Without a doubt, one of the top electronic items on many people’s wish list this holiday season will be a tablet. Although tablets have been on the market for a few years, tablets as a gift for the average consumer did not become a popular until the introduction of the Apple iPad in April of 2010. After the enormous success of the first iPad, Apple introduced iPad2 earlier this year. Version 2 featured a slicker design, faster processor, and two cameras, amongst other features. The base cost for the second generation iPad however is a whopping $499. That price is higher than you may see on some of the lower end notebooks used predominantly for surfing the web and data processing applications (termed netbooks). Despite this, we can expect that thousands of units will be sold this holiday season.  However, because of the price, the iPad2 may be nothing more than a dream for many consumers given the current economic conditions. This, of course, may lead to “electronic envy” as we all return to school or work after the holiday season. But, is the iPad2 worth the $499 price tag?

Two of Apple’s biggest competitors in the tablet market, Amazon* and Barnes & Noble, don’t seem to think so. Each company recently introduced much cheaper tablet options. Their tablets both contain fewer functions and features than iPad2 at 50% or more below iPad2’s base price. So, are they right with their assumption? Of course, it would be tough to obtain a unanimous answer, meaning we all would agree with them. However, they are betting that most consumers would answer.

Whether you believe Amazon and Barnes & Noble or you believe Apple, really, the most important question is which is best for you? I will try to answer the questions as a frugal shopper on a budget for the holiday season. If you are not frugal like me or you may be considering another tablet, hopefully my answers will lead you to the best answer for you if you are in the market for a tablet.

Let us set the criterion for evaluation of the three tablets by looking at how all three companies are marketing their tablets. Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble are market their tables as light weight portable devices that can be used for the following purposes:

  • Electronic reader
  • Email reader and writer
  • Video player
  • Note taking device
  • Gaming device with touch screen control
  • Video camera and still pictures (iPad only)

When designing electronic items, especially ones where human interaction is desired, it is difficult to balance ergonomics with customer desires. Often, delivering one piece of the wish list puzzle to a customer is detrimental to the delivery of another. Nowhere is this truer than with portable consumer electronics. For example, deliver a thin device and the consumer may have to give up long battery life. If consumer insists on both, then the price increases.  As a consumer, you have to keep this in mind when listing your demands for a tablet or any other electronic device. Therefore, you should compile a list of minimum requirements you need in order to satisfy you. The only way to do this is to form the list based on your general habits and lifestyle.

What I have done is assumed that I am the average US consumer (Average Joe/Jane) in the market for a tablet.  Based on Average Joe/Jane’s lifestyle I have compared the three tablets on some key features with the ultimate goal of finding the best fit for Average Joe/Janes’ needs. At the same time, I am careful not to go crazy considering features that would be excessive based on Joe/Jane’s lifestyle especially considering that most features in electronic items go unused. Therefore, I will focus on the following features: price, portability, storage space, video quality, physical size, screen dimensions, and audio quality.

Price – I did not calculate the average price of tablets on the market. Rather, I just compared the three. The iPad2 base price is $499. The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet boast prices of $199 and $249 respectively. Thus the winner in this category is the Kindle Fire.

Portability – According to AAA the average US traveler, during the busiest travel season of the year (Thanksgiving), will travel on average 706 (353 each way) miles round trip of which 90% will be done in personal automobiles. If each traveler goes an average of 55 mph that would mean each trip would take 6 hr 24 mins. I will use this time as the basis for determining adequate battery life and necessary playback time for the tablets. Based on this criterion, all three devices met and exceeded my minimum expectations.

Data Storage -All three tablet manufactures currently offer FREE cloud storage for individuals needing additional space. Therefore, in terms of user content, only the content needed during your time away from Wi-Fi is of great concern. So, once again, I use the data from AAA to determine the minimum amount of content needed for typical travel times. All three tablets have a minimum of 8GB of on board storage. This is enough to store a few movies (2-3) plus music, books and the apps.

