Apple iPad mini review
iPad mini vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 tablet comparison review
The iPad mini and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 share similarities. They are both thin-and-light slates, with touchscreens - albeit the iPad mini's 7.9in display is an inch bigger than the original Kindle Fire HD and an inch smaller than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 to which we compare it here.
Both the Kindle Fire HD and the iPad mini are powered by ARM processors and, as we'll see below, they offer similar levels of performance, and broadly similar storage. And there is another key simularity, one that points to the major differentiator between the two.
Unlike Android or Windows tablets both the iPad mini and the Kindle Fire HD are locked into their respective app and media worlds. So once build, performance and price have been considered, you have to decide whether you want a tablet for consuming movies, music, Apps, magazines and books only from Amazon, or one that lets you into a similar relationship with iTunes and the App Store.
When you consider that the iPad mini is much better able to support you in your creative and professional endeavours, and has a better camera, it will seem like a simple choice, but do bear in mind that the Kindle is cheaper, and its display much better.
On with our iPad mini vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 comparison review. (See also: all Apple reviews.)
iPad mini vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9: price
The iPad mini costs from £269 inc VAT for the 16GB Wi-Fi only version, up to £529 for the 64GB model with cellular connectivity. By contrast the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is cheaper. It starts at £229 for the 16GB model, and there's also a £259 32GB version. There are no 3- or 4G enabled Kindle Fire tablets, they are all Wi-Fi only.
iPad mini vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9: what they are
The iPad mini is, of course, locked into Apple's world, but it's unarguably the best app and media ecosystem into which to be locked. And the iPad mini will be updatable to iOS 7 when it launches.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and its smaller sibling are grown up e-readers that are also great for watching movies and films, browsing the web, sending and receiving email and playing games. You can download and install Amazon's apps and music, and - yes - read books.
You can buy books, music, games, apps and movies to your heart's content - but you have to buy them from Amazon. That's not a problem. Amazon is, after all, pretty well stocked on that score. But it does illustrate the limitations of the Kindle Fire model. If Amazon doesn't want you to install it, you can't install it. It's a similar story with the iPad mini, of course, but the iPad world is stuffed full of apps that let you do more with your tablet. Unlike full Android tablets the Kindle Fire HD can only access the Amazon app store.
There are benefits to this: both the original Kindle Fire HD and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 share an easy-to-use interface. They are entertainment devices designed to be used by just about anybody - regardless of their technical knowledge. But apps are in short supply and even the email and web-browsing experience is far from perfect. See all iPad reviews.
Kindle Fire HD vs iPad mini: design and build
The Kindle Fire HD has an 8.9in screen designed to be used in landscape format for everything but reading books. You get a shiny black slab with a capacitative touchscreen taking up most of the front.
Kindle Fire HD tablets are designed to be used often and on the move, and to sell at a cheap price. So they are robust and built to last but lack a little of the stylish finish of the iPad mini. The bezel around the screen on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is thicker than we'd like, and at 567g it is a little heavy for a tablet.
Look on the bottom edge for micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports, and find the headphone jack sitting near the top. Two speakers are seated to the left and the right on the rear of the tablet, and the webcam is situated centrally above the screen. It does seem odd for an entertainment device to have rear-facing speakers, but the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is hardly alone in that respect. And Amazon gets back its kudos for including the necessary cables and adaptors for synch/charge and TV output.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 hides its volume and power buttons on the right-hand side, flush with the tablet body. This can make them hard to find by touch alone.
What strikes you as you pick up the beautifully built iPad mini is how light it is. It's less than half the weight of a third- or fourth-generation iPad, and 23 percent thinner. And at 307g it is a different league lighter than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 - you'll really notice that difference if you are reading in bed.
Despite this light weight, build quality is spectacular and the iPad mini feels as solid as a rock. The mini is also noticeably thinner than is the Kindle Fire HD.
As you'd expect, it has the new Lightning connector, so you'll need an adaptor to use 30-pin accessories - not all of which will work. Apple has now released a wide selection of Lightning cables and adapters, including the extremely expensive £39 Digital AV Adapter (read HDMI output). Beware that some apps (particularly catch-up TV) do not support HDMI output, so don't invest in the adapter thinking you can get around the AirPlay restrictions this way.
The button layout is identical to a 9.7in iPad.
In terms of design and build it is a hands-down win for the iPad mini. That 7/8in mini format is just better to hold and to carry, and the iPad in all its forms remains unsurpassed in build quality in the tablet world. But the Kindle Fire does have a bigger display...
See also: iPad mini 2 preview
Kindle Fire HD vs iPad mini: display
One of the advantages of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is its excellent full HD screen. It has a resolution of 1920x1080 which means that it has a pixel density of 254ppi over a bigger area. Viewing angles are wide, colours are deep and contrast is good. So the 8.9in Kindle Fire HD makes up for its heavier weight and bigger size with a bigger, more detailed screen than the iPad mini.
Compared this to the iPad mini's 7.9in screen. We like the 4:3 form factor, which is only really a disadvantage when it comes to watching videos, since 16:9 content has to be shown with black bars at the top and bottom, or the sides cropped so it fills the screen.
The iPad mini screen has the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the iPad 2. This means it can run the existing - and extensive - catalogue of iPad-specific apps. But it's obvious that it's not as crisp as the iPhone or bigger iPad's Retina displays. Fortunately, it's still an IPS panel, so colours are vibrant and viewing angles excellent, but a pixel density of 162ppi can't compete with the bigger and more detailed Kindle Fire HD 8.9 when watching HD movies, for instance. Chalk this one up to the Kindle.
Kindle Fire HD vs iPad mini: hardware and performance
Unfortunately,although it feels snappy in use, whether loading apps, scrolling around maps or browsing the web, the iPad mini cannot consistently outperform the Kindle Fire HD 8.9.
For gaming, however, the iPad mini is pretty good, managing a Kindle Fire-smashing 24fps in GLBenchmark 2.5.1. So for general performance we'd marginally favour the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, but when it comes to more demanding games, the iPad mini leads the way.