One of the most interesting developments to come out of Apple’s iPad Mini announcement event was the pricing of the new smaller tablets. This was one of the few details that the Apple rumor mill couldn’t nail down in advance, although some had speculated that the price of the Mini would logically fall between the new $299 iPod Touch and the $399 iPad 2. The cheapest 16 GB version of the newest Mini checks in with a surprising $329 base price. That is a full $130 more than the comparable 16 GB Kindle Fire HD. And its $100 more than the 32 GB Fire HD. Apple is obviously not trying to win the price war. Let’s take a look at how the Kindle Fire HD and Apple iPad Mini devices compare outside of pricing.
The new iPad Mini has a larger screen than the Kindle Fire HD. It is 7.9 inches as opposed to Kindle’s 7 inches. Although the Kindle Fire HD now comes in the larger 10 inch version as well, we’ll try and compare apples to apples and focus on the smaller versions of each device. The iPad Mini’s additional .9 of an inch produces a 33% larger viewing area if held vertically and 43% when held in landscape mode. That is a significant difference and very noticeable when browsing the internet or watching video. Although the Mini’s total size is not too much bigger than the Kindle Fire HD, it has a much smaller bezel along the edges and significantly more screen real estate.
The Kindle Fire HD is the winner in picture quality, as its 1260 by 840 resolution display outshines the iPad Mini’s 1040 by 680 screen resolution. However, the smaller screens make it hard to discern any significant advantage. The difference might be evident on the larger versions of the devices but it’s not on the 7 inch tablets. The Kindle Fire HD has added an anti-glare screen that is an improvement over the original Fire and a definite differentiator between these two devices when you venture out-of-doors. Inside, the benefit is minimal in comparison.
The iPad Mini boasts Wi Fi speeds that are said to be two times faster than the second generation iPad. If you are to believe Amazon’s claims that its dual Wi Fi connectors on the Kinde Fire HD provide four times the speed of the iPad 2 (which I have failed to corroborate in my usage), then Apple has halved the difference and improved its Wi Fi speeds. When running the two devices side by side, on the same network, I found the iPad Mini to be faster on all counts pulling up web pages a full one to two seconds faster.
Amazon has added a front-facing camera and free Skype to their latest tablet. Apple’s iPad Mini has both a front and rear facing camera. The Skype is a nice addition but doesn’t really compete with Apple’s cameras which allow users to take full advantage of video editing software, and programs like Facetime, Instagram and Phonebooth. The larger screen on the Mini also enhances the experience of viewing pictures and videos on the device. The cameras seem more at home on the smaller Mini, as the larger iPads made operating the cameras a little awkward due to the larger size of the tablet. Depending on your usage plans for the devices, this can be a huge differentiator.
Battery time has also improved with both of these devices. Each tablet has about 10 hours of battery life with mixed usage. I haven’t seen the full 11 hours on one charge that the Amazon Kindle Fire HD reports. It seems to consistently come in around 9 to 10 hours, which is still really good.
In terms of content, we are not really talking about the devices so much as the company’s respective marketplaces. This becomes a matter of preference. Apple has an exponentially larger offering of apps. Amazon is an integrated mega-store that offers access to its own apps, comparable amounts of videos and movies and, of course, the Kindle Store and its millions of books. Amazon also offers free content and access to its lending library if you are an Amazon Prime member. Many people complain about Apple’s iTunes, as well as the App Store interface, and the synching and software update process is always a time-consuming adventure, but many are tied to their likely sizable iTunes libraries by this point. Choosing between the two devices based on content might be a hard decision.
Overall, it becomes clear what Apple was thinking with its pricing strategy. The device they are presenting in the Mini continues to outshine the competition enough in features and performance to warrant the higher price tag. The iPad Mini is a smaller, sleeker device and the additional screen space makes a huge difference at this size category. The lack of a Retina Display is puzzling and keeps the competition close, but the Kindle Fire HD is not as fast as purported and continues to be plagued by email synching issues and the constant need to side load popular apps. Another detractor for the Kindle Fire HD was the lack of a wall charger. This will cost users an additional $20. The Kindle Fire HD, despite all of its improvements, still feels like a glorified e-reader whereas the iPad Mini feels and acts like a tablet computer. The choice really comes down to how you plan on using the device and how much you are willing to spend.