It's a three-way fight this time round as the iPad 3 takes on the rumoured iPad Mini and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD
We pitch Apple’s current iPad 3 and its rumoured iPad Mini against the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
iPad 3 - 241.2 x185.7x9.4mm, 652g
iPad Mini – TBC
Amazon Kindle Fire HD - 193 mmx137mmx10.3mm, 395g
The iPad 3 is the largest of the three tablets we’re comparing here with its 9.7-inch display and in most ways it’s virtually identical to its predecessor, the iPad 2.
This means you get the same iconic Apple style with softly rounded corners, a moderately sized and evenly proportioned bezel around the screen and a back panel which slopes upwards and inwards slightly from the front.
The slate comes in either black or white colouration with a flashy aluminium back panel and is quite sleek and modern looking, if a little ‘bubbly’ thanks to its curvy design.
In terms of build quality you get exactly what you’d expect from Apple and that’s a premium level of fit and finish and overall the device seems very sturdy to hold.
Previous rumours indicated the iPad Mini would be closer in design to an enlarged iPod Nano than to the existing iPad models. However, since then more recent leaks have strongly suggested it will follow the iPad 3’s form factor quite closely but on a smaller scale.
Plenty of leaks have put forward 7.85-inches as the golden figure for the iPad Mini, although some sources still say it’ll be dead on 7-inches. Our money is on the former.
It’ll also allegedly feature the iPhone 5’s much-reported charging port, which has a smaller design than the one seen on previous Apple products and, like the iPhone 5, may or may not have the 3.5mm audio jack moved to the bottom of the device.
Again we expect the build quality to be excellent all round, we also doubt Apple will scrimp on materials even though rumours persist of a budget price tag and leaks indicate we’re still talking about an aluminium back panel.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD will only be available in the UK as the 7-inch version (at least for now) but the form factor between the two size types appears to be more or less the same.
We’ve previously drawn comparisons in its visual design with the ill-fated HP TouchPad and, to be clear, we thought that was something of a looker.
It’s more rounded at the corners than even the iPad and appears to have a larger bezel, though as with Apple’s device it’s evenly proportioned all the way round.
The back panel is rubber-coated and there’s a black band around the bottom section with the Kindle logo.
We haven’t had a hands-on with the Kindle Fire HD, so can’t vouch for its build quality, though we can say we got to grips previously with the original Kindle Fire and it was a reassuringly robust and well-built tablet, which suggests to us the same attention will have been lavished on the successor model.
At the end of the day tablet aesthetic design is one of the more uninspiring aspects of mobile tech as there’s apparently only so much that can be done with the medium. They all end up looking like rectangular slabs.
Which is, of course, totally fine, but it creates a situation in these comparisons where the only measuring stick is build quality and, when you’re dealing with heavy hitters like Apple and Amazon you know it’s going to be equally good.
The one thing we will say is that, for dedicated tablets (as opposed to the new class of hybrid laptop/tablets) we’re beginning to like the smaller form-factor more and more, rendering the iPad 3 the less appealing option of the three devices compared here.
Winner – Draw between iPad Mini and Amazon Kindle Fire HD
Apple is fairly consistent with its storage offerings from one device to the next, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet, the newest hardware always comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flavours with no Micro SD capability.
That’s certainly the case for the iPad 3, however, with the iPad Mini we’re not entirely sure what the scenario will be.
On the one hand, it may have the full three options, but on the other, if rumours of a low-price are true, it could have just the lower 16GB and 32GB options or even 8GB and 16GB instead. In any case, Micro SD is extremely unlikely.
With the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon is offering both 16GB and 32GB models at very competitive prices (£159 and £199 respectively), though neither has Micro SD.
It’s still wide open on how Apple will price the possible variations of the iPad Mini but we’d be surprised if it will offer them for as low as Amazon.
Even so, in the meantime the Kindle Fire HD is doing better on memory-to-price than the iPad 3 and virtually every other tablet out there.
That said, the 64GB iPad 3 has much more memory than the Kindle Fire HD is capable of bringing to the table.
We think on balance the Kindle Fire HD is the better option on the current market – the 64GB iPad 3’s large quantity of storage space isn’t that necessary and is much more expensive.
This could all change if and when the iPad Mini appears, of course.
Winner – Amazon Kindle Fire HD
The iPad 3 uses an ARM Cortex-A9 dual core processor on the company’s own A5X chipset clocked at 1GHz with 1GB of RAM and a quad core PowerVR SGX543MP4 graphics processing unit (GPU) to deliver snappy visuals.
Apple’s so good at optimising its iOS operating system that you probably wouldn’t notice a difference between this and less meaty setups running the same software.
But with that said, the extra grunt does mean it’ll handle more intensive apps, games and tasks than earlier models might be able to and going forward will continue to do so as developers churn out more advanced software.
It’s future-proofing, essentially, and means that, should Apple ever decide to add true multi-tasking to later iterations of iOS, for example, it’ll be able to take on the new functionality where older single-core iPads might not.
The iPad Mini may share the same setup, in fact we expect it to even if Apple aims for a budget price tag.
