Life in the tablet category used to be simple. There were 7-inchers and 10-inchers and comparisons only occurred within each tablet's size category. This year however, Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble have successfully muddied the once-clear waters by respectfully releasing 7.9-inch, 8.9-inch, and 9-inch tablets.
So how do they compare? Let's find out.
The iPad Mini's 7.9-inch, 1,024x768-pixel screen has wide viewing angles and good color reproduction, but when it comes to resolution, it can't hold a candle to either the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 nor the Barnes & Noble Nook HD+. By comparison, text and pictures can appear blurry and videos display with a noticeably dithered look.
The Fire HD 8.9's 1,920x1,200-pixel screen looks bright, vibrant, and the dark background and white text of the tablet's interface produces a highly contrasted look. Apps, text, and videos look extremely sharp.
The Nook HD+ has the highest resolution of the group with 1,920x1,280 pixels on a 9-inch screen. Text, pictures, and videos look incredibly sharp -- maybe slightly sharper than on the Fire HD 8.9, but it's really difficult to tell. However, the Nook HD+'s screen is much more susceptible to moisture, so oily fingerprints tend to create a moire effect on the screen, blurring certain assets, especially text. Honestly, it can sometimes ruin the effect that having more pixels offers. As long as you keep things dry, however, you won't notice it.
The iPad Mini weighs 0.68 pound. That's incredibly light for a tablet of any size, and you can clearly feel the difference when holding it in one hand. The Nook HD+ is obviously heavier, but at 1.14 pounds, it feels surprisingly light for a tablet with a 9-inch screen. At 1.22 pounds, the Fire HD 8.9 is the heaviest of the bunch, and while it's only 0.08 pound heavier than the Nook HD+, the weight difference feels even greater than that. While the Nook HD+ feels light when held in one hand, I can't say the same about the Fire HD 8.9.
Surprise, surprise, the iPad Mini wins on apps. Not necessarily because it offers more apps, but because it offers more high-quality and useful apps, most of which were made specifically for the iPad platform and aren't simply stretched iPhone apps. Many of the Fire HD 8.9's best apps are iPad or iPhone ports and, for now at least, you won't see many high-quality exclusive Fire HD apps, if at all.
The Nook HD+'s app availability definitely lags compared with the others. It's not horrible and you'll see games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope here, but not so much the N.O.V.A. 3s and Need for Speeds of the world. Also, there really aren't many 3D games on the Nook HD+. A pity, considering its GPU is just as powerful as the Fire HD 8.9's, which plays host to quite a few polygonal games.
The Nook HD+ excels at books, magazines, and catalogs. While it does offers movies and TV shows, currently its offerings are disappointing, as the movies and TV shows you'd most want to see, like many of the latest and greatest ones, just aren't here. There's also no native Nook music service, and overall it's simply not on the level as the Fire or iPad when it comes to media offerings.
Amazon and Apple are relatively similar in their respective media offerings, with each providing access to the best in movies, TV shows, books, and music. In my anecdotal experience, however, Amazon prices tend to be lower on certain books and music albums.
Where the Fire HD 8.9 really pulls out in front, however, is features. Things like X-Ray for books and movies; immersion reading; 10-second rewind in Amazon's movie player; its excellent streaming power; and you can start watching a movie just a few seconds after you begin downloading it really shows that the company has put some real thought into how users access media and what they want out of their experiences.
The Nook HD+ starts at $269 for 16GB. That's a great deal for a 9-inch tablet with a screen this sharp and expandable storage. At $299, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (16GB) is $30 more expensive. And $329 gets you the 16GB iPad Mini. From strictly a price perspective, the Nook HD+ clearly wins, but with its vast media options and Micro-HDMI, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 seems to hit the price sweet spot. With the Mini you're paying for access to Apple's superior App Store as well as its zippy performance and media ecosystem.
|Kindle Fire HD 8.9||iPad Mini||Barnes & Noble Nook HD+|
|Dimensions||9.4 inches by 6.4 inches by 0.35 inch (HWD)||7.8 inches by 5.3 inches by 0.28 inch (HWD)||9.5 inches by 6.4 inches by 0.45 inch (HWD)|
|Weight||1.25 pounds||0.68 pound||1.14 pounds|
|Operating system||Android 4.0-based custom OS||Apple iOS||Android 4.0-based custom OS|
|Processor||1.5GHz OMAP4470 dual-core processor||Apple A5||1.5GHz OMAP4470 dual-core processor|
|Storage||16GB or 32GB||16GB, 32GB, or 64GB||16GB or 32GB|
|Battery||10 hours||10 hours||9-10 hours|
|Charge type||Micro-USB||Apple proprietary||Nook proprietary|
|Wi-Fi||802.11 a/b/g/n (MIMO)||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g|
|Screen size||8.9 inches||7.9 inches||9 inches|
|Resolution||1,920x1,200 pixels||1,240x768 pixels||1,920x1,280 pixels|
|Book store||Amazon||Apple App Store||Nook App Store|
|App store||Amazon||Apple App Store||Nook App Store|
|Price||With ads: $299 (16GB ), $369 (32 GB ads); Without ads: $314 (16GB), $384 (32GB); 4G with ads: $499 (32GB), $599 (64GB); 4G without ads: $514 (32GB) $614 (64GB)||$329 (16GB), $429 (32GB), $529 (64GB); 4G: $459 (16GB), $559 (32GB), $659 (64GB)||$269 (16GB), $299 (32GB)|
Look for this post to be updated and delve deeper over the coming weeks.