Apple’s smaller, lighter iPad costs $329 and up, quite a bit more than Google’s Nexus 7, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD, all of which start at $200. Still, it’s clearly aimed at sapping some customers from the realm of inexpensive tablets, so a comparison is in order.
Here’s a look at what each budget tablet has to offer compared to the rest:
Apple’s iPad Mini
Pros: A 7.9-inch display doesn’t sound like much over other 7-inch tablets, but because the iPad Mini’s aspect ratio is 4:3, compared to 16:9 or 16:10 on other tablets, it’s a lot wider in portrait mode and taller in landscape. Yet it’s also thinner and lighter than the other tablets available, and it has both front- and rear-facing cameras. The main advantage, though, is in the software. No other app store comes close to Apple’s selection of 275,000 tablet-optimized apps, and Apple’s iOS operating system is as smooth and stable as it gets.
Cons: The price could be a dealbreaker, especially if you want more than 16 GB of storage. Apple charges $429 for a 32 GB iPad Mini, and $529 for a 64 GB one. And 4G LTE models are available, but they’re also pricey, adding $130 to the total cost.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD
Pros: Out of all the $200 tablets, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD has the largest selection of movies, shows, music and books, and if you have an Amazon Prime subscription ($79 per year), you get a selection of streaming videos and e-book rentals at at no extra charge. Amazon is further ahead than its competitors on support for connected TV devices, so you can start watching a video on the tablet and resume it on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Roku and lots of other set-top boxes. It also includes a useful children’s mode called FreeTime, which lets parents set up time limits and a separate menu of apps and content.
Cons: The app selection is small compared to the iPad Mini and Nexus 7, and the software isn’t as smooth. The hardware is heavier than all other tablets on this list, and wider than the iPad Mini despite a smaller screen. There are also a couple hidden costs: $15 to remove advertisements from the lock screen and $10 for a charger.
(See Also: Review: Kindle Fire HD Is a Very Amazon Tablet)
Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD
Pros: The Nook HD gives you the most hardware for the money. Its 7-inch display is sharper than all other tablets on this list, with a resolution of 1440-by-900. It’s lighter than the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, and just a little heavier than the iPad Mini. And although the $200 model includes a measly 8 GB of storage, a 16 model only costs $30 more and both have a microSD card slot for up to 32 GB of additional storage. That makes it ideal for loading your own movies or music. Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble also has a user account feature, so parents can set up special profiles for their children.
Cons: The Nook HD’s app selection is the weakest of the bunch, and there are very few free apps available. (If you want Angry Birds, for instance, you’ll have to pay $3 on the Nook HD, while ad-supported free versions are available on all other platforms.) Although a video service is coming, the main focus of this tablet is reading books, magazines and newspapers.
Google’s Nexus 7
Pros: The Google Play Store rivals Apple’s App Store in quantity, even though many Android apps aren’t optimized for tablets. Users of Android phones can re-download all their apps on a Nexus 7 without re-purchasing them. The interface is smooth–though not quite iPad-smooth–and Google’s built-in Chrome browser is the best you’ll find on any tablet. If you want lots of apps and a fluid interface for the lowest price, the Nexus 7 is the best option.
Cons: The Nexus 7′s selection of movies and music is lacking compared to the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD. The storage situation is also worse than the competition, with just 8 GB on the $200 model and 16 GB on the $250 model, but this seems likely to change next week, as a 32 GB Nexus 7 is rumored.
(See Also: 30 Days with Google’s Nexus 7 Tablet)
Ultimately, the iPad Mini has the most to offer if you’re willing to pay a premium. Among the cheaper alternatives, it’s a choice between the most media content (Kindle Fire HD), the best specs (Nook HD) or the smoothest software and largest app catalog (Nexus 7).