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Kindle Fire vs iPad: How to decide


If there's any real comparison to be made between Apples and orange, it's the iPad and Kindle Fire use cases. After having spent a couple of weeks with Kindle, there's much to be said for the device. I'm quite fond of mine, frankly. But to paraphrase the late Sen. Bentsen, I know iPad, I served with iPad, and the Kindle Fire is not the iPad.

As we enter into the holiday shopping season, a lot of people are asking me: should I buy a Kindle Fire or an iPad? Here's a run-down to help explain how you can make that choice, and you can also watch TUAW TV Live at 5 PM ET today (or later when the video is embedded) to see Steve Sande and me talk about this very topic.

At just under $200, the Kindle Fire offers many of the same surface features the iPad does: a small mobile device powered by a touch screen interface. However, the Kindle Fire functions primarily as an Amazon multimedia consumption device.

An accessory to the Amazon Prime service, the Fire offers a huge library of streaming movies and TV shows, tight integration with your Amazon Cloud music account and your Kindle ebook library. If you are a big Amazon customer and you subscribe to Prime, you'll love the way you can seamlessly access this media.

The Fire's wins include its size, portability, low cost factor, and streaming media integration. I can easily put my Fire in my purse (not my backpack, my purse) and pull it out to read books using a significantly bigger screen than my iPhone.

The drawbacks are these. First, there's no 3G on offer for the Fire. You can only consume streaming TV and movies when you're located at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Although you can purchase and download video, music, apps, and books the Fire goes "network dark" (so to speak), away from those hotspots you can only enjoy the material stored locally on the device.

Second, the apps and book reader are acceptable but they are not compelling reasons to purchase the device. The apps aren't as good as those you find on the iPhone or iPad, and the book reader isn't as good as the eInk rendering you get on traditional Kindles. The screen is shiny, no getting around that.

That eInk and size factor is the big win for traditional Kindles. If you want to read books outside with a screen that remains readable despite sun glare, you're not going to do better than a standard Kindle. What you don't get includes apps, video, full web browsing and so forth, items brought to the table by the Kindle Fire.

Then there's the iPad. The most expensive of this bunch, it does everything well but it does it with a shiny screen and a larger form factor. My knee jerk response when it comes to the iPad is this: if you don't have one and you don't know why you need one, just go and buy one. In a couple of weeks, you'll know why this is the best mobile device in your life ever. (You'll want to pick up an iPhone a few weeks after that. The iPad is a gateway drug.)

The iPad excels at many things: movie watching, game playing, book reading, checking in at work, editing documents, downloading apps, etc. If the current iPad 2 entry price is too high for you, go ahead and buy a second-hand original iPad for about the same cost as a Kindle Fire.

That doesn't mean I don't recommend the original or Fire Kindles. I do. Their price points are insanely good, and the hardware fits well into your life for either book reading (eInk) or Prime customer enhancement (Fire). If you're parenting a bookworm, consider a traditional Kindle. If you want to watch streaming videos at the gym (with local Wi-Fi), pick up a Fire.

What I'm saying though, is neither one replaces the iPad -- and neither should. Life with both iPad and Kindle is great if you can swing the costs.

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