With the debut of Barnes & Noble's Nook HD, the competition to make the best 7-inch tablet appears to be a three-company race: Barnes & Noble with the Nook; Google (with an assist from Asus) and its Nexus 7; and Amazon, with both its recently-debuted Kindle Fire HD and its super-cheap original Kindle Fire, which still ranks on price.
While all tablets are likely to have most of the mainstream content a reader might want, Amazon and the Kindle Fire seem to offer the best selection in terms of content across books, videos and magazines. The new Nook offers the best display and is the lightest and thinnest of the tablets -- though all four are fairly light and offer attractive screens. Nexus 7 has the most robust operating system for those who want to use their tablet for something other than consuming media. All four tablets have email access and allow users to browse the web.
All four tablets also suffer from a lack of 3G or 4G capability and a relatively poor app selection (app store numbers offered by the companies are inflated, as a majority of the apps counted are apps optimized for the smartphone rendered onto a 7-inch tablet). The current offerings are also about to face a new threat with the entrance of an Apple product into the market, as the company's 7.6-inch iPad Mini is expected to debut this October.
Which 7-inch tablet is right for you likely depends on your specific needs. In very simple terms, I like the Nexus 7 for web browsing and email; the Kindle Fire HD provides the most complete movie-watching and book-reading experience; the Nook HD is a good lightweight travel tablet with a screen built especially well for reading magazines; and the original Kindle Fire remains a bargain value LCD reader with full Internet capability. Again, however, all four can browse the web, are light enough to hold in one hand, have a nice display and are relatively cheap. It's all a matter of taste, as they say.
Decisions, decisions! It's a good idea -- no, a great idea -- to try before you buy, and do some research before you dust off the ol' credit card. Below, we've compared the four tablets in terms of their specs, to give you a general idea of what each mini-slate has to offer. Which one is right for you? Which company do you think is making the best 7-inch tablet? Let us know in the comments.
*Battery life times taken from manufacturer websites.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the chart listed the Nexus 7 as not having a camera. It does have a front-facing camera. Also, this post previously stated that either version of the Nook HD has 1GB of RAM, due to an error in a Barnes & Noble press release. This has been corrected as well.