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Amazon Fire HD 10 vs. iPad Air 2: Which is the better big tablet?

Amazon Fire HD 10
Amazon Fire HD 10 (Image credit: Amazon)

Both Amazon's and Apple's tablets have their own content ecosystems to go along with their hardware, so in some ways are very similar. The biggest difference, of course, is Amazon's Fire HD 10 uses Android, while Apple remains the default choice for the casual consumer considering a tablet, since iOS has the App Store.

The question is, if you're looking for a big tablet, is the Amazon Fire HD 10 (opens in new tab) a good buy, or does it fall short compared to the stalwart iPad Air 2?

Hardware

The Fire HD 10 starts at $229 in 16GB configuration with special offers and is available in white or black plastic or a silver aluminum finish. Other options include 32GB or 64GB of storage, and for an extra $15 you can take away the money-saving lock screen ads.

The iPad Air 2 starts at $399 in its base 32GB WiFi configuration, with all metal finishes and available in silver, gold or Space Gray. Not only does Apple offer a higher base storage but there's a 128GB model available for $499. Both sizes of the iPad also offer an optional cellular version for an additional $120.

Storage is a more important consideration when buying an iPad versus buying a Fire tablet. While Apple's tablet is sealed off and you get what you get, Amazon throws a microSD card slot on the Fire for expandable storage. So you can get away with buying a cheaper model and purchasing a low-cost memory card for your apps, games and media content if you wish.

Amazon has the price edge, but when it comes to all-round specs, there's no denying Apple's more expensive iPad Air 2has the Fire HD 10 on the ropes.

Amazon has the edge there, but when it comes to all-round specs, there's no denying Apple's more expensive iPad Air 2has the Fire HD 10 on the proverbial ropes.

The iPad Air 2 has a gorgeous 2048 x 1536 9.7-inch Retina Display, which is also great to use in portrait thanks to its 4:3 aspect ratio. By comparison, the Fire HD 10 has a rather lowly sounding 1280 x 800 resolution 10.1-inch display in a more common (for Android at least) 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. This makes it perhaps better for watching videos, but more awkward to use in portrait mode. It's disappointing, too, that it's not even a Full HD display in a tablet that costs over $200.

It doesn't stop at the display, either. Down to the processor, RAM, even the cameras, the iPad Air 2 is a higher-end, more sophisticated tablet. But while Apple wins on the hardware, there's always more to it than that — otherwise, everyone would always buy an iPad.

Software

At this point in time it's not worth debating Android vs iOS. If you have a strong preference towards either you've probably already made up your mind. The key thing to point out here is that while the Fire HD 10 (opens in new tab) runs Android, it's not the same build you'd find on your phone or Samsung tablet. There's no Google here, only Amazon and its customized Fire OS.

Fire OS is better now than it has ever been, but it's still a big storefront for Amazon's products and services. If you use Amazon stuff, that's probably why you'd even consider a Fire tablet and you'll probably be OK with it. Fire OS is easy to navigate and isn't a huge departure from the principles of 'regular' Android. But because there's no Google, there's no Play Store, which means using the Amazon Appstore for your apps and games.

Amazon lets you add more storage. Apple does not.

That's not as bad a thing as it used to be, but there are shortcomings in the availability of some apps and how often they're updated over their Play Store compatriots. By contrast, the iOS App Store has pretty much everything you could want, including Google and Amazon services.

The Amazon Prime Video and Kindle experience on the Fire HD 10 is still best, though, even if you can get it on the iPad. With being able to save offline video from Prime to a microSD card on the Fire HD 10, you've got a big advantage over the limited storage on the iPad, unless you stump for the 128GB option.

What's also better on the Fire HD 10 is the specialized mode for your kids. With Freetime (or Kids Unlimited depending where you are) for a small fee you can create a locked, curated area of the Fire HD 10 for your little ones. It gives them targeted content to enjoy without you worrying about your credit card being used to buy a laptop on Amazon.

