You've seen all the specs, but how does that small tablet you're eying actually stand up?
We took this holiday shopping season's top three mini tablets and put them under the microscope to figure out which is the best. Here's what we found.
Books: iPad mini
If you're going to buy a tablet for reading, then turn to the iPad mini. The Apple tablet isn't amazingly better than its peers — they are all great for reading — but it has one advantage over the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD: You can read books offered by all the app stores, iBooks, Kindle, and Google Play.
Magazines: iPad mini
Again, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 fall victim to Apple, this time thanks to the iPad mini's 7.9-inch screen. All three tablets are fine for flipping through a magazine, but the magazine simply shines when you read it on the iPad mini. The size and shape of the iPad mini's display allow magazines to completely fill up the larger screen, which can't be said for the other two.
App selection: iPad mini
Because Apple gave the iPad mini the same resolution as the iPad 2, the mini already has a truckload of apps built specifically for its display and much more than what the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD have for their screens. Nexus' Google Play keeps growing and the Amazon Appstore is respectable, but there's no doubt who the clear winner is.
Surfing the Web: Tie
All of the tablets were great for surfing the Web and very quick, but none of them stood out. The Kindle Fire HD gets props for always showing the most content when looking at pages vertically in portrait mode, while the iPad mini showed most when it was held horizontally in landscape mode.
Sound: Kindle Fire HD
If you're looking for a tablet to play your tunes, the Kindle Fire HD might be it. With dual speakers, which are located on either of its sides, the Kindle Fire HD easily had the loudest sound. It was a bit on the tinny side at peak volume, but overall the sound was easy to the ear.
The iPad mini wasn't too far behind and overall it provided a richer and crisper sound. The Nexus 7, however, was far too soft to truly compete in this category. That's in part because its speaker is placed on its back and is pointed away from the user.
Video: iPad mini and Nexus 7
If you're buying your tablet to watch video, then turn to the iPad mini or the Nexus 7. Both devices delivered excellent images. The Nexus 7, in particular, shines when you watch a YouTube video, while the iPad mini's display delivered very sharp images when watching Netflix films and shows. However, because videos are widescreen, the iPad mini's 7.9-inch really doesn't give it an advantage over the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD's 7-inch display — the image on the iPad mini is just barely larger.
As for the Kindle Fire HD, the images on its videos don't look as great because it is so saturated. However, all that saturation looks very nice for all other tasks, especially gaming.
Gaming: iPad mini
If you want to buy a small tablet so you can play games on the go, then look no further than the iPad mini. With the largest display and fastest processor, games simply look and run best on the iPad mini. In some instances, the mini's version of games had much more detail than what you get on the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7. It's also nice that Apple's App Store has a larger game selection than what you'll find on the other devices.
Second place for gaming goes to the Kindle Fire HD. It's display makes the colors in game apps pop out. Games also ran really well, but the main issue with the Amazon tablet is it has fewer games than both the mini and the Nexus 7.
The Nexus 7, meanwhile, was acceptable, but the games often had less detail than the mini and sometimes it felt as though the tablet's processor couldn't run games as smoothly as the other two tablets.
Of course, this only really matters if you're trying to play hard-core games like "N.O.V.A. 3." If you're just trying to play something like "Temple Run," all three run and look just fine.
Conclusion: iPad mini is the champ
As you may have guessed, the best small tablet is the one made by Apple. Overall, the iPad mini delivers the best and most complete experience out of any of the small tablets. However, the iPad mini is about $130 more expensive than its rivals because of its $329 starting price. So if you're looking for something in the $200 or $250 range, then pick up the Nexus 7. The Google tablet isn't far superior than the Kindle Fire HD, but it has more apps and unlike the Amazon tablet, there are no ads.
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