And that's the question of the summer. Should you get the Amazon Kindle Fire, or the Google Nexus 7. Finally we've got a real choice between low-cost 7-inch tablets. Both are geared toward content consumption -- reading books and magazines, watching movies, listening to music.
Amazon certainly made quite the market for itself when it launched the Kindle Fire late last year. At only $199 and promoted heavily on Amazon's website, it was sure to sell a bunch. And a bunch it did sell.
So which one should you get? Let's discuss, after the break.
Easy comparison here. The Kindle Fire, which comes in one version and one version only, is $199. The Nexus 7 is $199 for the version with 8 gigabytes of storage, and Google's also got a 16-gigabyte model for $249 -- still a perfectly reasonable price for this sort of thing.
The verdict: Push
The form factor
Things are pretty similar here as well. Both are 7-inch tablets, designed to be mainly used in portrait (vertical) orientation. The Neus 7 is taller (8.5 mm taller) than the Kindle Fire, and both are 120 mm wide. But the Nexus 7 shaves just about a full millimeter off the thickness, and the sides curve in toward the back, making it feel that much thinner than the Kindle Fire, which is basically just a box. Both have a soft-touch coating on the back, which we like.
The Nexus 7 adds actual volume buttons (which are rumored to show up on the next version of the Kindle Fire), and also has external charging contacts that point toward some sort of docking station.
But the kicker is the Nexus 7's higher-resolution display (1280x800). It simply looks better than the Kindle Fire.
The verdict: Nexus 7
Under the hood
Again, this one's a pretty easy decision. The Kindle Fire is using the dual-core TI OMAP 4430 at 1GHz with 512MB of RAM. Don't read too much into the amount of RAM, as if a device is optimized properly, it can run just fine. But, we'd rather have more RAM available than not. The Nexus 7 is running the newer "Kai" version of the Tegra 3 platform. That means four cores -- plus that fifth low-power companion core -- are available, with clock speed varying depending on which cores are running.
That the Nexus 7 is running Tegra 3 also means some serious gaming is coming your way, something you're not really going to see on the Kindle Fire.
The bottom line is that, under the hood, the Nexus 7 is more of a full-fledged, traditional tablet.
The verdict: Nexus 7
This is where Google's still trying to break out. Amazon's well-established itself as a major content provider, between Amazon Music -- which still has a far better selection than Google -- and its video streaming service, which includes movies and television shows.
Google's just adding that in Google Play. And that, folks, is where we find the true purpose of the Nexus 7. We've talked before about whether it's "Just another Android tablet," and clearly Google has developed this one with purpose. But for now, Amazon still has the better selection.
That said ... The Nexus 7, being an actual Android device with the Google Play store at its fingertips, has flexibility that the Kindle Fire doesn't. It has the full selection of apps, and whereas the Kindle Fire is mostly locked into Amazon's services, on the Nexus 7 you can use Amazon's library. Or purchase books from Barnes & Noble and read on the Android Nook app. Or download music from Amazon MP3 store. That's flexibility that the Kindle Fire doesn't have, and it can help make up for the growing pains Google Play has experienced.
The verdict: Kindle Fire, but not by much
The Nexus 7 is running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the newest version of Android. The Kindle Fire is running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but you'd never really know it, it's been so heavily customized. (Not that that's a bad thing; Amazon's done it quite well.) But Google's going to take care of its Nexus baby.
The verdict: Nexus 7
So which should you buy?
We're going to hedge just a tad here by saying that there's always something newer and better around the corner, and recent rumors suggest we might see a new Kindle Fire at the end of July.
But for right now, today, should you get the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7? It's a pretty easy choice, we believe. The Nexus 7 has better internals, a better display and more flexibility of services. It's also got the added bonus of being a "Nexus" device, meaning it has the full attention of Google, whereas the Kindle Fire is using Google's code and has to forge ahead on its own. Not that Amazon hasn't done a yeoman's job of that, and the Nexus 7 most certainly is a reaction to that. But Nexus means not having to depend on others.
And so, we can easily recommend the Google Nexus 7. At $199 (or even $249), it's pretty much a no-brainer for the 7-inch tablet market.