The tablet game took a new turn this year as 7-inch slates reigned supreme, with the Google Nexus 7 breaking records for tablet sales across the UK. Its popularity served as a catalyst that has subsequently brought strong competition to the space, headed up by the Apple iPad Mini and Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HD. So let’s see which tab offers the best bang for your buck.

 

Amazon Kindle Fire HD VS Google Nexus 7 VS Apple iPad Mini: Design

Each of these tablets features a distinctive aesthetic, well that is save for the Kindle Fire HD. The all-black colouration and minimalist lines create an unobtrusive but uninspired design, although with regards to functionality, the controls and ports are easily accessible and it’s the only device in the comparison with a microHDMI out.

By comparison the Nexus 7 is more visually pleasing with a thinner bezel around its 7-inch display surrounded by a silver band around the tablet’s edge. The controls are again clean and the textured back not only makes the Nexus 7 identifiable, it also helps provide grip and a nice feel in the hand.

tablets

Compared to the other two devices, the iPad Mini features the most sophisticated design with premium materials and a fantastic fit and finish. Elements like the diamond polished bezel around the display are particularly noteworthy. Despite its larger size, the iPad Mini is also the lightest of the three tablets and 90 grams lighter than the Kindle Fire HD at just 308 grams. Its larger design does work against its prowess as a compact tablet however as the additional width makes it more difficult to hold in one hand.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD VS Google Nexus 7 VS Apple iPad Mini: Screen

Both the Fire HD and Nexus 7 feature similar 7-inch WXGA (800x1280) IPS LCD panels and both produce excellent image clarity as a result, however the display used by the Kindle Fire HD wins out between the two for more vibrant images and colour reproduction as well as better overall brightness. In some ways, such strengths also work again the Kindle as the nature of the Kindle brand has typically been found in the realms of eReading and with the decision to move away from that the Kindle Fire HD with its reflective display doesn’t offer the same ease-of-use as a typical Kindle when it comes to reading books.

Nexus 7 display

The iPad Mini sticks out in this comparison as its 7.9-inch XGA (768x1024) IPS LCD sticks out. The lower resolution twinned with the larger size of the display accentuate the lower image fidelity of the screen. Images aren’t as sharp as the competition and aspects like text and high resolution imagery lacks the clarity found on the other two tablets. The display is however wonderfully responsive and has excellent colour reproduction, even if contrast and blacks in general aren’t as punchy.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD VS Google Nexus 7 VS Apple iPad Mini: Performance

With regards to the battle of the 7-inch tablets, it’s the user experience that offers the biggest variation. The Kindle Fire HD features a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, the Nexus 7 a 1.2GHz quad-core Tegra 3 process and the iPad Mini a 1GHz dual-core process with half the amount of RAM as the other two tablets (at 512MB), but it’s how the tablets are used where the differentiation is truly felt.

Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD is based on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, but the company have heavily reworked the underlying architecture creating a wholly different experience. As was said earlier, the physical design is uninspired, but it's because the hardware is only there to support the broad Amazon services infrastructure. The vast library of content is where the company want to direct users, so that they concentrate on spending money on books, movies, TV shows and music.

All the content we tested was excellent, 3D games ran smoothly, books were crisp and and responsive on page turns and videos were a joy to watch, particularly with the addition of some surprisingly powerful stereo speakers.

The Nexus 7 offers a more conventional experience due to the commonplace nature of Android, however with the very latest iteration of Jelly Bean running aboard there are a few standout features that the other tablets and Android devices in general don’t yet have. With 4.2 Jelly Bean, the tablet allows for multiple user accounts making it easier to switch from one user space to another, each with their own layouts and what’s more Android’s app store far surpasses that of Amazon’s with over 675,000 apps, also holding a flame to Apple’s App Store in the process.

With the quad-core processor on offer, the Nexus is consistently fast and Android makes it flexible, with standard features like USB storage and gesture typing built in.

Google Nexus 7

The iPad Mini is the most deceptive tablet in the lineup as despite its technically inferior hardware, it provides one of the most consistently high quality experiences. As well as a 700,000 strong App Store, the general quality of the apps available for iOS proves consistently higher than on Android.

The optimisation of apps also means that the lesser hardware doesn’t affect the experience of things like intensive 3D games and in some cases the experience is even better on the iPad Mini than it is playing the same game on the more powerful Nexus 7.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD VS Google Nexus 7 VS Apple iPad Mini: Verdict

Each of these three tablets would be an excellent choice, but it's the details that define which suits a particular type of user. The Kindle Fire HD is a fantastic tablet, the breadth of content on offer and the media playback experience are the best-in-class and what’s more, the 16GB and 32GB WiFi-only models available are extremely affordable at £159 and £199 respectively.

Should the locked in nature of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD not be for you, the best alternative is the Google Nexus 7. Its impressively powerful hardware, comfort and ease of use all lend themselves to a more cohesive tablet experience. Add to that the versatile functionality of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and this tablet provides the most well-round user experience. With two models featuring the same storage and connectivity options as the Kindle Fire HD, it makes for a fitting alternative and for those who want something a little extra, the 32GB 3G cellular version can be had for £239.

Apple iPad Mini

The Apple iPad Mini is the odd one out in the roundup. Its specs, larger size and design give it a distinctly different feel to the other two tablets, not to mention the iOS user experience is renowned for its ease of use and accessibility over Android. Prices start at £269 - significantly higher than the two rivals. For those who want the luxury option, the iPad Mini is the way to go, design and build quality are fantastic, functionality is great and despite the lesser hardware under the hood, the quality of the in-app experience is one of the best.

One other significant trump card the iPad Mini holds over its rivals is that it’s available in the widest range of models, with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities twinned to either WiFi-only or WiFi/3G/4G connectivity options. The weaker specs might be worth thinking about in the long run particularly as there’s greater risk of this tablet ageing badly and paired to the highest price tag, a tablet such as this should be purchased with deep consideration.

Adjusted 15/12/12 with iPad Mini pricing comment