Voice Assistants

Fire HD 10

Finally, we have the voice assistants: Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. The latter has been around much longer but the former is arguably more refined and more useful. Alexa isn't just confined to the Fire tablets. You'll also find it on the Amazon Echo, the Fire TV (opens in new tab) and even third-party products now such as the Huawei Mate 9 (opens in new tab) and the Android-based CoWatch (opens in new tab). It's an AI assistant that can play you music, tell you the weather, control your smartphone, hail you an Uber and so much more.

Siri has long felt underwhelming and been the butt of many a joke over the years. Apple hasn't done nearly as much with Siri as Amazon has with Alexa in a much shorter time, and there's no surprises which one would get our vote.

The conclusion here is something of an odd one. The iPad Air 2 is a better tablet if you treat it on face value. It's nicer, more powerful hardware with all the apps you'll ever want, a gorgeous screen and access to all the Amazon content, too. But that doesn't necessarily mean you should buy one.

For once, the better tablet isn't necessarily the one to buy

For starters, it's $170 more expensive than the cheapest Fire HD 10, and that's a lot of money. It's almost a second Fire HD 10. It's a significant saving, with compromises which aren't enough to recommend folks stay away from it. The display is disappointing, but not horrible, you've got the space for tons of storage and if you're a heavy media consumer or Amazon user, it's a no-brainer.

The iPad Air 2 excels in areas that you might not even be bothered about using a tablet for. It'll be better for playing high-end graphically intense games and many folks use them for light work. But is that enough to make you spend that $170 more? For once, the technically better tablet isn't really the one to buy.

