Ipad 2 vs. Kindle Fire (Things you should know before purchasing and a tablet)

This post was written by a good friend of mine who happens to have fantastic insight on everything tech/gadget related

I recently drove my daughter to the University of Washington for her freshman year. Everything seemed to be in order—she had a new account with Wells Fargo, she had a new phone, her books, and a cozy room to share with someone who seemed sane enough. I drove home no more concerned for my daughter than I naturally should be.

Two days later, though, she called in near hysteria. Apparently, she had spilled coffee on her laptop, and hadn’t been able to revive it. When I said I’d buy her a replacement, she asked if she could also get a tablet of some sort, and said that most of her friends could accomplish more on both a social and academic level with said gadgets. For the time being, I’m replacing just the computer. Then I’ll gift her with a tablet for Christmas…but which one?

As someone who takes pride in being frugal, my gut response is to buy her an older, still well functioning Kindle Keyboard. I could solve her technological problems with just a single Ben Franklin. But not so fast: if she wanted an ad-free model that provided Wi-Fi service, we’re looking at steeper prices (somewhere between $169 and $189). That’s nearing the Kindle Fire price range. If the Fire or iPad2 can provide her with more tools for academic success, as well as for social connectivity (hey, I want my daughter to be happy, too), then maybe it is worth checking out. After all, “frugal” doesn’t just mean “cheap.” It means “cost-effective” and “resourceful.”

The new Kindle Fire is dazzling for the eye that’s accustomed to the austere, black-and-white mode of the original. It operates using the Amazon Silk browser, which means the server can process demands on both a local level, and also on the Elastic Compute Cloud. If you want to free up some space by keeping a minimal amount of books on your Kindle, you can store the rest of your data in the Cloud. However, the internal memory of the Kindle Fire weighs in at a mere 8GB, and only 6GB are usable. There is no expansion slot to help remedy this.

The iPad2, on the other hand, comes with 16GB of internal memory, with variants of 32 and 64GB should you want the upgrade. This device also operates on a cloud system called—predictably—iCloud. This is a very important factor to my daughter, who’ll be saving a lot of information on the tablet, including movies (she’s a film studies major).

There are iPads capable of operating on a 4G service, but those are much more expensive, and some compromises need to be made if I’m going to spend more money. The iPad2 is a tad heavier, but it’s also a bit sleeker. Also, she’ll want to have a working camera on her tablet, which is a feature you won’t find on the Kindle Fire. I, for one, would forego the extra expense for this, but I must keep in mind that this is an investment for my daughter, not for me. And so being frugal isn’t just about what’s cost-effective, but also about what’s durable, lasting, and appropriate for her. By the way: the iPad2’s camera? It’s capable of 720p HD video.

It’s true that the iPad2 starts at $499.99, which makes it $300 more expensive than the Kindle Fire. And it’s true that I’d leap on a Kindle model were this a purchase for myself. But the iPad2 seems more flexible, more dynamic, and more likely to thrill my daughter at Christmas. I’m all for saving money now, but I get the feeling that the Amazon Kindle ‘s cheaper price is more an apology than a bargain, and that my investment will save me more in the long run. The iPad2, therefore, is the smartest and the most cost-effective choice, the buying it will allow me to maintain a sense of frugality. Besides, as an informed consumer, I understand that time, alone, will reduce the hit on my wallet—the holidays bring deals every year, making patience as much a virtue as frugality is.



  1. Great review. For what it’s worth, I just bought a 7″ Galaxy Tab Wi-fi, (Samsung), and have been thrilled with it. I love the 7″ because it’s portable, and fits nicely in my purse.

  2. It is funny that on a website about frugality someone posts that has a daughter getting a degree in film. That doesn’t sound like a degree with a lot of job offers. Also, I would spring for the Amazon Kindle for a college kid. A broken $200 tablet feels a lot better than a broken $500+ tablet. Research finds that tablets are used primarily for gaming, movies, light email and web browsing and 40% of users enjoy their tablet on the john. In my opinion, dropping $500+ to do these tasks that a laptop can already do seems nonsensical.

