The iPad still rules the tablet roost, with both versions handily outselling all of its rivals. But Apple’s two biggest competitors, Amazon and Samsung, aren’t going anywhere. Their latest tablets – the Galaxy Note 8.0 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9” – are both compelling alternatives to the iPad and iPad mini. Let’s compare the specs (and other features) of the Note 8 and Fire 8.9.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9” is obviously the bigger tablet. But you should still be able to easily hold it with one paw.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 is much lighter – 40 percent lighter, to be exact. As a much smaller tablet, though, the difference in relative weight isn’t as big as you might expect.
This is a big win for the Kindle Fire. Not only does it give you almost an extra inch of real estate, it’s also much sharper. Its pixel density is 34 percent higher than the Note’s.
This, on the other hand, is a big win for the Note. Not only does its quad core Exynos CPU look better on paper, it also wins in benchmark battles. It’s faster. Period.
Another nod to superior performance on the Note 8, as it doubles the Fire 8.9’s 1 GB of RAM.
A couple caveats here. Only the Wi-Fi version of the Fire 8.9 ships with 16 GB. And only the LTE version of the Fire 8.9 ships with 64 GB. Amazon sells both versions in 32 GB models.
Only the Note has a microSD slot, so you could more easily get away with less internal storage there.
You can buy both tablets in either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + LTE models.
If you live in the U.S., Amazon struck a deal with AT&T that gives you 250 MB of LTE data per month for a one-time fee of US$50 (good for a year). That’s not a lot of data, but it’s also not a lot of money: just over $4 per month.
On paper, this looks like a huge advantage for the Fire. And its actual battery life is pretty great. But since the Note’s battery isn’t powering nearly as many display pixels, it should hold its own.
If you like to snap pics with your tablet (surely someone out there does), then you’re better off with the Note – as the Fire doesn’t have a rear camera. Its front-facing shooter does just fine, though, for video chat and self-portraits.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has the more versatile software. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with a thick layer of Samsung’s TouchWiz on top. It ships with the suite of Google apps (Gmail, YouTube, Google Now, etc.) and the Google Play app store.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, meanwhile, is strictly an Amazon affair. Though it technically runs Android, it’s stripped of all traces of Google, focusing instead on Amazon services. It isn’t for everyone, and the Amazon Appstore’s library isn’t quite on par with Google Play's.
But what the Kindle Fire user experience lacks in versatility, it makes up for in user-friendliness. If you use Amazon services – and mostly want a tablet for casual activities – it can be a great choice and offers outstanding value.
Advantage, Kindle Fire. All of that Amazon-focused software lets Jeff Bezos and company sell the Fire for basically no profit at all. Since Samsung relies on its hardware to turn a profit, you can snag the Fire 8.9 for US$130 less than the Note 8.0.
You can’t talk about a Galaxy Note and not mention its stylus ... erm, S Pen. Just when it looked like styluses had gone the way of the dodo, Samsung reintroduced them in ways that are truly innovative. All of the cool S Pen software features from other Galaxy Notes make their way to the Note 8.
It’s worth reiterating just how much the Fire 8.9’s user experience is dominated by Amazon. In our review, we found a lot to like about it. But you do need to know what you’re getting into with the Kindle Fire: basically a handheld Amazon shopping mall.
Wrap-upThese tablets don’t really have a lot in common. Both are worthy alternatives to the iPad or iPad mini. But that’s about where the similarities end.
The Note is smaller and lighter, comes with a stylus, and gives you the full-on Google Play version of Android. The Fire has a bigger – and much sharper – display, an Amazon-centric take on Android, and a rock-bottom price tag.
Which is better? We won’t pretend like there’s a universal answer for everyone, so that’s your call. Hopefully these distinctions help guide you on the path of figuring that out for yourself.