43 Comments
  • Easy choice, the iPad wins over the Fire tablet any day of the week. I have both an iPad and a Fire tablet and the iPad is a much better device even taking into account the price.
  • Yup. In fact, the choice to pick the iPad is made simpler when you consider that you probably won't replace it for years. If you are going to keep a tablet two or more years, it's best to spend extra for a device that will last much longer than trying to save a bit of money.
  • I agree. The only Apple device I have is my now 2 year old Air 2. I use WIndows for a computer, Android for my phone but there's no contest in the tablet space unless your going super cheap. The hardware(screen, performance) has no match, and I just got annoyed that Amazon pushes their stuff so blatantly on their devices. Even at the $550 I spent on my 64GB one its so worth it. 2 years of great use and I have zero need to buy a new one for a long time still. Yea its a bigger upfront costs but several years later you will thank yourself for going that route.
  • Saying that the Fire Tablet is Android is very much misleading. It's based on Android, but very much a fork of it. It's like saying Android is Linux. Yes, technically it is, but it also isn't. For me, if I was well invested in Amazon, then I'd get the Fire Tablet. Sure, I have some ebooks and audio books, and maybe I've purchased a few videos from them. But, I'm way more invested in Google and Google play movies. The fact that I can get Amazon stuff on my Android Tablets, but not the other way around makes my purchase decision easy.
  • You can get both Amazon and Google content on the iPad.
  • True, I was thinking about that as I was writing. But you can't get apps you've already purchased. And the Google apps and services don't work nearly as well as they do in Android. For that reason, I wouldn't buy the iPad or the Kindle.
  • I don't know about that. I use Google apps on my iPhone and they work flawlessly.
  • Even saying "Android" is misleading. Every device OEM runs their own version of AOSP. The only thing that qualifies something as "Android" seems to be access to Google's Play store content.
  • I'm looking to replace a Nexus 2013 and have both Kindle and iPad devices at home. I haven't done this yet, but my understanding is that it's pretty trivial to install Play services on the newer Kindles. For that reason, as well as the external storage, I'm leaning towards the Kindle as a replacement.
  • Objectively probably the iPad, subjectively the fire tablet, but I wouldn't buy either.
  • If I were buying for myself and didn't have the option to buy a Nvidia Shield the iPad would be the best option because I have found that the only real use for tablets is media consumption and entertainment and the Fire HD lackluster screen just doesn't cut it.
    If I were buying for a kid, I would get the Fire HD. I know it seems like it would be a disservice, but the Amazon Underground App store has a large number of free games with no in-app purchases, among the mentioned low cost for the device and child mode. The only other way to get those benefits would be to consider getting an Android tablet with better specs than the Fire HD.
    Overall the iPad is good enough I guess but I don't like the aspect ratio for video content or size for gaming. The Nvidia Shield on the other hand, has a 16:9 aspect ratio, manageable 8" screen size, great display, forward facing speakers, HDMI out, and a controller, all great additions to make it even better at presenting media and games the way I like.
  • Neither ?
  • The conclusion didn't really surprise me, as this article is posted to AndroidCentral, and not iMore. However, the article title is deceptive in that sense. "Which is the better big tablet?" - obviously the iPad, the article says. Then it recommends buying the cheaper one.
  • Amazon Fire HD is Garbage compared to the IPad any number pro or rookie. 2 things worth buying a Fire... Text to speech feature while reading books and Amazon prime. Other than that there is no comparison. Fire is useless for anything else.
  • I'm confused, why compare the 10 to the Air2 instead of the iPad Pro? The Air 2 is at least a full generation old now, maybe two.
  • Because that tablet is more than twice the price of the Amazon one and it would be too difficult to compare them.
  • Unlike everyone else here, I'd pick the Fire tablet. For me, it's the better of the two. I have never enjoyed iOS in any form and greatly prefer the Android/FireOS interface. I also greatly prefer not spending $170 more on something because it's "nicer" or whatever - if both tablets allow me to do what I want, why would I ever pay for the more expensive one when it offers me nothing additional? Beyond that, I've worked in IT/tech support enough to know that nearly every major iOS release causes issues for people, such as bricking the device or getting stuck in a boot loop. When was the last time you heard of FireOS doing that? It comes down to personal needs and preferences. For me, no iOS device has ever been satisfactory to me, even as an iPhone 6s sits next to me (work phone, not personal). If the iPad is better for you, buy it. But don't demean other people simply because their needs and use and preferences are different from yours.
  • Every time you use your tablet what is the feature you interact with... the screen. The Fire HD screen is unusable IMO, unless it's being used solely for video and gaming content. Deal breaker for me @ $200+
