What a difference a few days make. Right after we pitted this year’s Google Nexus 7 against Amazon’s latest Kindle Fire HDX 7, Apple throws a (somewhat expected) curveball with the refreshed iPad Mini 2. Its second generation compact tablet has some strong fighting words for its rivals, and we put them side-by-side to see what the Cupertino-based company is bringing to the table.
Heavy metal wins the race
Face it - Google and Amazon do not stand a chance against Apple’s design mantra. Judging from our hands-on with the iPad Mini 2, it exudes the same goodness we loved its predecessor for - a smooth, aluminum body that’s easy on the hands and the fetching space grey and piano black finishing that turns head when you whip it out of your bag. Yes, anything is better than a matte plastic surface.
Numbers-for-numbers, the iPad Mini 2 is going to give both Android tablets a good thrashing. Measuring only 7.5mm thin, the Apple tablet is at least 1mm thinner than the Nexus 7 which measures 8.7 mm, while the Kindle HDX 7’s 9.0mm profile makes it the fat kid of the trio.
The iPad Mini 2’s 331g (341g for LTE version) weight is a tad heavier than the Nexus 7 (290g) and Kindle Fire HDX 7 (311g). That’s not to say that you’ll be pumping irons and solidifying your biceps when you use the iPad Mini 2.
Winner (on paper): With an advantage in two out of three categories, the iPad Mini 2 is taking the lead for its design and build quality.
A visual treat for the eyes
Two words - Retina Display. The iPad Mini 2 is makes short work of the two Android tablets with its insanely high resolution of 2048 x 1536 resolution. That’s 326 pixels per inch (ppi), and it’s so fine, you won’t see the pixels even if you plant your face to the screen.
In contrast, the Google and Amazon tablets come with a screen resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. Though the pixel density is a close fight at 323ppi for the Nexus 7 (2013) and Kindle Fire HDX 7, Apple’s 7.9in display has a slight edge. We landed our eyes on the iPad Mini 2, and get the sense that colours are as rich and accurate as they do on its larger iPad Air sibling.
Winner (on paper): With a 300% increase in screen resolution compared to its first iteration and a high pixel density against the Android tablets, the iPad Mini 2 is clearly a winner in our books.
The need for processor speed
Against its predecessor, the iPad Mini 2 is performs like beast, thanks to a surprising addition to its hardware - the 64-bit Apple A7 chip.
While we could wax lyrical about how smoothly the iPad Mini 2 handles Infinity Blade III, the real test starts when we pit Apple’s latest and finest against Qualcomm’ Snapdragon S4 Pro and Snapdragon 800 processors powering the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7 respectively.
The iPad Mini 2's A7 processor definitely handles the graphics-intensive Infinity Blade III with ease, but all that is for naught if the tablet does not live up to its 10-hour battery life claim. Its rivals official quote a 9-hour battery life with a 3950mAh battery for the Nexus 7 and an 11-hour mileage with 4550mAh.
Winner (on paper): The verdict is still open - any of these three tablets might give the other two a good pounding.
Space is the barrier
Despite their bitter rivalry, these tablets share one common flaw - the lack of storage expandability and its reliance on the tablet’s internal storage. Google has limited its tablet’s storage options to either 16GB or 32GB, a paltry amount compared to Amazon’s highest 64GB offer or Apple’s ridiculously huge (and expensive) 128GB option.
Winner (on paper): If you have an unlimited budget to work on, Apple’s 128GB option can make all your storage concerns disappear.
Wired (and wireless) ready
If you have a bunch of spare microUSB cables lying around, the choice is quite obvious - go for the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HDX 7. Got way too many Lightning cables? It’s iPad time!
That said, the Nexus 7 is a few steps ahead in terms of wireless features. Near field communication, though still not widely adopted, gives you the option to connect to devices with a simple tap and eliminate the often confusing and messy Bluetooth setup. Get a Qi-compatible wireless charger, and you can leave the Nexus 7 on it to soak in the electric juice.
Wireless connections are evenly matched for all three tablets, which come with the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 standard. Feel the need for speed? LTE connectivity is also bundled with the iPad Mini 2, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7.
Winner (on paper): Google is throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the Nexus 7 - Qi wireless charging, Bluetooth 4.0 and LTE connectivity. It is lacking in storage options, but we can close an eye for that.
Android versus iOS
It’s the fight of the century - Google’s open and highly customisable operating system, versus Apple’s closed garden iOS. To each his own, we say, but what might tip the scales in another’s favour is the variety of apps that comes with it.
Today, both Android and iOS are evenly matched for its apps ecosystem. Both platforms have been fervently adding new features such as an ebooks and music store to its offering. Things remain at status quo for Android and iOS, though the Kindle Fire HDX 7, which only has access to 75,000 Android apps on Amazon’s own store instead of over 850,000 Android apps on Google’s Play Store, puts it at a huge disadvantage against the iPad Mini 2 and Nexus 7.
Winner (on paper): For now, it’s a clear tie between the iPad Mini 2 and Nexus 7.
You need to feel as though every single cent you spent on these tablets is worth it. So let’s consider the prices - S$548 for a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Mini 2, S$379 for 16GB Wi-Fi Nexus 7 and US$244 (S$302 before shipping) for a 16GB Wi-Fi Kindle Fire HDX 7.
You could go by the numbers and choose the Kindle Fire HDX 7, which is the cheapest of the lot. But consider this - are you truly getting what you are paying for? The tablet’s value is based not just on its price tag, but what it has to offer. The iPad Mini 2’s super spec bump presents a tempting offer for consumers.
Winner (on paper): Though much pricier than the Android tablets, Apple’s iPad Mini 2 is finally a tablet that gives you the right hardware for the right price.
The numbers do tell a good story, but it’s the user experience that truly matters. Heavy ebook readers will side with the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, despite having a lower resolution than Apple’s iPad Mini 2.
Google’s free spirited Android operating system is the dream product geeks want. The unlimited potential of customising and tweaking the Nexus 7 to any user interface and being the first to receive the latest Android updates will drive Android enthusiasts to the Asus-made tablet.
Us? We are sold on the iPad Mini 2. We can’t wait to hold its sleek cool body, enjoy high resolution movies on its crisp and clear screen, and smash through games effortlessly with no lag. Scoring a few hits in design, storage, and even value with its questionably hefty price tag, the iPad Mini 2 should be your next purchase.