  3. Saw your post in my Google Reader feed and felt I should comment. I own a Kindle 3 WiFi with special offers and love it very much. It’s the best one-trick-pony out there, but you should know one thing about it’s WiFi capabilities. It does NOT support WPA2 Enterprise encryption, so if her university uses it she won’t be able to connect. I would ask her to contact her IT folks or the faculty/leadership in her academic area what their recommendation is for that particular type of device.

    I’m on the fence between an iPad and a Kindle Fire for cost and functionality reasons. I own an Android phone but am disappointed with it overall. App crashes and general odd behavior within the operating system itself are forcing me to take a closer look at iOS again.

    Enjoyed your article!

    • For the curious, here’s the tech details about the Wifi on the Kindle Fire:

      “Supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or enterprise networks with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.”

  4. Great timing! My college senior daughter called a couple of weeks to say she would like the Nook color. She does a lot of reading and plans to live abroad. She wanted something so that she doesn’t have to pack heavy reading material. Ok, fine we’ll look into that for Christmas/Graduation gift. I had just read about the new Kindle Fire and suggested that as an option and sent her some reading material on it. I really want a new Kindle Fire but she seems to think that she still wants the Nook color. Her father has been trying to get me to buy an I-Pad! I don’t know quite which way to go. However, thanks to a commenter above I should have her check out her university and what wifi is available abroad. Would hate for her to learn that her device doesn’t work once she is overseas. Perhaps that will help us all with decisions. She does have a smartphone and a Mac laptop already.

  5. Just a minor correction if the author doesn’t mind… iPads are NOT capable of operating over 4G service… iPads operates on slower 3G service, or you could get a Wi-Fi only version.

  6. How can you possibly have a blog named “Frugal Dad” yet be planning an Apple purchase let alone the purchase of an iPad2? There is absolutely nothing frugal about any Apple product. More so, there is no “real” functional reason for an iPad. An iPad purchase is nothing but frivolous. I think it is time you change your blog title.

    I’m new to your blog, but will be unsubscribing as it is obviously not about frugality or smart spending.

    • Mark, chill a little, it is a guest post. FD has some really good stuff and I recommend you don’t bail.

  7. I have an iPad and most of what I do on it is send emails, surk the net, read books, and play some games. I like the kindles small size and I am thinking about getting a kindle fire.
    If you want a laptop get a laptop but if you just want to watch videos, send emails, watch movies, and surf the web get. Kindle.

  8. I’ve currently got an Amazon Kindle w/ keyboard, and it works well for what it is – mainly a ebook reader. I’ve been considering trading that in for a Kindle Fire, however, as it would allow me to do more than the Kindle does. More advanced web surfing, checking blogs while on the go, maybe some gaming here and there.

    I haven’ seriously considered the IPad yet, as I can’t really justify the price that is so much higher. Yes, Apple products are nice and seem to work well for the most part, but I’m not sure the premium price is worth it.

  9. Tablets are expensive luxuries, and entirely consumerist. It is not a school necessity — I teach undergrads and I hardly see any with tablets. I can’t speak to the social angle, but I strongly suggest that you instead help your daughter earn the money herself to buy a tablet — you could even be generous and offer to match every dollar she earns with a dollar to make it go faster.

    My school allowed undergrads to TA classes to earn a bit of cash on the side, and when applying to jobs/grad schools down the line, having teaching experience is a big plus. It helped take a bite out of tuition as well.

    • Warning: curtness.
      I agree with Alex. As a college senior with one well-to-do laptop, a smartphone and a plethora of campus computing resources, the ipad2-or any tablet for that matter-is nothing more than an exorbitant expense.
      I am having difficulty with your assumption that the tablet is a necessity. Tablets are not ‘investments’, they are toys (albeit fun). Tablets do not enhance authentic social prowess, but maybe some friendship will. What tablets can do, a netbook + smartphone can also do with a tangible keyboard for a fraction of the price.
      What your daughter would really benefit from is working to earn what she wants. This isn’t to say she is undeserving, or that I’m hating on your parenting. Just teach her to fish for her own brand name electronic device so she will appreciate just how much effort went into earning the money to replace that coffee-doused laptop.

