Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 vs Google Nexus 7 (2013): The weigh-in

Before the real fight, here's how the heavyweight 7-inchers measure up on paper
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 vs Google Nexus 7 (2013)

The Nexus 7 is so far ahead of its Android-touting counterparts in the tiny tab arena, they're mere specks in its rearview. 

With its combination of outstanding screen resolution, portability and power, its £200 (RM1,030) pricetag is simply astonishing.

But wait. There's a new tab in town that packs just as many pixels, more power and some impressive interface capabilities the Nexus can't match. Can Amazon's £200 (RM1,030) Kindle Fire HDX dethrone the Nexus? Time for a spec-off.

Choose your rectangle

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX rear
Google Nexus 7 (2013) rear

Picking a favourite in the design department is a little tricky when you’re comparing two plastic slabs, but there are a few distinct differences here.

The Nexus 7 is the slimmer, more elongated device, measuring a svelte 200 x 114 x 8.7 mm, while the Kindle HDX 7 is a slightly burlier 186 x 128 x 9.0mm.

This discrepancy is mainly due to the proportions of the bezels on offer.  Google’s pad has a thinner frame on either side of the screen, whilst keeping the top and bottom bezel much the same, which means it can be easily grasped in one hand for portrait reading. The new Kindle Fire is a more traditional tablet shape: fatter around the edges. The Kindle’s camera is positioned for use in landscape mode, while the Nexus 7 works better in portrait.

Both are built from matte plastic, though the Kindle wins out aesthetically with its angular, tapered edges on the rear that are faintly reminiscent of the Microsoft Surface. No bad thing.

Winner (on paper): Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Same screen, different body

Both the Nexus and the Fire HDX 7 have dramatically improved screens compared to their predecessors. They’re equipped with 7-inch, 1920x1200 IPS-LCD designs boasting an ultra-crisp 323ppi.  On paper there’s little to separate the two screens, although the HDX boasts '100% sRGB technology' that it claims results in improved colour accuracy, while Google claims nothing beyond eye-slicingly sharp resolution. We’ll need to see the two side by side to tell you which is better in real life.

Winner (on paper): Neither, yet - we’ll need to call this after a proper review

Which Dragon packs the fire?

Qualcomm Snapdragon

Despite both using Qualcomm processors coupled with 2GB of RAM, this is one of the key differences that sets up the HDX 7 as a more powerful and potentially more future-proofed design.  Packing the latest Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at an incredible 2.2GHz, it should have no issues streaming HD videos or crunching the pixels of any game out there, thanks to its mighty Adreno 330 GPU.

The Nexus isn’t slow by any means – there’s a Qualcomm S4 Pro under the hood running at 1.5GHz with an Adreno 320 GPU. In our test it never stuttered, so there may be little real-world advantage to the Kindle’s additional grunt.

Both tablets are available in 16, 32GB and 64GB variants, but neither can be expanded.

Winner (on paper): Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

You want to take a picture, with a tablet?

Any self-respecting tablet has to have a reasonable front-facing camera for Skype, Google Hangouts and lots of sodding selfies.  In this department there’s little to split the two devices: the Nexus has a 1.2MP sensor, and the HDX 7 a 1.3MP one.  Neither is going to win any photographic awards but for 720p video they should prove capable.

Only the Nexus packs a rear-facing camera, and it’s a mediocre 5MP sensor that lacks any LED flash, so it’s for the occasional snap or augmented reality application.

Winner (on paper): Google Nexus 7 (2013)

It’s all in the ports

MHL cable

One of the downsides of the original Nexus was its lack of connectivity – the 2013 model is no different, packing only microUSB and 3.5mm jacks, although it’s worth pointing out the USB supports MHL for TV out up to 1080p and hosting capabilities so you can connect a mouse or USB gamepad.

The Kindle Fire has the same set of ports, but no way of outputting video directly from a cable.  The only way to get video to your TV is via Amazon’s wireless ‘Fling’ service which sends content to compatible smart TVs – similar to Google’s Chromecast.

Both Amazon and Google have equipped their respective tablets with 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity all the way up to dual-band 802.11n.

Winner (on paper): Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Got Juice?

Google officially quotes a 3950mAh battery with around 9 hours continuous use, while Amazon’s 4550mAh cell is quoted to give 11 continuous hours of mixed use or 17 hours of reading. That’s a fair whack more capacity, but in reality the higher-clocked Snapdragon 800 in the HDX 7 is likely to be a thirstier processor, so real-life figures will be closely matched.

Winner (on paper): Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Android: The beast cometh in two forms

Kindle Fire HDX mayday

Both tablets are based on Android Jellybean, but take two different approaches to it.  The Nexus 7 couldn’t be more resolutely Android – it’s a completely stock experience as we’ve come to expect on Nexus devices, in this case version 4.3.  This will please Android purists and guarantees compatibility with all the apps you’d need from Google Play.  What’s more, you get all of Google’s toys including Google Now, and you’d be right to expect the latest Android 4.4 KitKat as soon as it’s released. In short, anyone who likes to experiment with or tweak their gadgets will prefer the Nexus 7.

In contrast, Amazon’s thick FireOS 3.0 ‘Mojito’ skin hides almost all aspects of Android’s desktop-style UI with a huge carousel that puts your music, books and movies front and centre. Fortunately, it’s now much simpler to use, with a conventional app drawer that you can pin your media to, and context-sensitive menus you pull in from the sides of the screen.

Amazon has the media side of things covered with direct, dangerously simple access to its huge online candy shop. Unfortunately the same is not true of apps: the Kindle offers a cut-down selection compared to Google Play, which is the thorniest part of Amazon’s ‘walled garden’ approach to the Kindle ecosystems.

The plus side is that Amazon provides near limitless cloud backup for nothing, builds in customisable profiles or kids (FreeTime) and even provides live help via videoconferencing (Mayday).

Winner (on paper): Draw. Horses for courses, these.

Initial verdict

According to specifications these tablets are extremely closely matched, and they both start at £200 (RM1,030), so which you choose is likely to come down to your proclivities as a gadget user.

If you want a tablet to read, watch, play and listen on, the Kindle appears the slightly better device. It has more power under the hood and provides simple access to all of Amazon’s goodies, including Kindle books and magazines and LoveFilm movie and TV streaming.

If you want a device you can tweak and make your own, you’ll eschew Amazon’s locked-down approach for the pure Android experience provided by the Nexus 7. It’s also the marginally better-connected gadget, and has a rear camera (if you care about that sort of thing).

Us? Right now, we’d have the Kindle. Honestly. In the past we’d have gone for the Nexus every time, but thanks to the extra layer of control that FireOS 3.0 provides, we’re looking forward to giving it a long-term try.  

We’ll update our judgement when we’ve done a full review of both devices; until then, enjoy our Nexus 7 review here.