New Nexus 7 Takes on iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD

Google's revised media tablet is a lot better than the original, but not enough to unseat the iPad Mini in our media tablet deathmatch.

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4

All three tablets let you connect to TVs and projectors via HDMI cables, which are available from third parties. The iPad Mini needs an adapter for its Lightning connector, just as the Nexus 7 needs an adapter for its SlimPort connector. The Kindle Fire HD has a MiniHDMI port. All worked just fine, both for playing videos on an HDTV and mirroring the screen.

Book reading. For reading books, Apple's iBooks and Amazon's Kindle apps are the best. Their default settings are the most readable, though you may want to increase the Kindle's default text size. I like iBooks 3.0's scroll mode for reading -- turning virtual pages may remind you that you're reading a book, but scrolling is faster and a bit more natural. The interactive Multi-Touch style of e-book available only for iPads can be nothing short of amazing in presentation richness and flexibility -- it's little used, though, outside of textbooks. After using an iPad with a Retina display, I noticed that text on the iPad Mini's non-Retina display was not as crisp -- yet it's roughly equivalent to the crispness of the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, which pack more pixels per square inch.

The Kindle Fire HD's reader and the Kindle app on both the iPad and new Nexus 7 load fast -- the Kindle app exhibited noticeable lag on the old Nexus 7. Also, the yellower color balance of the Kindle Fire HD's screen made the book pages dimmer and harder to read than on the Nexus 7 or iPad Mini.

On the old Nexus 7, books in both the Kindle app and the native Play Books app were hard to read until I adjusted their text settings. But the new Nexus 7 fixes that, with reader-friendly default settings.

Magazine and newspaper reading. When it comes to magazines, the battle is between the iPad Mini and the Kindle Fire HD, both of which have fairly large magazine and newspaper subscription libraries. Android's Play Market has a small magazine selection. iOS's Newsstand app conveniently puts all your subscriptions in one place, with the option to get alerts when new editions are available. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire also aggregate your subscriptions and offer new-issue notifications.

The real test for reading print publications on a tablet comes down to the magazines' specific apps, and too many don't work well. Most are PDF-like replicas of their print layouts, perhaps with the ability to switch to a text view for easier reading but without the accompanying graphics -- standard for the Kindle Fire and optional on other devices. I find most magazines on all the media tablets unsatisfying. One major exception is the Economist, whose iOS and Android apps show how it should be done.

Fortunately, most newspaper apps are designed for tablet reading, such as USA Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Newspaper apps on the iPad Mini tend to be more nicely designed, easier to navigate, and more readable than those on the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD.

All in all, the iPad Mini is the best book reader, especially if you use the iBooks and Kindle apps. On the Nexus 7, you'll really want to use the Kindle app rather than the native Google Play Books app, because Play Books is hard to read -- a nonstarter for an e-reader.

The playback winner. When it comes to playback options, the iPad Mini wins, mainly because it has the most flexible playback options, both in terms of output options and playback apps available. If you're looking for a device you want to listen to without external speakers or headphones, you'll again prefer the iPad Mini, whose video playback quality is very nice. But the new Nexus 7 has become a solid second choice.

iOS is known for its app selection, and because the iPad Mini uses the same 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution as an iPad 2, it runs every app any other iPad does. Thus, the entire iOS app library is available to the iPad Mini, from games to news readers to photo editors to productivity apps. Plus, if you enable it, your iTunes purchases are kept synced to all your iOS devices.

As a result, you get the best collection of fun and serious apps available for mobile devices for practically any purpose, and Apple's iTunes U library of free courses, aimed mainly at high school and college students, is an amazing resource. That's probably the iPad Mini's biggest advantage: It's not just a media tablet.

The Apple App Store also has the benefit of being rigorously screened for malware, which is not true for the Google Play Store that powers the Nexus 7 and other Android devices. The app selection in the Play Store does not match what Apple offers, but for the kinds of apps you'll want on an entertainment tablet -- gaming, social networking, and information apps -- the Play Store's options are strong. Over the years, Google has strengthened its backup services so that apps you get in the Play Store are available to your other Android devices. The Nexus 7 can therefore double as a business tablet in a pinch.

But just because you bought an app on one Android device does not guarantee it will run on another. You only find out when you try to install them -- there's no indication in the list of previously purchased apps as to which are compatible. The good news is that some of my media apps that didn't run on the old Nexus 7 -- such as the Economist and USA Today -- do run on the new Nexus 7.

The Kindle Fire HD's selection of apps is more limited than Android's Play Store offerings, mainly to edutainment apps and lightweight utilities. But the Kindle Fire has an extensive game catalog.

All the media tablets have the most popular social apps, such as Skype, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, either preinstalled or downloadable for free.

The app support winner. There's no question the iPad Mini has the greatest and best app catalog. But the Nexus 7's catalog is strong for media tablet usage, and the Kindle Fire HD's catalog is adequate.

Although "consuming" media and playing games are the main uses of a media tablet, being able to connect to the Internet for Web access is a close third. It's no surprise that all the devices support Wi-Fi for Internet connections, and like the old model, the new Nexus 7 will soon follow in the iPad Mini's and (8.9-inch) Kindle Fire's footsteps and support cellular connections for anywhere-access to the Internet.

Browsers. As you might expect, all the media tablets provide Web browsers. Using a browser on a 7-inch device, however, is often difficult. Web pages are designed for viewing on PCs, where 19-inch and larger monitors are now the norm. On a 10-inch tablet, they often feel scrunched, and it's worse on a 7-inch device. Plus, the onscreen keyboard for entering URLs is harder to use.

Still, the ability to zoom in as needed makes surfing acceptable. The iPad Mini provides the best browsing experience due to its larger (8-inch) screen and the capable Safari browser, which has the extra benefit of iCloud synchronization with other iOS and OS X devices.

