Cheap tablet, meet Apkudo. Apkudo, meet cheap tablet!

There’s no doubt that Amazon’s Kindle Fire has been a runaway success since it launched Q4 ‘11. Part of the success is due to its affordable price of $199, enabling it to appeal to a wider audience – something many other Android tablets in the past have struggled to achieve.

However, the caveat of the affordable tablet not being Google certified predominantly means it doesn’t have access to Google’s content services, instead, relying on Amazon’s own offerings. Although Amazon’s application store is nothing to sneeze at, its 31,000 apps (March 2012) is a small handful compared to Android’s share of almost 500,000 apps.  It boiled down to this: purchase a cheaper tablet without some of the Google apps and features, or kiss a bunch more hard earned benjamins goodbye for one with the whole Google experience.

But then, why can’t we have both?

Google answers and fills this void with the recently released Nexus 7; a light, affordable and well-built, tablet sporting the latest Android 4.1.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ OS. Announced at Google I/O 2012, the Nexus 7 aims to place a Google Certified Android tablet into more hands, all while maintaining good user experience through the harmony of leading edge hardware and thorough software.

Although released at different time frames (Q4 ’11 for the Kindle and Q3 ’12 for the Nexus), both tablets target a similar market given their likeness in form factor and price point. With both the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 in our labs we put them through the ringer by performing the entire Apkudo Device Analytics suite on both tablets and characterizing their respective user experiences. If you’ve got a Kindle Fire and you’re wondering how the Nexus 7 stacks up against it, look no further.

Display

The Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 sport pretty extrinsically similar displays. Both are IPS. Both feature Corning scratch-resistance glass. Both span 7”. Both can render 16 million colors. Both support multi-touch. However, that’s about where abundance of similarities ends. To start, the Nexus 7 has a significantly wider viewing angle. Placed within a sealed, light absorbing box, the Nexus 7 loses 50% lux at a 45 degree angle as opposed to viewing it straight on. Now, this might seem like a lot, but it’s one of the best results we’ve seen, and significantly better than the Kindle Fire’s loss of almost 90% lux given the same setup.

Another area where we often see shortcomings is the color temperature of displays. Device displays (both phones and tablets) often appear as though they were lit up by a solid blast of UV lighting, completely ruining the experience of anything projected onto the display. The Kindle Fire does reasonably well here, clocking in at 7600K; slightly high, but not enough to be causing any detrimental color tints. However, the Nexus 7 really brings it home with an average temperature of 6800K (a widely accepted ideal is 6500K), producing colors that appear pleasantly neutral without any noticeable tints.

Figure 1: Kindle Fire

Tablets are a great way to display photos and such due to their combination of good portability and a relatively large screen. As you’ll see in Figure 1, despite the Kindle Fires’ display’s ability to support 16 million colors, its photo gallery proves to be the weakest link as significant banding is evident. This might cause nice images to appear choppy, especially if there’s a nice gradual gradient – a sunset, for example.

Figure 2: Nexus 7

On the other hand, the Nexus 7 performs significantly better. We can still spot small amounts of banding particularly near the dark end of the spectrum in Figure 2, so it’s not perfect, but definitively smoother. Does this make or break a device? Not entirely, but these small things all add up to shape the user experience. Not only is good hardware important, but the software needs to be able to utilize it – kinda like having a roaring V8, but then an electronic speed limiter stuck at 30mph.

Touch Screen

Not all touch screens are created equal, and the digitizers used in the Kindle and Nexus are no exception. Although both demonstrate very good touch accuracy throughout the touch panel, the Kindle excels at edge tracking where the Nexus 7 experiences some slightly abnormal traits. Where a trailing edge is concerned on the Nexus 7, touch points develop a tendency to stick along the edge like a meniscus. Although not a deal breaker by a large margin, it is in stark contrast to the Kindle which tracks straight and true all the way to the edge, resulting in a higher R-squared value that corresponds to the straight-line relationship between each point and its line of best fit. So what does this all mean? Basically, the Kindle Fire will detect your finger with better pin-point accuracy than the Nexus 7… just.

Figure 3: Nexus 7

Figure 4: Kindle Fire

Both devices claim to support multi-touch – the ability to recognize the presence of two or more points of contact with the surface. While technically correct, they do support more than 1 simultaneous touch, the Kindle only supports 2 touches. The Nexus 7 on the other hand maxes out at 10 detectable touches (we tried 11 points with an extra hand, but alas, 10 it is). Besides the limitation of 2 touch points, the other characteristic that really hurts the Kindle is the loss of all points upon a 3rd point present on the screen. While you might not actually USE three points too often, the accidental presence of a 3rd point is not unheard of, especially when you’re hammering away at a favorite game.

Audio

Audio analysis is also performed, with the Nexus 7 outclassing the Kindle Fire in almost every aspect. One way of determining the accuracy of audio reproduction is by measuring the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), that is, the amount of unwanted overtones (harmonics) arising from the playback of a particular note. At a fundamental frequency of 1kHz measuring  harmonics up to 20Khz, THD on the Nexus 7 is low enough to be largely unnoticeable throughout low, medium and high volumes. Things aren’t quite as smooth for the Kindle, with up to 18% THD at lower volume levels. Noticeable amounts are around 1% to 5%.

Another way of determining audio quality is by measuring the amount of background noise compared to the intended signal – that is, the ratio between everything you want to hear, against everything that you don’t. The difference between the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire at average volume settings of 50% is night and day. Positioned as a media device, the Nexus 7 doesn’t disappoint, producing a clean signal with a high SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) of 91.5dB. On the other hand, the Kindle Fire disappoints slightly, with significantly poorer performance. As seen below, the Nexus 7 produces an extremely clean signal, whereas the Kindle appears very messy. End result? You’ll hear clearer sound and less hissing on the Nexus 7.

Figure 5: Nexus 7

Figure 6: Kindle Fire

Volume levels are also much better on the Nexus 7. Through the headphone jack, the Nexus 7 offers peak-to-peak amplitudes that are up to twice as high as the Kindle Fire (950mV vs 1900mV). Peaking at over 90dB at 3ft, the external speaker on the Nexus 7 tells a similar tale with an approximate 20dB gain over the Kindle Fire. Let’s face it. You buy a tablet to consume different types of media. These results are important because a high and clear output volume ensures the clarity of sounds during various media file playback so you can hear and enjoy them better.

Browser

We also performed a few quick browser tests to demonstrate some performance differences. Besides various standard benchmarks freely available, a speed test is also performed to determine the overall speed at which the device and default browser open up a list of top 25 webpages. As a testament to the overall speed of Jelly Bean and the Quad+1 core Tegra 3 processor, the Nexus 7 powers through each test and benchmark with significantly better results than the Kindle.

Conclusion

Combining leading edge hardware and supporting software in an affordable package makes the Nexus 7 the true winner amongst Android tablets. At the same price point as the popular Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 increases performance in many aspects such as display, audio, touch screen and browser performance, giving it the cost and user experience advantage to compete with more expensive offerings. The inclusion of stock Android on the Nexus 7 presents users with a raw, unadulterated experience without compromising access to Google services, enabling it to reach a market otherwise unavailable to the Kindle Fire.

All in all, the Nexus 7 is an outstanding device that encompasses and builds upon many of the defining aspects of the Kindle Fire that made it the runaway success that it was.

-Ben Tseng
Director, Device Analytics

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