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

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Deathmatch: Business connectivity
You don't get a media tablet to do work. But as more and more workers find themselves on perpetual call, your media tablet should provide at least first-level capabilities such as the ability to do work email and view documents in common formats. It's even better if you can use such devices to work on projects without having to find a computer somewhere.

An iPad Mini, because it's an iPad, has great support for Microsoft Exchange, in addition to IMAP and POP servers. If your company supports iPad access to corporate resources, your iPad Mini becomes just another iPad for both your company and you, giving you the most security of any mobile OS outside the BlackBerry, as well as the greatest selection of effective mobile productivity apps. If you hadn't installed those apps on your iPad Mini, you can download them from the App Store at no charge if previously purchased for a work iPad. The only real difficulty you might face is dealing with the smaller screen and thus smaller keyboard for any text-intensive work.

The Nexus 7 is your second best bet for doing work from a media tablet. Its Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" OS has solid security capabilities and Exchange support, its Email and Calendar apps are solid if unexceptional, and Google's Quickoffice HD Pro app for Android is capable enough for most business work. Plus, as with the iPad Mini, you'll find apps for a wide variety of business needs, from to SAP access.

Of course, many enterprises refuse to support Android devices due to concerns over its malware-infested Play Store and Google's history of inattention to security. So even if your Nexus 7 or other Android tablet can help you out in an emergency, your company may or may not not let you use it.

The Kindle Fire HD supports Exchange, including the same kinds of security policies as standard Android devices -- a new capability in this second Kindle Fire generation. The Email and Calendar apps have simpler UIs than the stock Android versions, to fit better on the small screen. But all the capabilities you need are there, including attachment previews and calendar invites. I was impressed with their quality given the Kindle Fire HD's decidedly nonbusiness target user. It too can be used in a pinch -- if your business is willing to let it in.

Although the Amazon Appstore is curated, the Kindle Fire HD allows sideloading of apps like other Android devices do, so you can install non-app-store apps on it. A basic version Quickoffice is available for the Kindle Fire, so you can do basic Office document work with it.

The business connectivity winner. In all cases, assuming you're permitted Exchange access from your media tablet, you have basic email, calendar, and contacts capabilities available. But to do real work routinely, your best option is the iPad Mini.

Deathmatch: Security
Security is probably not top of mind when choosing a media tablet, but it should be one of your purchase criteria.

Corporate security. As noted, the iPad Mini has the same strong enterprise-class capabilities as any iOS device, including a highly compatible VPN client. Also as noted, the Nexus 7 has the moderate security capabilities of most recent Android tablets. The Nexus 7 has Android's standard VPN support, which unfortunately does not include Cisco IPSec VPNs (you'll need to download Cisco's AnyConnect client as well as buy a client access license for it). The Kindle Fire HD provides the basics of Exchange device security, including encryption, and there are even a few VPN vendors' clients for it in the Amazon Appstore -- but not for Cisco VPNs.

Note that both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, like all Android 3 and 4 devices, come unencrypted. The encryption process requires a full charge, so you can't do it as soon as you open the box, and takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Note that you can't enable encryption on the Kindle Fire HD in its Settings app; only when you try to connect to an Exchange server that requires encryption are you given the ability to turn on encryption. If you're on the road without a full battery charge the first time you try to connect to Exchange, you'll be out of luck. Like all iOS devices, the iPad Mini is always encrypted, and encryption can't be disabled.

All three media tablets support passwords, so you can prevent unauthorized people from using them.

Family security. But there's another kind of security to consider for a media tablet since it's likely to be shared by several family members. In this regard, the Kindle Fire HD is the most secure, thanks to its FreeTime app that lets you set up separate content libraries for each person, essentially giving them a separate login to just their library. Parents can use that capability to restrict what their kids can access, as well as limit the number of hours of usage each day.

The iPad Mini's Guided Access lets you restrict the tablet to a specific app and even block some of an app's capabilities (such as Buy buttons) by drawing blocking ovals around their controls. But this new iOS 6 feature has to be enabled each time you want to use it and can be used for just one app at a time. It's fine when you want to hand your iPad to your kid for a specific purpose, but it's nowhere near as useful as the ability to set up separate environments, as the Kindle Fire HD can.

The iPad has a comprehensive set of parental controls that let you configure what your kids can access. Tech-savvy parents can even use Apple's free Apple Configurator tool for OS X to create and deploy profiles with such configurations to their kids' devices, as well as update them remotely (though we're talking supergeek parents here). Safari's private browsing mode lets parents access Web pages they don't want their kids to easily see, as this mode ensures no history is kept of the visited pages.

The Kindle Fire HD too has a solid set of password-based parental controls should you decide not to use FreeTime; these controls can also protect you should your device be lost or stolen. The Nexus 7 has no parental controls to restrict individual capabilities, just the ability to set a password for access to the tablet itself.

The bottom line is that the iPad Mini's iOS assumes that just one person uses an iPad (or iTunes), so it can be problematic to share freely. But it has the most sophisticated parental control options and the best corporate security capabilities. Android is even more single user-oriented and its parental controls are nonexistent, much less anything like the notion of separate user accounts. The Kindle Fire HD is designed for multiperson use and offers both good parental controls and adequate corporate security.

The security winner. For business security, the iPad Mini rules. For family security, the Kindle Fire HD rules.

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