Google Nexus 7 vs. Amazon Kindle Fire HDX: Which Mini Tablet Is The Better Buy?

The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX will feature a more powerful processor than the Nexus 7 at the same price, but is it worth sacrificing the Google Play Store?

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Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) unveiled the newest iteration of the Kindle Fire tablet on Tuesday. The Kindle Fire HDX includes a 7-inch screen nearly identical to what’s found in the Nexus 7, Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) new Asus-manufactured touchscreen. Since both tablets are priced at $229, does the smaller Amazon Kindle Fire HDX top the “Google Experience” offered by the Nexus 7?

Amazon’s Kindle tablets run on a “forked” version of the Android operating system, called the Fire OS, which does not allow access to the Google Play Store and has a different visual style and method of navigating through apps and content. Version 3.0 of the Fire OS, codenamed Mojito, will bring new features to Kindle HDX tablets, while Android 4.3 does the same for the Nexus 7. But which is the better tablet for consumers?

Kindle Fire HDX comes shipped “with special offers,” or advertisements that play while the device’s screen is off. The Kindle Fire HDX costs $15 more without ads, and its 4G LTE service (available from AT&T and Verizon) costs an extra $100. The Nexus 7 costs only $80 more for 4G LTE connectivity from AT&T or T-Mobile, and Verizon says that support on its networks will be available “shortly.”

Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 7" offer the same screen: a 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 screen with nearly double the resolution of last year’s iPad Mini, and both have 323 pixels-per-inch (PPI) versus the Mini’s 163 PPI. But how does the Kindle Fire HDX’s hardware differ from the new Nexus 7?

KindleFireHDXvs2013Nexus7 *While the new Nexus 7 is marketed as having the Snapdragon S4 Pro, it actually contains a different, quad-core processor model: the Snapdragon 600. **Kindle Fire HDX prices shown with advertising included (special offers). ***Versions of the Kindle Fire HDX with 4G LTE connectivity will not ship until Nov. 14.

The main difference is under the hood: Kindle Fire HDX has a faster, more powerful processor than the new Nexus 7. The Snapdragon 800’s main CPU has a 700 MHz faster clock speed than the Snapdragon 600 inside the Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire HDX packs a more powerful graphics processor as well. Other specs for the two tablets are comparable, with the Kindle Fire HDX available in a 64GB model whereas the Nexus 7 tops out at 32GB.

The Kindle's Fire OS 3.0 (Mojito) brings Mayday to Kindle Fire HDX tablets, which provides live video customer support, and a “reading mode” that changes display settings to reduce battery usage. Amazon has also updated its X-Ray service to provide lyrics and other information for music, in addition to IMDB data for movies -- which give actor and film information with a touch.

Is the Google Experience worth more than Mojito?

Since both companies are offering a similar package, and Amazon is throwing in a more powerful chip, the deciding factor in the mini-tablet war becomes: Who has the better ecosystem?

While Amazon Prime members are able to watch free video on Kindle tablets from the company’s streaming service, Amazon has not made the app available on other Android devices. However, Amazon Prime Video has been available for iOS devices since December 2012. Amazon has also added a new trick to Prime Instant Video with the Kindle HDX -- the ability to download videos for offline viewing.

Despite the Kindle's new features, Google’s Sundar Pichai announced in July that there were more than 1 million Android apps available on Google Play, whereas there are less than 100,000 on the Amazon Appstore. Kindle owners are not able to access the Google Play Store without rooting the devices and installing a modified operating system -- one of the biggest complaints concerning Amazon’s tablets.

Owners of the Nexus 7 will also be able to upgrade their tablets to the newest version of Android before anyone else, as the updated OS will be offered by Google as soon as Kit Kat (Android 4.4) launches later this year.

Both the new Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HDX are competing to be the device that buyers choose, not because of the high profit margins associated with the sale (both are being offered at or near manufacturing cost), but rather because Amazon and Google are competing to offer consumers the better ecosystem, where they will buy their apps and multimedia, with a cut coming in from their respective marketplaces.

While the Kindle Fire HDX offers higher hardware specs for the dollar than the new Nexus 7, both feature a highly similar form factor. The new Nexus 7 offers access to more than a million apps on the Google Play Store, whereas the Kindle Fire HDX offers Amazon Prime members access to a catalog of streaming video.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the Kindle Fire HDX might be a better value for families and Amazon Prime members, whereas the next-generation Nexus 7 is likely a better fit for those familiar with the Android operating system. Tech-savvy users should not ignore the HDX either, as those willing to void the Kindle Fire HDX’s warranty will likely be able to unlock the device’s boot loader and install a modified version of the Android OS shortly after the tablet’s release -- and run Kit Kat on more powerful hardware than the new Nexus 7.

This story originally referred to the Kindle Fire HDX's operating system as the Kindle OS, and has been corrected to reflect Amazon's official name for the operating system, Fire OS.

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