Which tablet for my mom?
November 8, 2012 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Should my mom buy a Kindle Fire HD or an iPad mini? International edition.

My mom emailed me this morning to ask my advice about buying herself a Kindle Fire HD. She says she wants to use it for email, reading books, magazines and "anything else it can do without getting too complicated". I'm not sure how good the Kindle Fire HD is, and I tend towards the iPad for the simplicity and ease of use - I'm a mac convert myself. My mom has a Windows netbook, but never uses it because she finds it confusing. She tends to use my Stepdad's Macbook instead. The iPad mini is out of her price range, but I could theoretically kick in the extra for her Christmas gift so she could have an iPad instead. Note, I have already read this question.

Now the complicating factor - my Mom is British and lives in France. She doesn't really speak much French. She live a very long way from the nearest Apple store. I read an article (here) suggesting that Amazon's offerings are weak outside of the US, which further makes me question the Kindle's value to her. But is this really an issue?

I know my question as written makes it sound like I'm looking for permission to buy her an iPad, but I just want to research this thoroughly and be sure that the extra money is really needed, or maybe the Kindle is just going to be great for her after all.

Finally, Kindle Fire HD, iPad mini or refurb iPad2? Where should it be bought from? How region-locked are all these things? I know the iPad is region-locked by your iTunes account country, what about the Kindle? I don't want to buy her a Kindle from amazon.fr if that locks her into French amazon only, since she barely speaks French.
posted by Joh to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How are her hands? The lighter weight and smaller size of An iPad Mini might be best. She can get Kindle or Nook or non-drm books on it; with a Fire HD she's locked into Amazon. If you want her to be region locked to you, set up her iTunes account here.

Simplicity, ease of use, iPad Mini.
posted by tilde at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2012

But is this really an issue?

The interface for the Fire is designed mainly to consume and present Amazon-bought books, movies and music. Unless you root it and replace its Amazon-flavored Android operating system with Google-flavored Android, she will be mostly stuck with whatever options are available for her residential situation and the licensing agreements for media in France, without applying workarounds. So that could become a tech support or maintenance issue for you and/or her.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I promise not to threadsit - but here's relevant followup. Her hands are a bit shaky, but I think she's capable of holding either size iPad on her lap.

BP, it sounds like you are saying that she will be stuck with French Amazon because she lives in France, irrelevant of where her amazon account is, or where the kindle is bought?
posted by Joh at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2012

Amazon's offerings can indeed be weak outside of the US. Here's how it works:

1) If you live in the US, you buy from Amazon.com and get their widest selection of books, magazines etc.

2) If you live in Europe, the situation is complicated by where in Europe you live. For example, I've got an Irish Amazon account, tied to an Irish credit card, so I buy from Amazon.com but am locked out of some of their US content. This is extremely annoying.

3) If you've got a UK Amazon account, tied to a UK credit card, you buy from Amazon.co.uk, which has a more limited selection than Amazon.com but, in some cases, a slightly better selection than Amazon.com-as-accessed-from-Ireland.

4) There's also a French Amazon site, but if your mother doesn't speak much French, it won't be useful to her. Note that in all cases, it's the credit card that dictates where your account is locked to, not where you bought the Kindle from.

If that all sounds confusing, it's because it really is. The frustrating thing about buying Kindle content from somewhere like Ireland is that you can often see that content is available, just not available to you. I imagine someone less tech-savvy might not understand what the hell is going on in that situation. The Apple Store is a lot simpler, in that it just won't show you anything that isn't available to buy from your territory.

For what it's worth, I'd go for the iPad Mini. Your mom might decide she wants to do more than just consume content, and the iPad will be better all around for that.
posted by anaximander at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Blazecock is correct that the business model of the Kindle Fire is basically to funnel you into Amazon services. And that's great for shopping, eBooks, video . . . in the US.

That fact, plus the reality that you will likely be doing tech support from afar screams: iPad Mini.
posted by donovan at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2012

I don't think you're thread sitting. I asked because it's relevant. Use some of the answers in this thread for a guide. A couple of pillows she can prop it on, a few comfortable styluses. A grippy back cover, et cetera.
posted by tilde at 1:56 PM on November 8, 2012

I have never ever recommended that anyone go Apple before, but if those are your only options, iPad and no question. The Fire is a consumption device and outside of the US it's hamstrung. If you're living in one country but want material from another it has the potential to be a nightmare.

