It seems like every other week there’s a new rumor about an upcoming iPad mini or Nexus 7 with a sharper display. Customers love small tablets, and they love “Retina” displays, so their impending marriage is naturally a hot topic. But it’s easy to forget that Amazon already has a medium-sized tablet with a razor-sharp display. Let’s see how that "tweener" – the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 – sizes up next to Apple’s smaller iPad mini.
The Fire 8.9 only has an extra (diagonal) inch of screen space, but the tablet itself is quite a bit bigger. It’s much closer in size to the full-sized iPad than it is to the iPad mini.
The Fire is a bit thicker than the insanely thin iPad mini, but it’s still a lean tablet in its own right.
This might be the iPad mini’s killer feature. It’s incredibly light, with 46 percent less heft than the larger Kindle Fire 8.9.
We wouldn’t worry too much about this, as the Fire 8.9 has a solid build with a comfortable grip. But if you’re looking for the more expensive build materials, the iPad mini’s anodized aluminum wins that prize.
This category is the iPad mini’s Achilles’ heel. Its screen size hits a nice sweet spot (7.9-inch), but its resolution is a generation behind other tablets. Expect some comparatively fuzzy text and images.
The Fire 8.9, though, has one of the sharper tablet displays around. We're talking 254 pixels packed into each inch. Its screen size (8.9-inch) also hits a great mark in between mini-tablet and full-sized tablet.
In a CPU benchmark battle, the Kindle’s processor eats the iPad mini's for breakfast.
In terms of your experience? Well, that gap might not be quite as wide. Apple’s hardware and software integration should make up for some lost ground. Amazon’s forked – and 16-month-old – build of Android doesn't have that luxury.
But for the faster performance, the smart money is still on the Fire 8.9.
This doesn’t hurt either. The Fire doubles the iPad mini’s mere 512 MB of RAM.
A couple of caveats here. The Wi-Fi only Fire comes in 16 GB and 32 GB models. The LTE version ships in 32 GB and 64 GB models.
The iPad mini's storage options, on the other hand, are spread evenly across the board.
Speaking of Wi-Fi and LTE, those are your options. The Fire 8.9 is the only Amazon tablet that’s mobile data ready ... assuming you pony up for the more expensive LTE model.
Tablets are too big to make great cameras, but if you need quality pictures, the iPad mini is the better choice. The Fire 8.9 only has a front-facing shooter for video chatting and selfies.
The Kindle Fire’s battery holds a lot more juice. Its bigger, sharper display also sucks up more juice, but it doesn’t hurt much. For typical use, both tablets should easily last the day.
The Fire 8.9 has a carousel-like home screen. Much of it centers around Amazon content, and it isn't for everyone. So be sure you really like Amazon’s retail and digital services before throwing down for the Fire 8.9.
The cheapest version of the Kindle 8.9 also ships with “special offers” (ads). They aren’t too intrusive, and they stay put on the lock screen. But if you want to disable them, you can pay US$15 (at checkout or later) to get rid of them.
The iPad mini is like any other Apple iOS device. Apple hardware, Apple software, Apple App Store. It’s a combination that's made countless customers happy. Apple’s market-leading library of tablet apps doesn’t hurt either.
These prices are in U.S. dollars, and they're for the Wi-Fi only, 16 GB versions of each tablet.
The LTE version of the Fire starts at US$400, and the LTE version of the iPad mini starts at $460.
Wrap-upWith the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, Amazon is probably targeting the iPad with Retina Display more than the iPad mini. But these two tablets make for an interesting comparison nonetheless.
Is the full-sized iPad with its 9.7-inch display too big for you? Is the iPad mini's screen a little too low-res for you? Then you might want to check out the Fire 8.9. It brings “Retina”-like resolution to a mid-sized tablet.
All isn’t equal in the software department, so you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with Amazon’s custom Android build before throwing down for the Fire. But, for many customers, it will hit a nice balance point. Display, performance, and battery life are all quite good. Its price is even better.
For more on the subject, you can check out our comparison of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 vs. the iPad 4.