Ramping Up the Tablet Wars

The tablet war has essentially divided into two fronts: between 9- and 7-inch devices. The market for 9-inch tablets is still dominated by Apple’s iPad, but the new 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD that was announced last week (at $299, it costs $200 less than the iPad) could finally give it serious competition. For now, though, the real competition is among 7-inch tablets.

Amazon’s original Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet popularized 7-inch tablets last year, although the Kindle has since taken over with its easier-to-use interface and large selection of books, music, movies and TV shows. Amazon has always viewed its Kindles as “media consumption devices,” which they sell as cheaply as possible so they can instead make money on the content users buy later.

In July, it looked like newcomer Google might take the lead in the 7-inch market when it released the Nexus 7, which offered more speed and memory than the Kindle Fire at the same $200 price. But Amazon’s new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD is just as impressive. Each tablet has its advantages—the Nexus 7 includes a GPS and a newer version of the Android OS, while the Kindle Fire HD has better speakers and an option for a 4G data plan—but neither offers significantly better hardware, so many users will make their choice based on which content-delivery system they prefer: Amazon’s Prime or Google’s Play Store.

Both the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7 have higher-resolution screens (not quite as high as the new iPad, but close) and are ideal for streaming video over Wi-Fi. Each manufacturer emphasizes its own content, but both tablets can easily connect to other services, such as Netflix or Hulu. With these latest tablets’ improved video, sound and wireless connectivity, you can watch (or read, or play, or listen to) whatever you want wherever you want, and lose yourself in a movie, book or game more easily than ever.

The playing field may change soon when Apple releases its rumored “iPad Mini,” its first 7-inch tablet. Although it is arriving late to the party, Apple will undoubtedly transform the market again. The fierce competition should make this a great time for anyone in the market for a tablet.