Tablet deathmatch: iPad Mini vs. Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire HD

A new generation of small tablets has reinvented entertainment on the go, but which is best? Find out now and gear up for holiday gift-buying

If you've been to Disneyland recently, you've seen the big change in how Americans while away their time in line. Many are absorbed by their smartphones, most often iPhones and Galaxy Notes. But these days you're also starting to see small 7-inch tablets, especially among kids, who play games and goof off electronically in line instead of whining or teasing their siblings (or, rather, the teasing happens in text). Their parents are also using smaller tablets for messaging, social networking, games, catching up on news and sports, and even picture taking.

Although 7-inch tablets predate the iPad by six months, most were mediocre or worse -- enlarged smartphones running a few primitive apps. Even the best of that class, the original Galaxy Tab 7, was a flop. The original iPad swept away that whole class within a year. Amazon.com's Kindle Fire tried to bring back the small tablet as a media device in late 2011, but after a strong initial sales surge, it petered out as its subpar hardware's compromises became clear to buyers.

[ How does the iPad Mini fare as a business tablet? Read the InfoWorld review. | Learn how to add Google's Android to an Apple iTunes and iCloud world, and what it's like to live in an all-Google world. | See how today's business tablets compare. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

But this past spring, Google debuted the Google Nexus 7, which showed what a well-designed small media tablet could be. Now we have the souped-up Kindle Fire HD, and -- as of this past Friday -- Apple's own iPad Mini, an 8-inch tablet that seeks to dominate the media tablet market by being, well, an iPad. (This coming Friday, too late for this review, Barnes & Noble will ship its updated Nook HD 7-inch tablet.) Which should you buy? And can they serve any business use, even if incidental to their entertainment core?

Let's find out.

A good media tablet is all about quality entertainment: music, videos, books, magazines, games, edutainment apps, information services, social networking, Web browsing, and messaging (chat and email). Of course, it needs to be lightweight and easily carried in your hands, purse, or jacket -- and so much the better if it can be used to check on business in a pinch, such as when you're standing in line for the Jungle Cruise ride and your boss has a mini-crisis about one of your accounts.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Security (10.0%)
Web and Internet support (15.0%)
Hardware (10.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Business connectivity (10.0%)
Application support (20.0%)
Media support (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Apple iPad Mini 8.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 10.0 9.0
Amazon.com Kindle Fire HD 7.0 6.0 6.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 8.0 7.0
Asus Google Nexus 7 (2012 edition) 6.0 9.0 6.0 8.0 7.0 8.0 7.0 7.5
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