But what about for playing media? Here, the decision is a bit more complex.
Video playback. Many product reviews zero in on the tablet's pixel count, but that's usually a meaningless figure. The quality of the image rarely correlates to total pixels, so my evaluation is based on subjective image quality.
The iPad Mini's screen is the best of the three media tablets reviewed here, with a brighter display and a better tonal range. By contrast, the Kindle Fire HD's screen is both dark and muddy. The new Nexus 7 has a much improved screen compared to the original model, which suffered the same quality issues as the Kindle Fire HD. The new Nexus 7's screen is brighter and has a good tonal range, close to the iPad Mini's quality level. But the Nexus 7's screen is quite a bit smaller than the iPad Mini's — readily apparent if you play a movie on the two side by side.
A full-size, third- or fourth-gen iPad screen has even better color range and details, though honestly you only notice the differences in nature films and sci-fi epics, where high-def images are accentuated. Your typical comedy film or TV show appears the same on both types of iPad screens — and on the new Nexus 7's screen. But an issue with all three tablets is their screens' reflectivity: Even in cloudy daylight skies, you'll see a reflection of your face constantly in view.
In addition to the dingy look and the unpleasant cast that puts on videos, the Kindle Fire HD suffered from periodic stutters during playback, even of video stored on the device. Neither the iPad Mini nor Nexus 7 had playback stutters.
Audio playback. All the media tablets support standard audio jacks for private listening on the headphones or earbuds of your choice. All three also support Bluetooth audio streaming, and the iPad Mini supports Apple's proprietary AirPlay streaming over Wi-Fi networks to compatible speakers or, via an Apple TV, to stereos and TVs.
For direct audio, the full-size iPad has long suffered from having a mono speaker, though one with good clarity and tonal balance. The iPad Mini adds stereo — and wins hands down. You can crank the iPad Mini louder than the other two tablets, without the distortion the Kindle Fire HD has at maximum volume. The new Nexus 7 can get almost as loud as the iPad Mini, but with the surround sound option switched on (the default), you'll often hear distortion when music is playing (not so much for dialog).
The quality of the iPad Mini's speakers is good enough for boom-box-style use, such as at a party or in a conference room, though at maximum volume a flatness creeps in, likely due to the iPad Mini's thin chassis. To optimize the audio, the iPad Mini's Settings app has equalizer preselects you can choose, but no tool to set your own EQ settings.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.