Android's Chrome browser has a similar sync feature, and it's a great browser choice overall. Chrome is slightly more HTML5-savvy than Safari on the iPad -- Chrome scores 510 out of 500 points versus Safari's 386 in the HTML5test.com compatibility tests -- but Safari is better at Chrome in supporting AJAX controls. Thus, some interactive websites will work better on iOS's Safari than on Android's Chrome. All in all, running Chrome on the Nexus 7 is a close second to running Safari on the iPad Mini.

The Kindle Fire HD has the least satisfactory browser experience. Its Silk browser is noticeably slower to load -- sometimes excruciatingly so -- than the other media tablets. And it often reports itself to websites as a smartphone, causing you to get the mobile versions of websites rather than the desktop versions. Plus, Silk responds jerkily to zoom and swipe gestures. Silk is anything but smooth. The Amazon Appstore does have a few hobbyist browsers available for it -- Maxthon, Opera, and Dolphin -- so you're not stuck with Silk.

Silk offers good bookmarking and history capabilities, but no private-browsing mode, no cross-device tab syncing, no on-page search capabilities, and no built-in sharing capabilities, as both the iPad Mini and Nexus 7 do. Silk has good HTML5 compatibility, scoring 358 points, and its AJAX support is better than Android's or Windows RT's, and nearly equal to iOS's. Too bad using the browser is so frustrating.

Messaging. If you're under a certain age, you text more than you email -- but standard SMS messaging is not supported on tablets. On an iPad Mini or any iPad, you can use Apple's iMessage service to message other iOS and OS X users.

If you don't want to restrict yourself to just people using Apple hardware, you can install a variety of messaging apps such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger, or you can message across multiple services using an app like IM+ Pro. The same options are available for Android devices such as the Nexus 7. Among these, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, and a version of IM+ Pro called IM+ All in One are available for the Kindle Fire HD.

Apple's FaceTime is an easy-to-use video-calling service, but it too is restricted to iOS and OS X devices. For cross-platform video chats, you'll want to use Skype, which all three tablets support.

Wi-Fi support. In addition to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks, the iPad Mini (like the third- and fourth-generation iPads) supports 5GHz Wi-Fi networks, which usually provide faster connections and greater signal reach, letting you access the Internet in more places and faster. The Kindle Fire HD also supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, though its Silk browser was still noticeably slower than the iPad Mini's and Nexus 7's. The old Nexus 7 supported only 2.4GHz networks, but the new Nexus 7 supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi.

The Web and Internet winner. The iPad Mini and the Nexus 7 outshine the Kindle Fire HD when it comes to their online capabilities, tying in this category as the best.

You don't get a media tablet to do work. But as more and more workers find themselves on perpetual call, your media tablet should provide at least first-level capabilities such as the ability to do work email and view documents in common formats. It's even better if you can use such devices to work on projects without having to find a computer somewhere.

An iPad Mini, because it's an iPad, has great support for Microsoft Exchange, in addition to IMAP and POP servers. If your company supports iPad access to corporate resources, your iPad Mini becomes just another iPad for both your company and you, giving you the most security of any mobile OS outside of the BlackBerry, as well as the greatest selection of effective mobile productivity apps. If you hadn't installed those apps on your iPad Mini, you can download them from the App Store at no charge if previously purchased for a work iPad. The only real difficulty you might face is dealing with the smaller screen and smaller keyboard for text-intensive work.

The Nexus 7 is your second-best bet for doing work from a media tablet. Its Android 4.3 "Jelly Bean" OS has solid security capabilities and Exchange support, its Email and Calendar apps are solid if unexceptional, and both Mobile Systems' OfficeSuite Pro and Google's Quickoffice HD Pro apps for Android are capable enough for most business work. Plus, as with the iPad Mini, you'll find apps for a wide variety of business needs, from Salesforce.com to SAP access. As with the iPad, any compatible apps you purchased for other Android tablets can be downloaded at no charge to your Nexus 7.

Of course, many enterprises refuse to support Android devices due to concerns over its malware-infested Play Store and Google's history of inattention to security. Even if your Nexus 7 or other Android tablet can help you out in an emergency, your company may or may not let you use it.

The Kindle Fire HD supports Exchange, including the same kinds of security policies as standard Android devices -- a new capability in this second Kindle Fire generation. The Email and Calendar apps have simpler UIs than the stock Android versions, to fit better on the small screen. But all the capabilities you need are there, including attachment previews and calendar invites. I was impressed with their quality, given the Kindle Fire HD's decidedly nonbusiness target user. It too can be used in a pinch -- if your business is willing to let it in.

Although the Amazon Appstore is curated, the Kindle Fire HD allows sideloading of apps like other Android devices do, so you can install non-app-store apps. A basic version of Quickoffice is available for the Kindle Fire, so you can do basic Office document work with it.

The business connectivity winner. In all cases, assuming you're permitted Exchange access from your media tablet, you have basic email, calendar, and contacts capabilities available. But to do real work routinely, your best option is the iPad Mini.

Security is probably not top of mind when choosing a media tablet, but it should be one of your purchase criteria.

Corporate security. As noted, the iPad Mini has the same strong, enterprise-class capabilities as any iOS device, including a highly compatible VPN client. Also as noted, the Nexus 7 has the moderate security capabilities of most recent Android tablets. The Nexus 7 has Android's standard VPN support, which unfortunately does not include Cisco IPSec VPNs (you'll need to download Cisco's AnyConnect client as well as buy a client access license for it). The Kindle Fire HD provides the basics of Exchange device security, including encryption, and there are even a few VPN vendors' clients for it in the Amazon Appstore -- but not for Cisco VPNs.

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4
Discover what your peers are reading. Sign up for our FREE email newsletters today!