The iPad's goal is to be the belle of the ball, the tablet computer that dazzles you with its high-quality touchscreen, its thin frame and its gorgeous interface. The Kindle Fire, meanwhile, is more like the cheap date that doesn't have all the bells and whistles but that nevertheless impresses you with its integrated applications and services. All that said, it's still useful to compare each tablet's key features to get a sense of what you're getting before you lay down your cash for either one.
Hardware: The iPad 2 set the standard for tablet hardware earlier this year with its A5 1GHz dual-core processor, its 720p video camera, its lithium-polymer battery that sustained up to 10 hours of Wi-Fi web surfing and its internal storage options of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The Kindle Fire also features a dual-core processor but it lacks a camera, its battery only supports eight hours of consecutive reading even with its Wi-Fi connectivity shut off, it only has 8GB of internal storage and it can only connect to Wi-Fi networks. The edge here certainly goes to the iPad.
Display screen: Once again, the Kindle Fire isn't really on par with the iPad here as its seven-inch, 1024x600-pixel display screen is nearly three inches smaller than the iPad's 9.7-inch, 1024x768-pixel display screen. The Kindle Fire's main advantage is that it's more portable like traditional Kindle e-readers and it's lighter to carry around than the iPad.
Operating systems and applications: The iPad, of course, uses Apple's iOS platform that has proven to be a huge hit with consumers and is the gold standard for mobile operating systems in terms of ease of use. The Kindle Fire uses Amazon's own rendition of Google's Android platform and tightly integrates its own applications into the mix rather than rely on Google. As you might expect, then, the iPad features the Apple App Store while the Kindle Fire features Amazon's version of the Android Market that only allows apps pre-approved by Amazon on board.
Cloud capabilities: This is the space where the Kindle Fire has the most potential to thrive. First of all, Amazon is heavily touting its new Amazon Silk Web browser that is directly integrated with its Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2) to deliver users' favorite web pages at faster loading times than other browsers. The browser keeps track of pages you visit frequently and essentially pre-orders the page through the EC2 when it thinks you're about to request it. That way, when you do finally request it, Amazon's cloud will have it ready to go for you and will push it right out onto your tablet.
And that's not all! The Kindle Fire also gives you free cloud-based storage for all applications, songs, books and videos that you purchase through Amazon.com. This means that you won't have to waste any of your 8GB of internal storage on your MP3 collection since Amazon will gladly push it out to you through the cloud when you need it.
For its part, Apple plans on releasing its iCloud service on all its devices later this year that will give you 5GB of free storage for email, documents and backup. ICloud will also feature an iTunes in the cloud service that lets you sync up all the music you've purchased from the iTunes store and push it out to your devices. Apple is also offering iTunes Match, a software program that scans over music in your iTunes Library that you haven't purchased from the store and tries to find a match for it on its online database of more than 18 million songs. Unlike other iCloud services, however, this one isn't free and will cost you $25 per year to maintain.
Adobe Flash support: This one's simple: The Kindle Fire supports it, the iPad 2 does not.
Price: For many people the Kindle Fire's $199 price tag will be its strongest selling point, particularly if they're loyal Amazon customers who won't mind having only 8GB of internal memory since their entire music, book and video library is already in the Amazon cloud to begin with. For comparison, the cheapest iPad model is the $499 Wi-Fi-only model that allows for 16GB of internal storage. And yes, the lack of camera and microphone on the Kindle Fire means that you're both paying less and getting less than you are with the iPad, but is it really $300 less? That's for you to decide.