There are a number of mini tablets out there, from a broad range of technology firms, but this article is going to concentrate on just four models. These are, in no particular order; Amazon Kindle Fire, Apple iPad mini, Google Nexus 7 and Nook HD. Three of these run on the Google Android Operating System (OS), although the Amazon product and the Nook are heavily cloaked under a software skin. The iPad mini uses the Apple IOS that is used on the larger iPad devices as well as on iPhones and iPod Touch devices.
Is one OS better than the the other? It's fair to say that this can polarise opinions and many users of these two OS are so heavily persuaded that they'll never consider the other. If you are one of those and IOS is your preferred OS then, if you're buying a mini tablet for yourself your choice is pretty well sorted. The Apple IOS is a holistic environment pulling the iCloud and other Apple devices in your home together seamlessly. Android is moving towards a more coordinated environment but is still developing in that respect. But as a pure OS it is fine.
Verdict on OS selection: If you already have a strong preference for IOS or Android, then stick with it. Otherwise make your decision on other factors.
All four tablets carry 1 GB of internal memory. The RAM varies between the models and is generally a cost driver. The Amazon Fire comes with 16GB and 32GB variants; the iPad mini in 16, 32 and 64GB; the Nexus 7 is available in 16 and 32GB versions; Nook HD in 8 or 16GB. More RAM means more storage of photos, books, music. The Nook is expandable with external storage using a micro SD card up to 64GB and the Amazon Fire comes with apparently unlimited access to the Amazon Cloud for storing media in. Make your decision based on the likelihood of storing films, photos and music but don't get hung up on book storage - to fill any of these devices up with eBooks would require constant reading until the end of the next Century.
Verdict on RAM: My recommendation is to go for the most storage you can afford as it is generally impracticable to upgrade with this technology at the moment, perhaps something that we as consumers should be complaining about. As RAM size affects price you need to consider all the other aspects first.
Screens: All four devices have multi-touch screens so you can zoom in on an image by spreading with your fingers, so the factors to consider here are size and resolution. The Fire, Nexus and the Nook all have 7 inch screens, the iPad mini 7.9. So the iPad provides a little bit more real estate to work with, which may be a deal breaker for some. In terms of resolution the iPad mini comes off worst with a resolution of 1024 x 768. The Fire and the Nexus have 1280 x 800 and the Nook has 1440 x 900. Not only is the Nook screen better on paper, it gets rave reviews for clarity.
Verdict on screens: If screen quality is paramount, then the Nook has to be a major contender. If other factors drive you away from the Nook then either of the two remaining Android devices have to be in the running. The iPad mini comes off worst in this category, but to put it into context the screen is the same resolution as the very popular iPad 2. So if you've seen one of them in action and don't have an issue with the resolution then perhaps any of these devices are fine.
Cameras: The iPad mini has front and rear cameras, the Nexus and Fire front facing cameras only and the Nook has none at all. Anyone who has watched tourists trying to use the full size iPad to take photos will probably agree that it looks a tad unwieldy, however the smaller form factor probably works with this machine. With the Fire and Nexus the front facing camera is there just for Skype calls and updating social media, as it is with the iPad mini front facing camera.
Verdict on cameras: Nook doesn't have any, so if cameras are important, the Nook isn't for you. If you only want to Skype then either of the other two Android machines or the iPad mini would be fine, however if you want to use your tablet to photograph your world around you then it has to be the iPad mini.
eReader compatabilty: With Amazon pitching the Kindle and Barnes & Noble pitching the Nook it may be that potential purchasers of these devices got to this point after deciding to buy something to read eBooks on. Of course Apple has its own bookstore too, so that puts the iPad mini in the frame too. Google also have a bookstore, but at present it doesn't appear to have the range of books available through B&N, Amazon or Apple. What isn't necessarily obvious is that many eBook sellers (including Amazon and Barnes & Noble) provide free apps for Apple and Android devices so you aren't necessarily limited to the books from the company that sells your tablet. Certainly you can load the Kindle app onto the iPad, but you can't, however, load Apple iBooks onto Android devices.
Verdict on eReaders: All four devices will allow you to read eBooks from various eBook sellers. The iPad is slightly more flexible, but you should be able to obtain any eBook on any machine by some means.
Apps. Here it does get a little complicated. Apple pretty much invented the App market and have at least a year on its competitors. It's almost certainly the fact that any App you want, if it exists, it will be available for the iPad mini. Google, who developed and own the Android OS, are playing aggressive catch up and the Nexus has access to the whole Android App market. Both the Fire and the Nook have limited access to Apps due in part to marketing decisions and in part, I suspect, to their software skins.
Verdict on Apps. The iPad mini has the largest App range of all of these devices, however I'm fairly certain that most of the important/desirable Apps are also available on Android. However you may not be able to use the Fire or Nook to gain access to some of them. If Apps are important along with Android, look at the Nexus 7.
Price: Here we go, please remember that prices will change over time and the degree of competition we are seeing will almost certainly make the manufacturers review their prices over the next 7 weeks.
Amazon Fire: £159 for the 16GB version, £199 for the 32GB version. There is also a lower spec version of the Fire for £129. To read more, follow this link.
Apple iPad Mini: £269 for the 16GB version, £349 for the 32GB version and £429 for the 64GB version. Extra if you want 3G connectivity. To read more, follow this link.
Google Nexus 7: £159 for the 16GB version, £199 for the 32GB version. To read more, follow this link
Nook: Believed to be £159 for the 16GB version, but we'll have to wait a few more days for the actual price. It is going to be widely available, see my other Nook related articles for the list of sellers.
Verdict on prices and overall round-up: Well, it looks like £159 is the price point for 16GB Android 7" tablets, so it's down to the other variables if 7" and Android is what you are looking for. The Nexus has the greatest flexibility in this price range, however the Fire is getting great reviews too. The Nook has its work cut out, but take the opportunity to look it up. £199 seems to be the next price point, for 32GB devices. Probably, for longevity and usefulness, 32GB is a good option for many users. The Apple product is looking very expensive at the moment, but that price may drop after the initial rush is over. It is charging £110 more for the 16GB version over it's Android competitors, however you do get more than just the hardware with Apple. It's just whether it's worth spending that much extra for the IOS.
Added thoughts: While tablet computing is clearly the next big thing, Cloud based storage is likely to be a major game changer. Consequently the move towards larger internal memory capacity may be a red herring in the long run. Apple and Google are both offering Cloud based storage for your music - Apple for £22 a year for up to 25,000 tracks and Google for free for up to 20,000 tracks.
Summary: As discussed at the front of this blog entry, if you're set on Apple and want a mini tablet, then the iPad mini is the only device you need to consider. My advice would be to buy the largest capacity device you can afford, but freely acknowledge that the whole family are overpriced. Out of the Android machines I would suggest that the Nexus 7 32GB device is probably inching ahead of the Kindle Fire, which is slightly further ahead again of the Nook HD. Watch out for aggressive discounting amongst the Android devices as they are all competing for a crowded market space. If Google keep their prices static then, in a perfect world Amazon would knock £10-£20 of the Fire and Barnes & Noble would discount the Nook HD even heavier to achieve market share. The iPad mini may or may not drop in price nearer the 25th December, however it is really possible that it will drop after.
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