Choosing a mini-tablet

In the run up to Christmas, I'd been admiring the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Google Nexus 7 and, of course, the iPad mini. I wistfully played with them in-store, trying to find a reason to justify the purchase. I couldn't really afford or justify it out of my spare income, so I wasn't expecting to get my hands on one any time soon.

But a work Christmas bonus - specifically for a mini tablet - suddenly put me in the market for one of these cool little devices. Thank you to my boss! So which would it be?

The first tablet I eliminated from the equation was the Kindle Fire HD, simply because it's very similar in price and specs to the Google Nexus 7, but runs Amazon's own version of Android with a smaller selection of apps, and with Amazon's services baked-in to the system. Given that you can download Amazon's Kindle app on other devices, and the Nexus 7 comes with the latest version of Android Jelly Bean and direct updates from Google, I'd much rather go with the Nexus.

Which left the Nexus 7 and iPad mini, the latter of which is at least £80 more expensive. If I'd just been buying for myself, then as a price-conscious type, I'd probably have gone for the Nexus 7 - it's a great device at a great price. But with the Christmas bonus in play, the pros and cons were more finely balanced.

Since already having a good Android phone, a Nexus 7 would perhaps be too much a bigger version of the same, whereas an iPad gives me access to the Apple ecosystem - there are lots of interesting book apps that are iPad only or a long time in coming to Android, and some apps are better on iOS, such as iPlayer (which is something I watch a lot on tv via my Playstation 3, and occasionally on my phone). It would be better if the BBC could make a great Android app, but having wedded themselves to Flash for video delivery on Android due to some weird political DRM security theatre, they've dug themselves into a bit of a hole. Fact is, iOS still has the edge on tablet app selection. Android is catching up, but isn't there yet.

Also, I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket (whether that's Google or anyone else), but get a spread of devices to get the best overall range of options. I have Windows and Linux on my desktop and netbook, an Android phone, and a Kindle ereader - an Apple tablet would allow me to cover all my bases, pretty much!

I prefer Google's open approach but I'm also a bit uneasy about a "free" system based on advertising and monitoring your personal information and behaviour. I don't like Apple's walled garden, but I also admire the cohesiveness that Apple can deliver by controlling hardware, software and ecosystem so closely.

One very specific feature that Android doesn't currently support is using a USB microphone for audio input, so a Android tablet would be more limited in terms of using it for podcasting than an iPad, which can use one with an adapter cable. That's a fairly niche requirement, but handy for me.

Nexus 7 had in its favour compatibility with my existing phone apps and purchases, a sharper screen and cheaper price. The 16:9 aspect ratio screen on the Nexus is better for video, but I think the iPad's 4:3 is probably slightly better for reading and browsing, though I haven't had chance to test this theory. From what I gather from reviews, the iPad mini is more of a premium feel in aluminium, but that extra bit of width makes it just that slightly less easy to grip in one hand.

It really is a close-run thing. I'd have been very happy to get a Nexus 7, and for many people I'd recommend it over the iPad mini as just as good at a much better price. But for my particular preferences and requirements, the opportunity to get an iPad mini was too good to miss.

So I went ahead and asked for the iPad mini, which I got just before Christmas, despite the slight nagging feeling I was selling out in getting an Apple product. Had I made a good choice, or fallen prey to the Apple hype machine? In my next post, I'll recount my experiences with the device since then...

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