Which mini tablet is right for you?

At $329, the iPad Mini may be too rich for many consumers' blood. In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers some advice on which "mini" tablet to choose this holiday season.

Apple has entered the small-tablet market with the iPad Mini. But at $329, some holiday shoppers may still look toward the less expensive Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire.

I know people love Apple. And I'm sure there will be millions of people who will buy the iPad Mini this holiday season. But at a price of $329 for its least expensive model, I think the 8-inch tablet is still priced beyond many consumers' budgets. In this Ask Maggie, I help a reader, who is looking for an inexpensive tablet to give her kids for Christmas.

I also offer some advice to an iPhone 5 owner who in the first weeks of owning his smartphone has scratched the screen.

Why the iPad Mini may not be a Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7 killer

Dear Maggie,
I wanted to get two tablets for my kids this Christmas. We already have an iPad 2 that my husband uses, but I figured we could give our two kids ages 9 and 11, less expensive tablets. They play some games on the iPad, but we mostly use the tablet for long car trips so they can watch videos or read books. I've been looking at the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 from Google. The $199 price tag seems hard to beat with those tablets. I was hoping the iPad Mini would be about the same price as the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. But I'm just not sure I want to spend $329 on the iPad Mini.

What do you think? Is the iPad Mini worth it?

Thanks,
A Disappointed Santa

Dear Disappointed Santa,
You aren't the only one who was disappointed by the price tag on Apple's iPad Mini. I had my fingers and toes crossed for a model below $300. But sadly Apple didn't deliver.

If you want to compare the specs for each of these devices, check out my CNET Reviews colleague Jessica Dolcourt's piece where she breaks down the differences between the devices . In her chart, which I've republished below, you can compare the memory capacity, pricing, size, weight, battery life, and the camera megapixels.

 

Apple iPad Mini Google Nexus 7 Kindle Fire HD
Operating system iOS 6 Android 4.1 Custom Android OS
Price Wi-Fi: $329 (16GB), $429 (32GB), $529 (64GB). Cellular: $459 (16GB), $559 (32GB), $659 (64GB). $199 (8GB), $249 (16GB) $199 (16BG), $249 (32GB)
Release date November 2, 2012, for Wi-Fi; cellular 2 weeks later July 13, 2012 September 14, 2012
Display 7.9-inch IPS, 1,024x768 pixels (163 ppi) 7-inch IPS, 1,280x800 pixels (216 ppi) 7-inch IPS, 1,280x800 pixels (216 ppi)*
Size 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.28 inches 7.8 x 4.7 x 0.41 inches 7.4 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches
Weight 0.68 lbs/308 grams (0.69 for cellular) 0.75 lbs/340 grams 0.88 lbs/400 grams
Processor Dual-core A5 processor Quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP4460
Memory 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB 8GB or 16GB; 1GB RAM 16GB or 32GB; 1GB RAM
Camera 5-megapixel rear-facing, 1080p HD video; 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, 720 HD video 1.2-megapixel front-facing 720p "Web chat" front-facing
Battery "16.3-watt-hour"; 10 hours battery life (rated) 4,325 mAh; 10.1 hours video battery life (tested) 4,400 mAh; 5.1 hours video battery life (tested)
NFC No Yes No
Extras 4G LTE versions available Tegra games Whispersync, X-Ray, Amazon Prime
Ports Lightning connector Micro-USB Micro-HDMI, Micro-USB
Color Black, white Black Dark gray

* 8.9-inch version also available with a 1,920×1,200-pixel resolution.

But the hardware specs only tell part of the story. There are still other things to consider, such as app availability and which content you can view and listen to on which device. Another important consideration is to think about the ecosystem that you currently use for your digital media.

Before I get too far into my comparison, I want to make it clear that I have not yet seen an Apple iPad Mini. I was not in San Jose, Calif., at the Apple event. And I am writing the answer to this question the day the device was announced. So the information I have right now is based on what I have seen from the presentation and in blogs written by my colleagues as well as video and pictures posted on CNET and elsewhere.

With that disclosure, let's dig into the details:

The 7-inch (and now the close to 8-inch) tablet market is a niche within the already niche tablet market. And with the addition of the Apple iPad Mini there are now three key devices to choose from in this category: The iPad Mini, Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD.

What type of tablet consumer are you?

Basically, I see this particular category of tablets appealing to two types of consumers:

Travelers, commuters and people who don't want bulk: The first group of people attracted to the smaller tablets are people simply looking for a more compact and portable device than the full 10-inch tablets. These may be people who travel often or commute to work everyday and are looking for a device that's bigger than a smartphone to read books and magazines and watch videos. This size is works for those activities since it fits easily into a purse or backpack or even an inside suit pocket.

Cheapskates and parents on a budget: Since the smaller tablets are generally priced lower than the bigger 10-inch tablets, these devices are also attractive to price sensitive consumers. That means cheapskates, such as myself, as well as parents, who may not want to put an expensive device in the often grubby, sticky and unsteady hands of their children, are willing to buy these devices if the price is right.