Wireless – The only difference between the three is iPad2’s support of IEEE 802.11a support. However, this format is rarely used anymore. The only consumers that should be concerned with this format (and IEEE802.11b) are individuals that purchased routers when they were relatively new. Therefore, I say they all meet the minimum standard.

Weight – Without a clear way to determine an average acceptable weight I have compared the three and have declared a winner in this category based on lowest weight. The Nook Tablet, the winner in this category, is the lightest of the three devices at 400 grams followed by the Kindle Fire at 413 grams and the iPad2 at 601grams.

Hardware Dimensions – To determine a comfortable size for a tablet, I used the typical dimensions of a novel. Many novels are between the size of Duodecimo and Octavo (scale of the American Library Association). Although each tablet comes with either a carrying case or protective cover for transport, tablets between the sizes listed above should fit into most lady purses for easy carrying. The only tablet of the group that does not meet these sizes is the iPad2. Therefore the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are the winners in this category.

Screen Size – For Duodecimo and Octavo sized books, the readable area (or area within the margins) is approximately 7 inches (diagonal). Each tablet has at least a screen 7 inches (diagonal).

Video Quality – The closer you are to a video display the easier it is to see the pixels. Because tablets are meant to be personal devices, it would be easier for a user to see the pixels in a device with fewer pixels per inch (ppi) than to see the pixels in a device with higher ppi. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet have a 169 ppi resolution while the iPad2 has a 132 ppi. Therefore in this category I give them both the highest score of 3.

Video Input – The iPad2 is the only of the three tablets to have a camera. In fact it has two, a forward and a backward facing camera. However using the iPad2 as a camera (backward facing), seems a bit awkward because of the size and shape. For this reason I give the iPad2 a high score of 3 only for the forward facing camera that can be used for activities applications like video phone.

Audio Output – All three tablets have built-in speakers. The Kindle Fire is the only one that has stereo speakers. However, this does not warrant a higher score for the Kindle. Based on the distance between the speakers and the distance the average user would hold the Kindle away from his/her head, much of the stereo effects from the audio output would be lost. Audio waves propagate in all directions from the source. The lower frequency sound waves from the left and right speakers will merge causing the loss of some of the stereo effect. If you are interested in true stereo sound, use headphones with your tablet for the best results. All three tablets have stereo output jacks.

Table: Feature Comparision

Feature Average iPad Kindle Fire Nook Tablet
Base Price n/a 1 3 2
Battery Life necessary for typical length road trip 6hrs 24mins. x x x
On board storage necessary for continuous video playback on a typical length trip 6hrs 24mins. x x x
Wireless Wi-fi  b/g/n x x x
Weight n/a 1 3 2
Hardware Dimensions (WxH) in cm Duodecimo or Twelvemo (7 3/8 × 5 inches) but no larger than Octavo (9 × 6 inches) x x
Screen size Duodecimo Reading Area
Approx. (diagonal) 7 inches
x x x
Screen Resolution
Pixels per inch
n/a 1 2 2
Built-in Audio Outputs Speakers 3 3 3
Built-in Video Inputs Camera 2 1 1
Total n/a 10 15 13

In the table, x indicates meets minimal expectations based on averages (or norms) developed from human habits and/or prior consumer items. Numbers are used to score performance in a category where no clear norm exists. 3=high 1=low

After summing up the Xs and the numbers in from each category we have a winner. Based on the comparisons, if I am Average Joe/Jane would choose the Kindle Fire. It is $50 cheaper than the Nook Tablet and slightly edges out the Nook Tablet. It delivers many of the minimum required features for Average Joe/Jane for $300 less than iPad2. The main differences between the two are the cameras. If a camera is that important, take the additional $300 and buy a camera that you can turn in any direction and that will be much more comfortable to use.

*C.A. Lettsome Services, LLC is an affiliate of Amazon.