Kindle Fire or the New iPad?

by Scott R. Franklin, Ph.D.
Director of the Virtual Campus

One of our instructors sent us an email yesterday asking our take on whether a Kindle Fire or the new iPad might be the best investment at this point.

Here’s the question:

I am thinking of purchasing an Ipad 3 or maybe the Kindle Fire (much cheaper!).  I have an iPhone which I love and use it for everything including reading books on the Kindle app.  The idea here is that mostly I want a “tablet” to get on the Internet when traveling to check classes on Blackboard and work in BB (grading, resetting quizzes, answering e-mail, etc.), text, and check e-mail.  I do NOT use a wireless connection at home … so if I get the Ipad, I would have to pay the extra $50.00/mo for a sim card and service while the Kindle Fire, if I understand correctly, offers free Internet.

However, does either work very well with BB?

The only other thing I see using a tablet for is our observatory/astronomy and I realize you probably cannot tell me how those would work for that.  I thought I’d seek someone’s opinion who worked with an Ipad and maybe knew about these products more than I.  Any thoughts would be appreciated.

We’re beginning to acquire some mobile devices within the VC in order to fully test how they would work for our students and faculty.  I have had a personal iPad (first generation) for about a year and a half now and just recently started using one of the new iPads.  While we don’t yet have a Kindle Fire, I have done quite a bit of research on them and we’ll probably be testing one soon.

Kindle Fire or iPad?

First, let me preface any comments I have by making it clear that I’ve always been a Windows PC guy, not because I think they’re better that Macs but simply because that’s what I’ve learned to use inside and out.  That being said, I LOVE the Apple iPad for the type of use that you are describing.  It is extremely powerful and the ubiquity of apps available make it an ever expanding part of my workflow.  I use it for email, checking in on courses both through the Blackboard app and the web browser, calendaring, reading journals and blogs, kindle app, etc.

That being said, the price gap between it and the Kindle Fire might make it difficult to swallow but the newest iPad comes the closest of any tablet on the market to becoming a replacement for your laptop.  While there are certainly a few lingering duties that I must have a full-fledged laptop for, those are shrinking all the time and I can increasingly create content on my iPad.

So what about the Kindle Fire?  It’s a fine device to consuming media, e.g. reading books, surfing the web, watching videos.  It is equally functional for emails but there is one problem for you.  Kindle Fire is a Wi-Fi only device.  In order to use any online features (browsing, downloading videos or books) you must have an accessible Wi-Fi, which you have chosen not to do.  Earlier generations of the Kindle (I have a 2nd gen, myself), came with free access to 3G but the browser was extremely slow on the E-ink screen and the only real use was for downloading books.  Newer versions of the Kindle (not including the Fire) can also be purchased with 3G cards for free access to Amazon’s Whispernet, but the Kindle Fire does not have a 3G option.  If that is one of the primary deciding factors, then you should be aware that you’ll need Wi-Fi access.

One alternative that you might consider if you go with the Kindle Fire is to use your cell phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.  You can pay an additional fee to your carrier (AT&T is who I use with my iPhone) and then your iPhone can be a Wi-Fi hotspot that your Kindle connects through.

As for the iPad, the VC purchased the largest model, 64Gibabyte with Wi-Fi and AT&T LTE and the cost of the cellular data access is $30.00 for 3GB for 30 days.  You can decrease to 250 MB for 14.99 or increase to 5GB for 50.00.  We also purchased a dock and a keyboard which helps to make it even more of a laptop replacement but only when you’re sitting at a table or desk.  You could opt out of the dock and simply get a smart cover which also serves as a table top stand.

How do the work with Blackboard?

There is a Blackboard Mobile Learn App for all iOS devices and while, there is also an app for Android, it is not available on the Kindle Fire (yet?).  I expect that with time, they will expand.  Currently, the Blackboard Mobile Learn App is only accessible on Wi-Fi for iOS devices unless you are on Sprint, in which case, it’s accessible through your cellular connection as well.  Thanks to an upgrade in ours service with Blackboard, that will change in the coming weeks and all devices that can install the app will be able to use it through cellular or Wi-Fi.

On both the Kindle Fire and the iPad you can access Blackboard directly through the browser (the app is not required). However, in both cases, the only way to access Blackboard would be through the Browser and while most of the functionality works, there are bugs.  For example, instructors are unable to update grades in the gradebook.  We have successfully tested the iPad for submitting assignments and completing assessments but it is not fully support yet by Blackboard, so there are some bugs to be expected.

Best for Apps?

The last question was regarding the observatory/astronomy applications.  Receiving notifications, emails, etc. are available on both devices.  If you are at all interested in new apps that support astronomy, this is an area where the iPad will definitely come out on top just due to the number of apps available and continuing to be developed for this platform.  The Kindle Fire is an Android device but doesn’t have access to the full Android Market, only those apps that Amazon makes available specifically for their device in their store.

Conclusion

So that’s my two cents.  The Kindle Fire is an excellent device for consuming media and can function fairly well as an email and browsing device, but the powerhouse for tablet computing in this show down is the iPad.

Feel free to email me at franklins@wbu.edu if you have any more questions, or make some comments below and I’ll give you my take.

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