  • Fire tablet hands down. The only downside to the fire tablet was the lack of google play stuff, but now you can put it on there without root or a pc:
    http://blog.the-ebook-reader.com/2016/07/02/how-to-install-google-play-o... Either way, it's still miles ahead of useful compared to the ipad.
    I really liked the older carousel style fire interface.. it was very intuitive and allowed really easy access to amazon content. It was also easy enough for my 4 yr olds to pick up and go. The new interface just looks like a hybrid between boring android and fire and its not as intuitive. Still, again way better than ipad's tired-ass interface. We have 5 fires and 1 ipad 3 in the house. I can count on one hand how many times the ipad has been used in the past 2 years.
  • You're kidding right?
  • Not at all. It's all about the layout. The "flow" style of Fire OS 4.5 is sooo much nicer and more thought out than anything stock apple or android offers. Especially great for kids because they get the underground (free) apps, and it puts your most recent apps right at the front so you can find them easily again as those are the ones you'll normally be using. Slides right into amazon prime videos or books, all without having to scroll through a sea of app icons that are completely without any order (at least in iOS). Also great how it syncs with Alexa and when you watch movies on Prime you get the Prime "X-ray" for showing you actors as they appear on screen. Their whole ecosystem works really well. I ebay'd my Nexus 7 for a KF HDX 7 and I've been very pleased over the past 2 years with it. Of course the biggest issue is the lack of google play stuff and it has been a factor.. but HDX 7 isn't getting any more updates so I easily rooted it and installed google framework. Now it's the perfect device. Early on the kids immediately gravitated towards the KF 8.9" I had instead of the iPad 1 and I can certainly see why. Now they are old enough and have their own Fire HD7 tablets and they are great. They had FIre 4.x on them and they worked just like the HDX but theyv'e since got the update to Fire OS 5.0 and its more like Android which consider to be a downgrade from what it was. I wish the older kindle fire launcher was available for all android devices. Reminded me of the old HTC Touch WinMo launcher and that single handedly saved WinMo. At least the new FireOS 5.0 can have Google framework installed without rooting so that's a no brainer. So no i'm not kidding even a little. Fire is a much better overall experience than iPad... from the price to the UX to the ecosystem. That's not to say the iPad isn't a very nice piece of hardware... but the software is as boring as it was the day it first came out.
  • iPad wins over the crappy amazon fire tablet any day even if it's expensive. Better for the long run.
  • Get the Pixel C. MediaTek 1.5GHz with 1GB of RAM. Seriously?
  • Those are not the specs of the Pixel C
  • I recently purchased the Fire HD 8 to replace a Nexus tablet that broke.
    I wasn't expecting much from a $90 tablet, but have been very impressed with the value for the money!
    The main things i do with it are:
    - Feedly
    - Twitter
    - Read the WSJ
    - Read magazines and books
    - light web surfing
    It does great at all those. The only complaint I have is that some magazine stories require so zooming to view the pictures and stuff.
    I thought I was buy a cheap throw-away device and am surprised how well capable it is. I put a 32gb SD card in it for $10 so for $100 have a pretty usable device. I can also put it in the back pocket of my jeans which I actually do a fair amount when heading out to the coffee shop near my house.
    I realize this isn't the device compared in the article but thought someone somewhere might find this an interesting data point.
  • +1 I got an HD8 for my son (freetime is awesome), but I find myself using it a lot when he is not around. It really is great little tablet full stop.
  • Here is an idea, neither of them. Lol
  • True, there are better (e.g. FHD) devices in the same price and display size range. Maybe not in Amazon, but in other web stores ;)
  • How many get updates?
  • Buying my original fire tablet was an easy decision for me. I was invested in the amazon echo system and I didn't want to build up an investment in the apple eco-system. Also I need at least two tablets (one for me and my wife) and a third for my daughter but she has ultimately used her phone so just two. I can buy two amazon tablets for the price of one apple tablet. We upgraded to the Fire 10 and have been very happy. I do three things with my tablets. Browse, play a few casual games and watch movies. Browsing I have to believe is equal on both platforms because I load chrome on my fire tablet. Playing a few casual games again...pretty equal to me. Watching movies. You could argue having the higher resolution and better display should push me to the ipad, but on a 10inch screen 720P looks great in my view. Even my ripped dvd's look good. Watch the movie on my 55" tv or my 120" movie screen yes I can see a difference and am looking to switching to 4k on my movie screen but on a 10" screen, common I am sure there is a difference but not enough to justify the price delta. If you have a different use case or you heavily invested in a different eco system you will probably have a different conclusion but for browsing, a few casual games and movies the fire HD 10 works great.
  • I have owned one Apple product to many in my life (a Jailbroken TV 2 that I used as a XBMC client before the days of the firestick). I could no more own an iPad than I could not hate swimming. It's just the way I am.
