a majority of consumers, which means android tablets are bought but then not fully experienced like iOS tablets.
    Do you buy the biggest bananas or the ones that tastes best?

    1. Thomas Brockmans, very weak comment by you. If you’ve done a little bit research, you would know that Android held a 50% market share in US smartphone market in 3Q13, while iOS held a 40% share. (can’t wait for Nexus 5 to be released)

      Regarding the US tablet market, Apple only held a 29.6% market share in 3Q2013 (32.4% in 2Q2013, 40.% in 3Q2012). Yes, Apple’s market share will grow in Q4, but I’m don’t think iOS will dominate Android in the US tablet market.

      Furthermore, if you look at the global market, Android almost reached 80% global market share in 2Q2013. Android has held the biggest market share since 4Q2010.

      I agree that the new iPad Mini is a great tablet, but I didn’t see much creativity in it. I love Apple, and It’s really hard for Apple to compete with so many Android device manufacturers. However, in my opinion, without Jobs, Apple is losing its position as a tech pioneer company. Both Samsung and LG have curved OLED smartphone prototypes (even foldable), Google’s Project Glass leads the wearable tech, and what about Apple?

      BTW, Google’s Chromecast has the potential to be the domination in TV delivery technology.

      1. Android dominates market share. No one denies it. Majority of the market share are junk android tablets. Don’t believe me? Look at those android tablets on Walmart.com: over 100 different models of junk tablet ranging from $59-$99. No wonder, 81% web tablet web traffic in NA belong to iPad.
        I would say the same thing for android phones…

        1. One man’s junk is another’s’ treasure.


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