The HD 10 sells for $230, while the Air 2 is currently priced at $500. However, a replacement for the iPad is expected to debut in March, at which point the current model will almost certainly drop to $400.
Build and Design
These two tablets look surprisingly different because Amazon went with a 16:10 aspect ratio for its display, while Apple has long been a champion of a 4:3 ratio. This means the Fire HD 10 is longer than its rival but not as wide. The iPad is also marginally thinner, but it’s not a major difference, as Amazon’s device is also slim.
To get specific, the Air 2 is 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches, while the HD 10 is 10.3 x 6.3 x 0.30 inches. The Fire tablet weighs 15.2 oz. while the iOS device is 15.4 oz. — essentially identical.
Both models have glass fronts, but Apple used metal for the back of its offering while Amazon went with plastic, which makes the iPad look a bit more professional.
The 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1536 display is one of the highlights of the iPad Air 2. By contrast, the Fire HD10 has a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800 screen which is adequate at best.
Pixel density really tells the story: Apple’s device is 264 pixels per inch, while Amazon’s is 149 points. This means everything on the iPad is much clearer, and this is one of the best LCD screens available.
Our review of the HD10 was particularly harsh about the display: “Colors lack pop, contrast is poor, and it’s often tough to discern white text and numbers over background images.”
That said, while Amazon’s screen isn’t great, it also isn’t terrible — even the worst mainstream tablet display is still decent enough. The Fire HD 10’s an acceptable way to watch a movie or TV show. And that’s what the HD10 has really been designed for. Its 16:10 aspect ratio is the same as most HD TVs, so films fit well on the screen with no blank areas.
Buttons, Ports, and Speakers
Unlike many of its predecessors — as well as the iPad Air 2 — the Fire HD 10 has a microSD memory card slot. This makes it easy, and relatively inexpensive, for users to expand the storage capacity of this tablet. This is a real advantage for Amazon’s offering.
The HD 10 also uses the industry standard micro-USB for charging and data transfers, while the iPad uses Apple’s proprietary Lightning port. This isn’t a huge advantage for Amazon, though, as Apple devices are so widely used that Lightning cables and other accessories like flash drives are easily available.
The iPad Air 2 has a large Home button on its front that’s used to control many iOS functions. This also has a fingerprint scanner embedded in it for biometric security. The Fire tablet uses on-screen virtual buttons for just about everything, and has no biometric security.
The HD 10 has a pair of stereo speakers on its long edge, while the iPad has a similar pair on its shorter edge, so Amazon’s device has a bit more speaker separation.
The iPad Air 2 is built around 1.5 GHz, tri-core, 64-bit Apple A8X processor, which gives a 4530 score for the multicore test in Geekbench 3. This puts it near the high end of tablets but still below more expensive models like the iPad Pro.
The Amazon Fire HD10 uses a quad-core processor from MediaTek with two cores at 1.5GHz and two at 1.2GHz. Its multi-core score is a much lower 1510, indicating that this is a chip with significantly slower performance than Apple’s, though it’s similar to the one in the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7. This processor is capable of decent performance in day-to-day use, but isn’t well suited for running high-end games or other demanding software.
Apple put 2GB of RAM in its model, while Amazon included half that. More RAM is almost always better.
The iPad comes in versions with 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB of built-in storage capacity, but there are just 16GB and 32GB versions of the Fire.
The Air 2 has better performance, more RAM, and more storage options.
The HD 10 runs a modified version of Google’s Android 5.1.1 that Amazon has dubbed Fire OS 5. The user interface looks and acts quite a bit like the standard version of Android, but numerous links to Amazon services figure prominently.
The real downside of Fire OS is that it can’t be connected to the standard Google Play store for apps, games, and other content. Instead, users of this device must get their software from the Amazon Store. Most popular Android applications are available for the HD 10, but there are some notable absences, like Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. There are office suites available, just not the premier one.
The iPad Air 2 currently runs iOS 9.2.1, and Apple keeps it updated with the latest version of this operating system so this will change with time. The iPad version functions nearly the same as the iPhone one, so anyone who has used one of Apple’s phones is ready to use one of its tablets. iOS is also tied to Apple’s services, but not as blatantly as Fire OS.
A huge selection of applications can run on the Air 2, including all the software written for the iPhone. This includes productivity apps like Microsoft Office and a wide array of games.
The Fire OS makes the HD 10 better suited for consumers, while the Air 2 is also a good fit for consumers as well as those looking for a mobile computer for work.
Both Amazon’s and Apple’s offerings have dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac. They also have Bluetooth and can be used with external keyboards.
The two tablets would have a tie in this category, except that only the iPad can be purchased with 4G LTE built in. It’s an expensive ($130) addition, but is very convenient for those who want ubiquitous access to the Internet.
The iPad Air 2 has an 8 megapixel rear camera, and a 1.2 MP front-facing one for video conferencing. The Fire HD 10 has a 5 MP primary camera and a 720p front-facing one. And the difference between these cameras is greater than even the megapixels indicate: the iPad is quite capable of taking decent pictures, while images made with the Fire generally have problems.
Tablets aren’t regularly used as cameras, but Apple’s model still comes out ahead in this area.
Amazon says the HD 10 Is up to 8 hours of mixed use on a single change, and our real-world testing shows that this is a more than reasonable claim. In our tests, it wasn’t unusual for the device to last a bit longer than that.
The iPad Air 2 is rated for 10 hours of mixed use, and again we found this to be a conservative estimate, as our test unit regularly went for as much as 12 hours.
The iPad canoes out solidly ahead in this area.
Price is one of the major differentiators between these two, as the 16GB version of the HD 10 is currently selling for less half the cost of the 16GB iPad. That said, a replacement for the Air 2 is expected to be released in couple of months, at which point the current model will likely drop to $400.
Even so, the $230 Fire tablet will still be considerably cheaper. It’s up to the shopper to decide whether the batter features of Apple’s model are worth the additional cost.
Those who are looking for a light-duty computer for watching video and accessing the Web will likely be satisfied with the Fire HD 10, but those who want something capable of business use or high-end games should spring for the iPad Air 2.