Comparing the pros and cons, costs and features, between Apple's iPad 2 and iPod touch, and Amazon's new Kindle Fire

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Which should you get?

Trying to decide between an Apple iPad 2 or iPod touch and an Amazon Kindle, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else? There's a lot to consider -- the quality and dimensions of the hardware, the features and flexibility of the operating system, the availability and diversity of the content, the difference in cost and value, and we'll take you through all of it, point by point, to help you decide.

Location

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Location

The first and easiest filter is simple geography. If you live outside the U.S., Amazon has such limited content support that it might as well be non-existant. Apple by contrast has good support for apps and increasing support for music, movies, and more around the world.

  • Kindle is U.S.-centric
  • iPad and iPod touch have better international support

Cost

iPad is literally twice the price of the Kindle Fire and while an argument can be made that the iPad is by far a better value, if you only have $200 in your budget, you're better off considering the Kindle Fire or the much smaller iPod touch.

  • iPad starts at $499
  • Kindle Fire is $199
  • iPod touch starts at $199

Mobility

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Mobility

iPad has a 9.7-inch screen. Kindle Fire has a 7-inch screen. iPod touch has a 3.5-inch screen. The iPad is good for running more expansive apps and immersive content, the iPod touch for more on-the-go, interstitial use. The Amazon Fire is a great compromise between the two size.

  • iPad is large and heavy, portable but not mobile, requires a travel bag
  • Kindle Fire is medium sized, can fit in most large pockets
  • iPod touch is small and ultra-mobile, easy to carry anywhere

Connectivity

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Connectivity

If you need to access the internet away from your home, work, school, or other Wi-Fi hotspot, currently only the iPad has a 3G option. If you don't have easy access to a Mi-Fi or tethering, Kindle Fire and iPod touch go offline.

  • iPad has 3G option
  • Kindle Fire and iPod touch are Wi-Fi only

Hardware

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Hardware

The iPad has amazing fit and finish and is absolutely best in class in most areas, with the notable exception of the rather pathetic front and rear cameras. The iPod touch is similar, though has a lower screen technology (no inter-plane switching) to keep costs down as well. The Amazon Kindle Fire uses the BlackBerry Playbook chassis which is great but not Apple great.

  • iPad is high-quality glass and aluminum with excellent display
  • Kindle fire is good quality, re-purposed plastic with good display
  • iPod touch is high-quality glass and aluminum with okay display

Software

Apple built the iPad and the iPod touch to fully take advantage of their iOS operating system, including all the great features like FaceTime for free video calls, tons of great built-in apps, and Safari, the best mobile browser in the business. Amazon has built a special version of Google's Android Gingerbread OS specifically tied to the Amazon store and to best show off Amazon store content. Because it's a "fork" of Android, it doesn't get Google's apps like Gmail, Navigation, or Market.

  • iPad and iPod touch run full version of iOS for multi-function usage
  • Kindle Fire runs special Amazon fork of Android optimized for buying and consuming Amazon content

Support

Apple has retail stores throughout the U.S. and in many cities around the world. In addition to their online and phone support, the ability to walk into an Apple Store and take a free class on how to setup and use your device, or get a Genius Bar appointment to fix it, can be invaluable. Amazon is the world's largest online retailer with a stellar reputation for online support.

  • iPad and iPod touch have not only online and phone support, but Apple Retail and Genius in-person support.
  • Amazon Kindle Fire has online support.

Apps and games

Apple still has the most apps in mobile, including over 100,000 specifically built to take advantage of the larger iPad screen and over a half-a-million for iPod touch. If games are a consideration, the App Store typically gets them first and with the best, most fluid graphics. Amazon has built their own version of the Android market with less content but arguably better curation than Google's.

You can also get a Kindle and other Amazon apps -- and Google apps -- for iPad and iPod touch, but you can't get Apple apps for the Kindle Fire.

  • iPad has access to purpose-built large-screen iPad apps as well as iPhone/iPod touch App Store apps
  • Kindle Fire has access to Amazon appstore approved Android apps
  • iPod touch has access to most iPhone App Store apps

Accessories

iPad vs. iPod touch vs. Kindle Fire: Accessories

Both the iPad and iPod touch have been on the market for years and have tons of great cases and other accessories available. Also, Apple allows accessories to connect via dock port, Bluetooth or AirPlay, meaning you can connect your iPad or iPod touch to a wide arrange of gear and gadgets, everything from cars to cameras to Apple TV, to special-purpose scientific instruments. Amazon Kindle Fire is just hitting the market so it will take a while for a lot of accessories to come out.

  • iPad and iPod touch have huge variety of accessories available
  • Amazon Kindle will take a while to ramp up accessories

Future-proofing

There will likely be an iPad 3 sometime next spring, potentially with a double-density display and other hardware improvements. There was no new iPod touch this year but there might be one next fall. Both, however, are mature, well supported products and if you want either now, you'll get a great device now. The Amazon Kindle Fire is a brand new device and inarguably an immature one at this point. Amazon will no doubt introduce a new, hopefully much better, hopefully much more internationally supported, Kindle Fire sometime next year. If you're not dying for one now, you might be better off waiting.

  • New iPad 3 likely in spring, but iPad 2 is solid now
  • New Kindle Fire sometime next year, current Kindle Fire immature
  • New iPod touch likely next fall, but current iPod touch is good now

Bottom line

While this is an iPad and iPod touch blog, and we're no doubt biased, the Amazon Kindle Fire is so new, so U.S.-centric, and so obviously intended to be little more than a front end to the Amazon Store that it's tough to recommend. Future versions could be outstanding, but right now you have to really not want an iPad or iPod touch, and really want an Amazon tablet to get the Kindle Fire.

  • The iPad is best if the big size is a plus and not a minus for you, if you want the most apps optimized for the most screen real-estate, if you want 3G connectivity, and something that can better replace a laptop or netbook for light computing work.

  • The Kindle Fire is best if you live in the U.S. and are a heavy user of the Amazon Store, if you want something smaller, lighter, and cheaper than an iPad but bigger than the iPod touch, and if media focus and pocket-ability is more important than flexibility for your needs.

  • The iPod touch is best if you want the smallest, lightest, cheapest, most mobile solution possible, if you want the most app and accessory choice available, if you want something that's as close to a phone-style experience that possible without being a phone.

Addenda: Other tablets

We didn't include other Android tablets here because they're simply not a mainstream alternative at this point, but if you're a hardcore Android enthusiast head on over to Android Central for a ton of coverage and help choosing between the myriad brands, sizes, and implementations, including the Barnes and Nobles Nook Tablet, which may be something to consider if you're leaning towards the Kindle Fire.

If you're a diehard BlackBerry enthusiast, check out CrackBerry.com for all the PlayBook info, and if you're lucky enough to find a webOS TouchPad still on the market, PreCentral.net has you covered.