There is an outside possibility that, if it’s a premium model, it may feature the rumoured A6 chipset which may or may not make its way into the forthcoming iPhone 5, though rumours still suggest it may not exist and the iPhone 5 will still have an A5X.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD also runs a dual core ARM Cortex-A9 setup but it’s on the Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 chip clocked at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM and a PowerVR SGX540 GPU.
This is a powerful set of hardware and should have no trouble running Amazon’s modified Android 4.0 build at a rapid pace with smooth performance.
Winner - Draw
Apple has a habit of setting the bar for display tech and the iPad 3 is no different. It’s still easily the best tablet display on the market, although a few competitors have come close to touching its 264 pixels-per-inch (ppi) pixel density.
As we mentioned, it has a 9.7-inch IPS Retina multitouch display with scratch-resistant glass and a water and oil resistant oleophobic coating, as well as a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels.
As you might expect its clear and sharp, the brightness is impressive, colours are suitably vibrant, contrast pops well and blacks and dark colours have plenty of depth.
Generally it delivers everything you’d want from a good display.
Question marks are still hovering over whether Apple will deliver a similar level of polish with the iPad Mini’s display.
Again part of the problem is the issue of whether this will be a budget device to compete at the Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD’s sub-£200 price point or if it’ll be a standalone premium model.
There are rumours which suggest the former scenario to be the case and that this will see an iPad Mini without a Retina-quality display.
On the other hand, with the current offerings from competitors there’s a solid case for the idea that Apple will need to bring its Retina tech out to play in order to make the iPad Mini appealing to consumers.
In which case, we’d be talking about the highest pixel density and sharpest picture of any 7-inch tablet to date.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD has a few nifty display features which place it ahead of the rest of the pack as things stand currently.
Broadly speaking it’s much the same as the Nexus 7, with a 7-inch IPS LCD capacitive multitouch screen, a 1280x800 pixel resolution and a pixel density of 216ppi.
However, Amazon has added some extra technology to make viewing media content on the go that little bit easier.
According to the company’s launch statements it features some advanced polarization treatments and has been crafted by laminating the touch layer into the display during production (as opposed to layering it on top afterwards).
Sharpness and contrast are hugely improved over standard IPS LCDs and the polarization reduces sun glare by as much as 25 per cent. It’s also been tweaked to allow some seriously wide viewing angles with no loss of clarity or colour reproduction.
Obviously the best display quality comes from the iPad 3’s large-scale Retina screen. Though you do make a compromise on portability, it could equally be argued that the bigger expanse of glass is better for appreciating films, photos, webpages and games.
The 7-inch scale is still great for this, however, and Amazon has done a great job at making things look as good as possible.
Ultimately though, we’re betting on the iPad Mini being a game-changer for displays in the 7-inch tablet space.
Winner – iPad Mini
The iPad 3 runs iOS 5.1 at present and will no doubt upgrade to iOS 6 when it launches with the iPhone 5 soon. The iPad Mini may arrive alongside the iPhone 5 or shortly after but either way we expect it to ship on iOS 6.
Apple has been keeping fairly quiet about what to expect in the sixth iteration of its mobile software platform, although one thing we do know is the company has invested plenty of time, effort and money into revamping its aged distribution fronts – the App Store, iTunes and so on. It’s a much needed and welcome change.
We’d like to think Apple would also overhaul the look and feel of the platform generally as it’s now quite dated, but we haven’t seen anything to suggest this is the case and if we’re honest we’re not exactly optimistic about it.
In terms of functionality there’s nothing wrong with the platform as it is, although it is a little stagnant with no sweeping and significant updates in recent memory.
Again we’d like it if this changed with iOS 6 and Apple will need to do something in the wake of Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 and Android Jelly Bean 4.1 or it’ll start to lose its grip on the market.
The Kindle Fire HD uses a custom build of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, though the modifications run so deep that it’s virtually unrecognisable.
As with the previous Kindle Fire (which hasn’t previously been released in the UK but will be arriving alongside the Kindle Fire HD) Amazon has designed the interface as a content consumption platform for you to access anything and everything you’ve bought via the company’s various distribution platforms.
This includes eBooks, music, films, games, apps, magazines and much more besides.
Many interface elements are designed around a content carousel and the main screen you’ll interact with is one of these which houses all your most recently used apps and media regardless of category.
There are, of course, categorised sections if you’re just looking for eBooks or music, for example.
Other features include Skype and Facebook integration and the ability to view work-related documents such as Adobe PDFs and Microsoft Office files.
There’s also a catch-all email app which can work with AOL, Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Accounts.
Lastly, you’ve got Amazon’s Silk browser which provides very rapid surfing through webpage compression via remote servers.
Amazon’s ecosystem is compelling if you’re heavily invested in its digital distribution platforms, or alternatively: if you’re not heavily invested in other platforms already and don’t mind the idea of using just Amazon.
Otherwise it’s a bit of a hard sell as you might find some of your non-Amazon content for other Android devices inaccessible here. It might be Android-based but it’s a closed system.
But then, in many ways so is iOS. It’s really a question of which brand you prefer.
Winner - Draw
Amazon isn’t offering anything hugely different to the iPad here, it’s a similar experience in a smaller package and with an alternative flavour.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s important to make the distinction that the Kindle Fire HD is not as open as many other Android slates – it’s a specifically tailored media consumption portal for those who like to buy everything through Amazon.
If that sounds like you then you may find it a very useful device.