Generally speaking, for the first category of consumers, there's a lot to like about the iPad Mini. It's screen is bigger than its competitors, the Nexus 7 sold by Google and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for marketing, said during the keynote that the iPad Mini's screen has 29.6 inches of screen space, compared with 21.9 inches for the Nexus tablet. In a demonstration, he compared the two devices side by side and showed how in landscape mode, the iPad mini showed 67 percent more of the page.

The iPad Mini also offers many more apps than either of the competitors. Apple has 275,000 tablet apps available for the iPad Mini, while Google Play has far fewer dedicated to tablets. In fact, app development for tablets has been an issue for the Google Android platform. Google hoped that the competitively priced Nexus 7 would help fix that by giving developers an inexpensive device they could use for app development purposes. But we haven't yet seen the fruits of those efforts.

The Kindle Fire, which is a modified Android device, has even fewer apps than the Nexus 7 available for its platform. It doesn't offer full access to the Google Play Store, and instead it offers its own curated app store. That said, it's relatively easy to search for apps on Amazon's website. And it has many of the most popular apps, such as Netflix, Skype, Pandora, HBO Go, and games like Scrabble, Angry Birds, and Fruit Ninja.

And as you can see from the chart from Jessica's comparison, the iPad Mini offers twice as much memory as the lowest priced Nexus 7. (If you plan on storing a lot of music, video or photos on your device, this is important.) And it offers a back-facing camera that can be used to take pictures and video. Neither the Nexus 7 nor the Kindle Fire HD offer a back facing camera for picture taking, although all three tablets offer front-facing cameras for for video conferencing.

The iPad Mini also offers versions that can be connected to carrier 4G LTE networks for ubiquitous access to the Net. The other two tablets in this category do not offer that capability.

But for all this, Apple charges a premium. As you pointed out in your question, Apple's lowest cost iPad Mini, which has Wi-Fi only, is $329. (Its least expensive LTE-enabled iPad Mini is $429.) The 8GB Nexus 7 and the 16GB Kindle Fire HD are each $200. That's $129 less than the iPad Mini. Multiply that difference by two and you're looking at a savings of $258 if you opt for the less expensive tablets.

Your ecosystem investment
Price is certainly an important factor to consider. And if that's the main criteria you're looking at, then either the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD looks more appealing than the iPad Mini. But you should also consider the investment you've already made in where you purchase and store your digital content.

Apple, Google, and Amazon all want you to read books and magazines, watch video, listen to music and play with games and other apps on their platforms. In general, it's easier to consume content purchased or acquired through one ecosystem on that ecosystem's devices. So if you're heavily invested in one ecosystem over another, it might make sense to go with a device paired with that ecosystem.

For example, you mentioned that your husband already has an iPad 2. If you've already spent a bundle on games and other apps for your kids in Apple's App store, or if you simply want to be able to swap apps between the devices, it might make sense for you to go with the iPad Mini. The same goes for your music and video purchases. If you've been buying TV shows via iTunes or you have an AppleTV at home, that makes owning an iPad Mini more compelling, even at a higher price tag.

But remember you will be paying a $129 more for each device than if you bought a comparable Amazon Kindle Fire HD. So if you are not already too invested in Apple's content world and you don't want to spend more than $300 on a tablet, you may want to consider other platforms.

'Mixed' marriages are OK
Many people end up owning content from all three of these platforms. My family is a perfect example of this. Most of my music is in Apple iTunes. My husband's music is stored in Google Play. And we both read books via Amazon's Kindle. (I have a Kindle Touch and Mark, my husband, has a Kindle app for his Nexus 7.) We also have downloaded and rented movies and TV shows from Amazon via our Roku box attached to our TV.

While it would be nice to have all of our content in one ecosystem, I'm not willing to be completely beholden to a single platform. Since Amazon is primarily a content company, it's the most flexible with allowing its content to shared across multiple devices and platforms. Its Kindle e-Reader, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Cloud Share music service can be accessed on a variety of devices, including some Apple and Android products.

The same cannot be said for content from either Apple or Google. For content purchased via iTunes, users need an iOS device or a computer running iTunes. Google's content is also supported only on Android mobile devices or computers.

But even though Amazon has the most flexible policies for sharing content across platforms, it's still a little tricky especially when you're looking for support on competing tablets.

Books: Great news. Amazon offers a Kindle Reader app for iOS and Android devices, allowing you to read books on either an iPad or an Android tablet.

The only downside if you are not on an actual Kindle is that you can't access Amazon's free lending library for consumers who also have an Amazon Prime membership. Prime costs $79 for the year and it gives you free shipping on certain items ordered from the website as well as free access to certain movies and TV shows and access to a free lending library. I'm a member of Amazon Prime, mainly because I order tons of stuff from Amazon. I appreciate the free access to some video and books, but many videos I want to watch and most books I want to read still require payment.

Music: Good news. Amazon's Cloud Player service, which costs $25 a year for storage of more than 250 songs, is available on both iOS and Android devices. But CNET's Donald Bell seems to prefer Apple's iTunes Share cloud-based service. Google also offers a cloud storage service. It doesn't match music the way iTunes Share and Amazon Cloud Player do, but it allows you to store all your music online and share it on any Android device for free.