I'd consider the Nexus 7 over either, though. Lighter than the Fire, cheaper than the mini, better hardware than both.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

By the way (not to answer sit) but the mini also because of the Lightning cable - easier to put in and out (I don't think she'll need that charger plate I mentioned in the one-armed thread). Also, data point, the 90-year old friend we gave the ipad2 to really liked the Apple magnet cover. If the grippy back is thin enough, still should work, YMMV.
posted by tilde at 2:01 PM on November 8, 2012

Ive never been to France, but I have a Kindle Fire and my mother has an iPad. We went to Hong Kong and China over the summer and I have found that it was a lot easier to obtain, download and use the iPad than the Kindle. The reason is the same as anaximander was mentioning, where it was not easy to navigate through Amazon because of the Amazon account. I had plenty on the Kindle, so I wasn't frustrated by the problem, but I was only there on holiday rather than to stay. The iPad was a lot easier to navigate to obtain apps and language was not an issue. I would have had to try to navigate through an Amazon in Chinese through their Chinese site.

I would suggest the iPad. As for the mini vs. a new or refurb iPad, it is a size issue (though a smaller ipad is also a smaller price!) It wouldn't make a huge difference if you get a refurb or new with what your mom will be using it for, but the price for a refurb isn't big enough of a dent that I would just put money in for and get your mom the new iPad.
posted by Yellow at 2:01 PM on November 8, 2012

BP, it sounds like you are saying that she will be stuck with French Amazon because she lives in France, irrelevant of where her amazon account is, or where the kindle is bought?

It's the credit card associated with the Amazon account, as anaximander notes.

I've tested the Nexus 7 on an extended basis, own a first-gen Fire (and rooted it to compare OSes), and I've found I often need to tap things twice to get a response with both devices. The Android interface is confusing and IMO is still not as responsive as iOS. You have to install extra software to get screen autorotation to work, when no-brainer stuff like that should be built in. YMMV, but definitely try before you buy, if you can.

I'm biased for suggesting it, but for technical and tech support reasons I do think an iPad is arguably the better, lesser-hassle, lesser-support option for most people. The iPad options generally have better screens, the touchscreen quality, battery life and user interface are generally superior, and despite developer restrictions, iOS currently offers access to the widest variety of apps — including apps that provide access to Amazon media. This equation may change in 2-3 years, but for now it seems like the balance is still in Apple's favor in a lot of important ways.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've only used a Kindle Fire briefly, but I'd warn against it. It was a UX abomination.

I don't mean that some highfalutin designers might use six syllable words to describe suboptimal design decisions. I mean things like "it regularly left me on screens that had no obvious way to proceed."

I strongly encourage the iPad instead.
posted by grudgebgon at 2:43 PM on November 8, 2012

If you can get your mom a US Amazon account and she is okay with the content, I would get the Fire HD. It will work fine outside of the US.

I have tons of gadgets and actually really enjoy the Amazon interface, especially for books/periodicals and light browsing. As a primary reading device, I actually prefer it over the stock Android/iOS "grid of icons".

And in my experience, older people won't bother with apps.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:47 PM on November 8, 2012

That said, the original Kindle Fire is pretty bad. The Fire HD is worlds better.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:48 PM on November 8, 2012

Regarding region-locking on the iPad: although the iPad itself can be set to use English no matter what, if your mother's credit card is registered to a French address, she'll be obliged to use the French iTunes store (including the App Store and iBookstore), which is available only in French. There may well be plenty of books in English available to buy, though probably not as many as she'd find in the UK iBookstore, but the store interface (and the terms & conditions documents) will be in French. There's a table on this Apple support page confirming that the French store doesn't offer alternative languages.

She wouldn't be bound to the iBooks app, of course - though installing another e-reader app would involve negotiating the App Store in French. And neither would she be bound to the iBookstore: she could also get books from other sources and transfer them to the iBooks library on the iPad via iTunes on a computer.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would only buy a mom a piece of technology that I also owned. She'll have questions; it's a lot easier to answer them if you're familiar with the device.

If you haven't used any, then I would say go with what her friends/neighbors have, and barring that, the iPad, as you're already a Mac user. Plus, you'll be able to FaceTime, which makes my mom very happy.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2012

Wongcorgi, are you sure about that? My friend bought a Kindle Fire on a US Amazon account, and it wouldn't work fully on our island, it seemed to detect they were outside the US, so the Marketplace and various other features were blocked for them.

Didn't make much sense to me, because surely that would hurt all US tourists when they went on holiday with their Kindle Fires, but such is the complexity of licensing. Hopefully that's fixed now.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:35 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want an Android device of that size, there options other than just the Kindle Fire, like the Kobo Arc (review) or Nexus 7(reveiw). You can buy the same books as the Kindle Fire and read them with the Kindle App, but you have more options for Android Apps (I gather that the Kindle only allows certain Android Apps).

But if you want IOS (and their app store), then I would get an iPad Mini.

If you or your mom has an American credit card, you definitely want an American Amazon account. Outside of the US, Amazon's ebook selections are not good.
posted by jb at 9:07 AM on November 9, 2012

Static Vagabond: I have been able to "buy" free Kindle ebooks while not in the US, based on the account I created when I did live in the US. I read them via a Kindle app.
posted by jb at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2012

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