  • I bought a new iPad yesterday, the 9.7 iPad Pro just for the extra features that the Air does not have. In my opinion. there is no "tablet" better than an iPad.
  • My son got the 8 inch Fire for Christmas. I added the Google Play store and that made it much better. Amazon's app store isn't very good.
  • The $50 (often $35) Fire 7" is likely the vast majority of the Fire tablet sales. I think it is the only compelling device in the Fire line. You can buy it, give it to your kids, add a SD card for offline videos and let them do whatever they want to it. At $200+ it should at least be 1080P. Then the shrinking tablet market. Then the minority of that market who would want a device tied heavily to amazon content. Amazon should stick to $50 tablets -- give them 2017 specs.
  • The Air 2 FTW! I could stomach reading the web for a short while on the Amazon's device, but that resolution for magazines or books is awful.
    Not even comparable. Why is this on Androidcentral anyways? On a side note... I gave up on Amazon hardware after they pushed an update to my Fire TV Stick allowing for a non-removable banner advertisement as the first thing I see on the top of the device. Amazon support just apologizes as it can't be removed. I don't pay $99 a year for Prime and $40 for the Fire TV to have advertisements on display on my hardware that wasn't purchased "with ads". If they want to do their voodoo behind the scenes grabbing my data to ''market'' to me....so be it. I won't be renewing Prime this year until something makes me come back to them other than impulse buys from SlickDeals.
  • "[Alexa is] an AI assistant that can play you music, tell you the weather, control your smartphone, hail you an Uber and so much more." So, pretty much on par with Siri since Siri can also do all of those things. Just about the only thing Alexa can do that Siri can't is order stuff from Amazon. "Siri has long felt underwhelming and been the butt of many a joke over the years. Apple hasn't done nearly as much with Siri as Amazon has with Alexa in a much shorter time" Except Apple's done a lot more with Siri than Amazon has with Alexa. Apple's given siri 99% the same capabilities as Alexa but they've done it in dozens of languages and in hundreds of countries around the world, whereas Alexa only has those capabilities in a couple of languages in a handful of countries. Apple's also managed to get Siri on a much wider install base, being available on over 1 billion devices, whereas Alexa is limited to less than 1% of that. The only time I hear this narrative is when someone without much ongoing experience with Siri assumes that it hasn't changed since the first time they used it, which is complete nonsense. When put head-to-head with its competitors Siri can keep up with any other personal assistant on the market, including Alexa, and even besting them in some areas. For example, just the other day I was putting a roast in the oven, shouted to my iPhone that was in the living room to set a timer, and not only did it hear me from a different room but it correctly interpreted my command, yet for some reason the people who don't regularly use Siri are still under the impression that even at arm's length Siri will horribly mangle any commands it receives.
  • I'm not even going to read this. We all know iPad will win this race.
  • It is a shame most Android tablets get no support. I have a Lenovo tab 2 a10-70F. Which is the hd screen/2gb ram model. 1900*1200 is a decent resolution and with 2gb of ram it doesn't bog down (unlike the crappier 1gb/1280*800 models). BUT only one software update in its life. Worse, an update that regularly screw up the audio. That is what there are so many old versions of android on the charts. People either don't get new versions for their long-lived tablets or the ones they get are bug riddled. I got my kid the cheap $35 Amazon tablet and leave wifi off except when downloading movies. They don't care if the screen is meh or that the camera is an abomination. And I don't lose my mind when they inevitably drop it (though they are surprisingly careful with it).
  • Am surprised with the low spec of this tablet esp with "HD" in it's name, considering some of the high spec tabs they have released in the past. Obviously a budget spec is understandable on the $50 units, but this is very expensive for something that would be classed as mid-range 3 years ago. Seem's that nobody wants to make a decent 10" android tablet nowadays everything seems to be low spec rubbish that's hardly better than the one I have now. I actually prefer 16:10/16:9 since I use it for videos and media etc than reading in portrait mode.
  • I strongly disagreed with this article. The features and ecosystem is way better on the iPad. It's not because this tablet run a light Android that it is better. At least it's cheaper...
  • Imagine that. An Android person thinking Android is better.....
  • yes.. "just say n0 to aijpaddy itouch, people"
  • Likewise, I use devices from every platform. I have windows 10 computers for my home and my business (motorcycle/snowmobile custom builds), my woodworking shop, and I use Ipad and iPhone for my main mobile devices. But I have a cheap 60 dollar lepan mini 8" tablet. That little tablet is deadly. I bought it to replace a archos 80g9 that was really bad. the lepan gets the job done x 10. for 60 bucks, and what I do with it...it can't be beat. The ipad is the leader in tablet....you can argue all day long...but I have tried everything.