  10. Some of the comments say that an ipad isn’t frugal. I’d disagree. It can save you alot of money on things like phone bills by utilizing facetime, books by buying ebooks instead. It’s as cheap as a laptop and could replace buying that. Also could keep you from buying $50 video games that you would for a PS3 or others. Plus you don’t have to buy a ipod as that’s also installed. Or a video camera or camera for that matter. Although those are the best quality on ipad 2.

    Not to mention the free apps or $1 apps on other things like alarm clocks, apps for NBC for tv, espn 3 which you could cancel your cable over.

  11. I see two problems with your post;

    First no tablet is a replacement for a laptop. Tablets don’t have keyboards, they don’t have the same I/O ports, your not going to use a tablet to write papers or software. (I’m a software developer).

    Second, your comparing apples to oranges. The Amazon Fire isn’t targeted towards the high end IPad market. They aren’t even in the same ballpark every spec on the Amazon Fire is lesser than the IPad. The Amazon Fire is for people who want a cheap tablet to surf the internet and read e-books. Plus, the Amazon Fire supports Flash!

    Honestly why pay $500.00 vs $200, if your only use of the table is going to be to surf the web and read e-books? Is the shinny apple logo worth $300.00 more?

    • I use my iPad, with a keyboard, to write papers. But you’re right, it doesn’t replace my laptop. I do often use it in conjunction with my laptop while on the go, though. Very nice having a second screen for whatever (often the web browser). And it’s a lot easier to drag around.

      You’re right on the second point, too. Apple’s marketing somehow convinced people the iPad is an ereader. Yes, you can read books on it, but you can also read books on a laptop, and that’s not really what most people mean when they think ereader.

      The Kindle Fire is more tablet than a regular Kindle, but it’s still designed primarily as a media-consumption device. It’s content-centric whereas the iPad is app-centric (granted that it also functions as a video iPod).

      So it really depends on what you’re going to use it for. For avid readers, a regular (non-Fire) Kindle is probably the best way to go. E-ink is the best for reading lots and lots. The Fire is for if you want additional content like movies or magazines. You can also do browsing or what-have-you, but (based on my experience with the Nook Color) be prepared for an inferior experience compared to an iPad for those applications.

      An iPad can do a lot more than those devices (and the experience with web and email will be better), but is not as good as a reader.

      A third option is to wait it out for the Nook Color 2 (Acclaim). It’s supposed to have a hybrid color e-ink/lcd screen. It’s supposed to be the competitor to the Kindle Fire, but based on what I’ve seen Amazon is still catching up to the Nook Color.

  12. admittedly hard to use “frugal” and “apple” in the same sentence, but if you are set on apple, you can save a few bucks by buying refurbished products, right from apple’s website. you get a discount off new, but you getthw same warranty as new.

  13. An alternative tablet has yet to be mentioned: Research In Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook is currently available for as low as $299, and boasts a much better camera than almost anything else on the market. The camera records at up to 1080p, and offers built-in HDMI out, which I can see being very handy for a film student to show movies or a portfolio on a larger screen. It’s also smaller and lighter than the iPad, and is physically very similar to the Kindle Fire. I’m very happy with mine.

  14. I am happy that a big player has finally come in with a budget tablet. Was bound to happen, same as PCs have gone down in price. This is the first step towards general price reductions on the tablets.

  15. I am a college student and just got an iPad 2 about a month ago. I highly recommend it for college students. I have a great app called notability that allows me to not only take notes in class, but to take pictures of the board when a professor demonstrates something the old fashioned way. I can put that picture directly into my notes for easy reference. I can also pull pictures off the Internet and place them in my notes when applicable. I do not have 3G service on my iPad as I just use the wifi provided by my University. I also have my books stored electronically on my iPad through the free kindle app. It’s a whole lot lighter than carrying around those heavy paper bound books. I also use my iPad to check email and yes, even Facebook. I had no idea what I was missing before I got this thing. Yes, I am posting this with my iPad. It has made my academic life a whole lot easier. Yes they are very expensive, but I feel it is an expense that gives back everything I spent on it and more.

