Which $199 Tablet to Buy? Nook HD vs. Kindle Fire HD vs. Nexus 7 Review
Performance - Benchmarks and User Experience
In this section, we will be addressing both synthetic benchmarks as well as real world benchmarks. We will be using Rightware's benchmarks to quantify certain performance metrics of the processor and OS while using some other real-world benchmarks to measure things like wireless performance and battery life.
The benchmarks will consist of Rightware's BasemarkOS, Browsermark, Basemark ES2, and Basemark GUI. These benchmarks are designed to give us an idea of the whole system’s performance from top to bottom and give us an idea of what kind of performance each tablet has relative to the other. We will also be running a series of WiFi signal tests in multiple environments to understand the wireless performance of the tablets. And finally, we will be testing the battery life of the tablets to see if they live up to their claims.
, the benchmark tests four things. It runs a system test, a graphics test, a media decoding test, and a program startup test. These four tests combine to make up the BasemarkOS suite of tests and help create a composite score.
As you can see in our tests, the Nook HD actually performed the best in our system tests with a score of 304. This puts it at about 10% ahead of the Nexus 7, which scored 269 in our tests and about another 10% ahead of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD with a score of 235.
Since BasemarkOS is such an encompassing application, it also has its own battery test for tablets which we also ran. The battery test essentially takes all four of the different benchmarks and loops them repeatedly until the battery dies at which point it will record the time it took for the device to die. Considering that this is a continuous use test, we don't necessarily consider this to be entirely representative of actual usage. In our tests, the Nexus 7 got a battery life of 6.99 hours while the Amazon Kindle Fire HD got a battery life of 7.22 hours. The Nook HD also got 7 hours of battery life, so in essence they tablets under constant use will essentially get the same battery life.
In BasemarkGUI, we were testing the GPU's ability to handle graphical user interfaces smoothly with actual graphical user interfaces as benchmarks. In this benchmark, there are two scores, one being run natively on the display at the native resolution while the other is run 'off-screen' at 720P independent of the display.
The Nexus 7 scored 44.26 FPS (frames per second) native and 85.57 off-screen, while the Amazon Kindle Fire HD scored 30.18 FPS native and 51.41 FPS off-screen. Finally, the Nook HD once again outperformed the competition by scoring a native frame rate of 58.15 FPS and an off-screen score of 87.20 FPS. We found this a bit astonishing considering the added resolution of the Nook HD, but it looks like B&N beefed up the GPU quite a bit to compensate for that.
The next important benchmark for us was Rightware's Browsermark, which is their newest version of the application. This application runs in-browser and enables you to measure the performance of your browser taking into account your device's hardware. Certain browser and hardware configurations are also ranked on their site so you can see which combinations are delivering the best browsing performance and experience.
In Browsermark 2.0, The Nook HD scored the highest with a score of 2156, this is in comparison to the Nexus 7 which scored 2066, a difference of less than 5%. When one considers that both devices are running Google's Chrome browser, one begins to realize that is the reason why the performance is so close. Now, when we benchmarked Amazon's Silk browser, we were astonished discover that it only scored 1163 in Browsermark. We spoke with Rightware about the disparity between the browsers and they broke it down for us; explaining that Chrome can run CSS 3D and it also has much better page load times and responsiveness than Silk. The rest came from the fact that the Nexus and Nook can run better than the Kindle in terms of executing similar tasks. So, since we were not satisfied with this score, we side loaded the Chrome APK from our Nexus 7 and put it on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. With Chrome, we were able to get a much more reasonable score of 2019, much closer to the other two tablets. To us, this speaks volumes about the lack of maturity of Amazon's Silk Cloud Browser.
Finally, in Basemark ES2 Taji Free, we are testing the tablets’ abilities to play games and handle complex 3D graphics. This will determine how well games will perform on these tablets and could heavily sway someone towards one tablet or another. After all, many children nowadays start playing their first games on tablets, rather than consoles. In this benchmark the Nexus 7 scored a frame rate of 17.78 FPS while the Nook HD scored 15.40 FPS and the Amazon Kindle Fire HD a measly 8.92 FPS. Based on these findings, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD is clearly not meant for gaming.
WiFi performance is another aspect of tablets that gets commonly overlooked, but is likely to be one of the biggest determining factors of how a tablet's performance is perceived. This is one of the main reasons why Apple's products have some of the best WiFi performance available.
In our tests, we will be testing the signal strength of the tablets in a home environment as well as in a public environment such as a coffee shop where the network infrastructure is less stable and not a known variable. Taking into consideration that Amazon put a lot of time and effort into the WiFi antenna of the Kindle Fire HD, we figured that we would try to measure how it stacks up against the competition.
In our home scenario, we were able to get a maximum signal strength of -33 dBm using the Kindle Fire HD, this is in comparison to the Nexus 7 which got a signal strength of -42 dBm, while the Nook HD got a signal strength of -48 dBm. Take into consideration that the closer the number is to zero, the better the signal strength in this case.
Taking the tablets out to the coffee shop yielded even more interesting results. While at the Corner Bakery, we were able to lock in a signal strength of -40 dBm on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD while both the Nexus 7 and Nook HD had a much weaker -51 dBm signal strength. What stronger signal strength over WiFi provides is faster internet speeds over WiFi and improved battery life while using WiFi, as the tablet needs to use less power to get a good signal.
We also noticed that during the initial setup of the Nook HD, we actually had a lot of problems getting the WiFi to stay connected and only after a day of constant disconnections and internet connectivity errors did the problem resolve itself. Nevertheless, it seems like an odd bug that we encountered and it may lead to some users returning their tablets the day they get them.
The benefits of the Kindle Fire HD's stronger WiFi antenna were also apparent while traveling where WiFi signal can be difficult to maintain from a distance. However, with the improved dual-band antenna (2.4GHz and 5GHz), the Kindle Fire HD was able to connect to the internet when even our own laptop had issues.
Video Playbacks Tests
In this suite of real-world benchmarks, we decided that we would take an hour long episode of Top Gear and run it at 720P on all three tablets while fully charged. Upon doing so, we would then calculate the overall video playback battery life of the device based upon the amount of battery it took to playback one hour of video. This would simultaneously serve as a test of the tablet's ability to smoothly play back video and audio. We set all of the tablets to 50% brightness and set the sound to just above mute to be as fair as possible.
What we found was that the Nexus 7 consumed 7% of battery playing back one hour of video, while the Amazon Kindle Fire HD consumed 12% and the Nook HD consumed 9%. That means that in our scenario, the Nexus 7 could theoretical play back 14 hours of video and the Nook HD 11 hours of video, while the Amazon Kindle Fire HD could only play back 8 hours and 20 minutes. We do not necessarily expect these one hour results to be reflected in a linear manner across the full life of the battery, so these estimations are purely theoretical. However, they should still be fairly close to what you can expect in the real world using low-resistance headphones rather than the onboard speakers.
Speaking of onboard speakers, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD was by far the loudest, with the Nook HD coming in second and Nexus 7 being the quietest. The Kindle Fire HD was the only tablet that was actually designed to properly deliver stereo sound in landscape (full resolution video mode). Both the Nexus 7 and Nook HD have their speaker(s) at the bottom of the tablet when held in portrait mode and on the right in landscape. Taking the speakers into account, they should reduce our estimated battery life by about 10-15% of the tablet if used.
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