The biggest Android tablet there is today is the Kindle Fire, but Google is looking to steal that thunder back with a media tablet that has perfected gaming, size, formfactor, and everything else. At least, so Google and ASUS believe. But is it worth switching to from the Fire, or does Amazon’s tablet still have the upper hand? Let’s find out.

Size

The Kindle Fire isn’t exactly the thinnest or lightest tablet around. In fact, it’s very similar in shape and design to the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7″ tablet that was thick, bulky, and not particularly good looking. Amazon had the decency to throw on a comfortable and sleek rubber back to improve the looks and feel, but overall the Fire is just your standard fare.

The Nexus 7, on the other hand, is the stealth bomber V2: slicker, thinner, and crisper looking. It shares the screen size but drops girth and weight for a smaller shell and lighter frame that’s both easier and more comfortable to hold. The thinner body isn’t necessarily better suited for reading (thicker frames are easier to grip, especially for extended periods), but it is much more comfortable to hold both one-handed or two.

Winner: Nexus 7, which shares the same screen size but is thinner and lighter.

Appearance

Thin and light almost always makes the device look better, and it certainly does with the Nexus 7. The Kindle Fire looks like a black brick; sleek for a thick device, but nothing special. Meanwhile the Nexus 7 looks new, futuristic, and pretty dashing.

Winner: Nexus 7, with a sleek, thin design that’s clearly well thought out and will embolden users.

Display

The display on the Kindle Fire has a resolution of 1024×600, compared to 1280×800 on the Nexus 7. They both use similar screen technology, but the Nexus 7 is more dense and can display full HD video.

Winner: Nexus 7, higher density and higher resolution display.

Operating System

While both tablets are Android devices, Amazon went out of its way to highly modify Android 2.3 into its own OS to provide a unique, Amazon-based experience. Meanwhile, the Nexus 7 is the first “Google” tablet, meaning it comes with stock Android 4.1, and will receive updates immediately.

Normally such would give the Nexus 7 the win, but its a deeper comparison here. The Kindle Fire has plenty of media-specific enhancements thanks to Amazon’s overlay, such as access to Amazon Prime, Amazon cloud services, and the Amazon app store. The latter two can be on any Android device in the form of apps, but thus far Amazon has not released an app for Prime users, which gives them access to hundreds of thousands of free movies and TV shows. This wouldn’t have been an issue with older Android versions, but since 4.0 removed flash support, now users can only use a Kindle Fire to watch Amazon Prime video.

Then again, the limitations of the Kindle Fire are equally huge. There is no access to the typical Android Play Store, which severely limits the number of applications available to users. There is also no access to standard Android functions available in later versions of Android, like better multitasking. It just isn’t there. Depending on how you plan on using the tablet, either one could be better…but because Amazon’s Prime service requires $80 annually, I’ll award the win to the Nexus 7 for more openness and better software.

Winner: Nexus 7, which has OS support (will upgrade, and will upgrade first), a significantly better app marketplace, and more refined, better software..

Processor

While this section was a barrage of CPU and GPU data between the iPad and Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire is like a featherweight. It’s seven months old, so it only has an Arm Cortex A9 1GHz dual-core CPU. That, compared to the powerhouse that is the Nexus 7 with a quad-core CPU and 12-core GPU…there’s just no comparison here.

Winner: Nexus 7, with a far better CPU and GPU.

Storage

Both the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 are terrible when it comes to storage. For the Kindle Fire, that’s not such a big deal; Amazon’s cloud services and plenty of streaming media means you’ll rarely use the available 8GB of storage anyways. And with few apps published to its app store, that space will likely never get filled out except with downloaded books and magazines.

The Nexus 7 is also light on space, with either 8/16GB. Neither device comes with upgradeable storage, and Google has plenty of its own cloud storage options for interested users. But at least the Nexus 7 can be upgraded to 16GB, in case you ever feel like going on vacation and not using internet.

Winner: Nexus 7, which can have  twice the memory.

Battery Life

Both tablets have almost identical batteries, the Nexus 7 with a 4325mAh and the Kindle Fire with a 4400mAh. The main difference is the software, not the hardware in this case, and again normally I’d go with the Nexus 7 because of the improved software performance both in speed and battery consumption, but having used the Fire for over five months I can say without a doubt that it has an excellent battery.

The Fire can last up to two months on a single charge with minimal/no use, and can last 10-12 hours of use while streaming TV shows. I’ve managed to watch an entire season of Avatar: The Last Airbender (great show, by the way) before needing to recharge the Fire. That is to say, Amazon did a tremendous job making sure that the Fire had excellent power conservation.

The Nexus 7 will too, because Android 4.0 boost battery performance 20-30%, depending on the device. But there’s no way to tell for sure which performs better without both units in-house. So I’m labeling this one as a tie.

Winner: Tie, because the batteries are basically identical and they need to be formally tested and compared.

Price

The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire both sell for $200. Amazon has had lower prices in the past, and as a tried and true tablet you can find the Fire for less used. However, the Nexus 7 comes in two versions, 8/16GB, for $200/$250, giving users the option to actually spend more if they want for more space. So which is better? More pricing options, because sometimes we have the money to spend and actually want to spend it.

Winner: Nexus 7, offers one more pricing option that can seriously benefit the end user..

Overall Winner

From the look of the score, the Nexus 7 dominates over the Kindle Fire. And in many ways, it does, but there’s two important things to remember. First, the Kindle Fire has been out for nearly eight months as of this writing, and rumors are that the next Fire is expected to be announced within the next few months. Second, because of no Flash support, anyone who uses Amazon Prime will want a Fire regardless of any other feature because of all of the free content it offers.

I know that all too well. Whenever I find a good show or movie on Prime, I stream it. I’d rather do it on a larger tablet, or perhaps one with a better screen like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7, but the Kindle Fire will do just fine. It doesn’t quite translate HD video properly, but it’ll suffice. No other Android tablet running 4.0 or higher can offer that, because Google eliminated inherent Flash support.

Because of that, the Fire is still a very viable and rewarding device. Meanwhile, the Nexus 7 offers the best performance that can be found on an Android tablet by far, and for a great price. It’s lighter, thinner, better looking, and has all of the features we want in a tablet except flash. If it had flash support, this would be a no-contest comparison. Unfortunately for Google and very fortunately for Amazon, they killed Flash on Android.

Which should you take? In 8/10 cases, I’d say the Nexus 7. The other two are people who either use Prime regularly for watching content or on occasion, and who don’t need the space or the additional performance. It’s also worth noting that if you’re on the ropes, the Fire 2 is likely to be announced very soon, so hold off on a purchase. Chances are the Nexus 7 is on backorder because of how many people want it, so wait until that stock is available and until Amazon makes its announcement.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.