Video: Mixed news. Amazon's Instant video works on PCs, Macs, Roku streaming boxes, the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and a variety of televisions, Blu-ray players, and other devices. There is an app for the iPad. But there is no such app for the Android tablets. And since the Nexus 7 doesn't support Adobe Flash out of the box, if you wanted to access your Amazon Instant video straight from the Amazon website, which uses Flash, you'll have to download and install Flash and then install a browser that supports Flash. (The mobile version of Chrome that comes pre-installed doesn't support Flash.) You can get some tips for adding Flash to a Nexus 7 here.

My CNET Reviews colleagues Scott Stein and Donald Bell have written extensively about the different music and video services available. So if you want more information comparing the pros and cons of each service, be sure to check out their stories.

So what's this mean for you?

Here's the bottom line: If you've already invested a lot in Apple's ecosystem whether it be movies, apps or music, then you might want to pony up the extra money for the two iPad Minis.

But if price is truly your top concern, which is completely understandable in this economy, I'd choose one of the other two tablets. Your kids will still be able to play some games, watch movies, read books, listen to music and surf the Web, with either the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7.

At this particular moment in time, I think the Kindle Fire HD is the device for you. Priced at $199 for 16GB of storage, it's $129 less than the iPad Mini. And if you really want to be a cheapskate you can get last year's model for $159. That's less than half the price of one iPad Mini.

As I mentioned earlier, a benefit of the Kindle Fire is that you won't be locked into the Kindle Fire when it comes to content. You'll likely be able to share your Amazon movies, music and books across other platforms that you also own. This means that movies you've downloaded for your kids to watch on their Kindle Fires, can also be accessed on Dad's iPad.

The Nexus 7 is also a great device. I love this little tablet. My husband owns one. But right now, Google is offering the 8GB version for $200 and the 16GB version is $249. This means when you look at the apples-to apples comparison on memory, the Nexus 7 is $50 more expensive than the new Kindle Fire HD.

That said, Google is hosting an Android event on Monday where it's expected to announce a 32GB version of the Nexus 7 tablet, so there is a chance that the company will replace the 8GB version with the 16GB and price that model at $200, which will make it comparable in price to the Kindle Fire HD. But even at $249, the Nexus 7 is still $80 cheaper than the iPad Mini for the same amount of storage. But keep in mind, because there is no cross-platform sharing between iOS and Android, you won't be able to share music or videos.

I hope this advice was helpful. Please check out more of CNET's coverage on these products to get even more in depth information. And good luck!

Help! I scratched my iPhone 5.

Dear Maggie,
I recently purchased my new iPhone 5. I dropped it today and found a moderately deep scratch on the front glass. It is not over the screen, it is near the home button. Even though it isn't over the display, I still am finding it to be very annoying. I would like to know if there are any screen protectors or solutions that will do the trick. I have only had the phone for three or four weeks now, and I can't believe I already have a scratch! I will have this device for 23 more months! I am hoping you are able to help me!

Thanks, Danny

Thanks,
Danny

Dear Danny,
Unfortunately, scratches and other "cosmetic" imperfections aren't covered under Apple's warranty, nor is it covered under its Apple Care or Apple Care Plus extended and premium warranty programs. This means that it's unlikely Apple will replace your device for you. That said, it can't hurt to try. So I'd make an appointment at an Apple store and see if there is anything they can do for you.

CNET

In the meantime, getting a screen protector is a definitely a good idea.

Since you just purchased your iPhone 5 and it's still under warranty, I'd go back to Apple and see if they can help. Most likely they won't since I don't think scratches are covered but you could try. Do you have Apple Care+? I think that might cover any damage that you do to your iphone. If you've purchased your iPhone within 30 days, which you have, you can still sign up for the Apple Care+ and probably get it replaced that way. But you'll still have to pay. I think it's $120 for AppleCare and then another $45 to replace the device. This might be an option for you.

As for screen protectors, try the InvisibleSheild Extreme iPhone 5 screen protector from Zagg. It's considered one of of the best screen protectors around. The protector fits snuggly over the screen is only 0.2 mm in thickness. It also protects the sides back of the smartphone too.

Of course, this won't fix the scratch you already have on your device. But it will help prevent future scratches. And hopefully, this will mean you will avoid any major scratches across the display portion of the screen.

As for rubbing or buffing the scratch out of the device, I'd be careful here. Some people have suggested putting nail polish remover or toothpaste on the screen to rub out scratches. But remember that the iPhone screen is touch activated, so you don't want to do anything to damage the touch input.

It sounds like the scratch is pretty small and not really a big deal. If I were you, I'd just learn to live with the scratch. Think of it as a tiny scar you might get on your chin. You can think of a really good back story for how you got that scratch to tell all your other iPhone-toting friends. Maybe you dropped the phone when you leapt from your seat at the bus stop to chase after a kid who had snatched an old lady's purse. Or maybe you dinged the phone when you got into a bar fight. Just remember if you're going to make up a story, make it a good one. The ones I just thought of are pretty lame.

I hope this advice was helpful. Good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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