  16. I second Robert’s Transformer vote. The keyboard makes it more useful, but it’s a bit underpowered to be called a laptop. You can easily do some writing on it or research, which is aided by the keyboard.

  17. Frugal or not, the iPad 2 is a very good product. They work….period. I’d speculate that many posters have never spent more than two minutes with one. She will enjoy the iOS 5 and the iPad 2.

    I would definitely not recommend the typical $300 netbook, If you are thinking about a laptop, get a full sized one (or the 11″ MacBook Air). The small keyboards are awful and handicap typing rather than help.

    I’ve been working with personal computers since the late 70’s, the latest Apple products are some of the best engineered I’ve had the pleasure of using.

  18. > phone bills by utilizing facetime
    Or using free Google talk/skype on a $250 eee pc. Not as shiny, nor as easy to use, but also far more powerful and general purpose. And half the price.

    > books by buying ebooks instead.
    eBooks are not necessarily frugal: often you pay almost 90% of the price of a NEW hardcover. Instead you could buy a used textbook and sell it when you’re done with it; often paying only shipping (free if you can get/sell to a student at your school). I used to rummage through dumpsters after move out and sell the textbooks (grrr rich kids) online. Made about $2000 one year with maybe 15 hours work.

    > It’s as cheap as a laptop and could replace buying that.
    An iPad is no substitute for a real computer (though arguably if you can use school computers/already have a desktop it could obviate the need for a laptop then). Computers are used to create. iPads are used to consume. Which do you wish to teach your daughter in college? A kindle is certainly no substitute for a computer either, but for the price tag you can fit a LOT of eBooks in there for reading, and I won’t lie, books are heavy.

    > Also could keep you from buying $50 video games that you would for a PS3 or others.
    There are a lot of free video games for the computer as well: flash games on various websites. They tend to be as interesting and involved as iOS games, though you do need internet to play usually. Since you don’t download anything, just play in the browser, the virus risk is minimal.

    There are also quite a few interesting video games for Windows at least available on the cheap. The humble indie bundles, for example, you actually pay what you want and the donations go to charity.

    > Plus you don’t have to buy a ipod as that’s also installed.
    It’d be fine for me since I mostly listen to music sitting at my desk, but suppose you want to go jogging with that $500 investment in your pocket:-)

    > Or a video camera or camera for that matter.
    I’m with you here.

    I don’t mean to hate on the iPad in particular or tablets in general; they’re not to my taste but I also buy luxuries — I have two (cheap) laptops in case one breaks because I absolutely cannot afford downtime. I sometimes travel by plane instead of train to visit friends and family because it’s faster and less stressful. I eat out once or twice a month. Then again, I also am older and have a stable income, of which I save about half. In the end, “frugal” is about what’s important to you — a friend of mine dumpster dives whole foods to save money on groceries, since they through out food when it starts to think about going bad. But don’t kid yourself [author], that iPad is a toy, not a school supply. And there is nothing wrong with toys, nothing at all — it’s a great joy for parents to give gifts to their children and that need not end with college. But you should think carefully about the message you’re sending — my parents would often pay some fraction of items that were both for work and play as a subsidy, or pay for a basic model and let me pay the difference on a luxury product like a mac.

    P.S. Lenovo thinkpads are more expensive than similar non-Apple computers (comparable to Apples), but they have a very carefully designed system of drainage holes in case of coffee spills. If you can pick one up used on eBay, that might be a good choice for her:-)

  19. I’m with gym-mom on this one. If it took only 2 days for your daughter to spill coffee on her laptop, will her new electronics fare better? Smart phones can do all the social stuff and even web browsing, and many have great cameras now, though it’s not as easy as a tablet. Does your daughter need more stuff to carry around with her as a distraction from actually interacting with real humans?