The Kindle Fire HD's UI is very simple. It's the same Carousel interface you may recognize from the Kindle app on an iPad or Android tablet. You slide from one type of content — Books, Apps, Docs, Newsstand, and so on — via a horizontal scroll list at the top of the screen, and the apps, media, or files for that content appear onscreen. Media windows typically divide their contents into two panes that you must switch between: one showing items previously purchased but not downloaded (Cloud) and the other showing items on your device (Device).
The Home, Back, and Add to Home Screen buttons almost always display onscreen — you have to tap the screen to see them when reading books or watching movies. But settings are hidden and you have to swipe from the top of the screen to see your settings options. The Kindle Fire HD's UI may take some time to get used to, mainly because it's so different from the approach in iOS and Android. In fact, it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. Its only real flaw is its hard sell of Amazon's content and app stores, which are frequently front and center.
The usability winner. iOS has long balanced ease-of-use with capable applications. Although some aspects of iOS are harder than they need to be, such as switching to airplane mode, overall the iPad Mini is the most usable media tablet. Thanks to its larger screen, the device is even easier to handle. However, the Nexus 7's front-and-center approach to media apps offers much more straightforward access as a media tablet out of the gate. The Kindle Fire HD is simple to use, but it oversells its stores to the point of annoyance.
It used to be that the priciest media tablet — the iPad Mini — had clearly superior hardrware, justifying its price over the cheaper but compromised Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. The new Nexus 7 changes that equation. The iPad Mini's hardware is still superior — its larger, better screen and better speakers stand out — but the Nexus 7's is now quite good, for $100 less. The value decision is a tougher calculation to make than it had been, and factors such as preferred operating system and content stores may end up determining your choice.
Fully charged, all three media tablets reviewed here ran for at least eight hours on battery power —often several hours more, with moderate use. The Kindle Fire HD and iPad Mini had a standby life of several days, whereas the Nexus 7 lasted a couple of days.
iPad Mini. The priciest media tablet is also the most souped up. It boasts the fastest processor and graphics, a usefully larger screen, and a rear camera that can take good-quality photos and videos. These make a real difference for gaming, video playback, and photography. (Note, however, that the iPad Mini lacks a flash and support for HDR photos, both of which you'll find in the current iPod Touch, iPhone, and full-size iPad.) The built-in speakers' sound is much better than that of the Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7.
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