Gizmodo has its Slashdot Halloween moment 11 years later with iPad mini
October 30th, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
Remember when Slashdot lost its remaining credibility after describing the new iPod as “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame”? Well of course you don’t remember Slashdot. And soon, you won’t remember Gizmodo, either.
This all happened before
Let me tell you a ghost story, kids. Slashdot was once a place to find tech headlines, sort of like Digg (what, you don’t remember that either?) Well, both were sort of like Gizmodo, where a group of kids posted links to actual sources of news with snarky little lines conveying both their lack of experience and openness to new ideas, as if too young and too old at the same time.
In the case of Slashdot, the October 2001 release of Apple’s iPod was filed under the site’s “well-thats-not-very-exciting dept.” Comments on the iPod were almost as scary, at least 11 years later in hindsight. One top comment, highly ranked as “interesting” stated, “At $199-$250, I would have bought two, immediately. Instead, at $399, I am buying zero, and expect that many other people will feel the same way.”
Wait, is this time warp comment about the iPad mini or the iPod? It’s almost hard to tell as the guy continued, “I am more than willing to pay a premium for Apple designed hardware and software. This thing will undoubtedly have a great interface. But that is not worth $200 extra (double the price!).”
Slashdot was comparing the $399 iPod to the Creative Nomad Jukebox 20G, a heavy, clunky device with really slow USB 1.0 (and also lacking wireless), but which was priced at $249 (actually it was also $399, but Creative also sold other devices with far less flash storage for cheaper). It also supported Microsoft’s then-apparently-relevant WMA audio format, the lynchpin of its “PlaysForSure” program, which was the wheels behind Zune, which was the vehicle for Windows Phone, which is the driving force behind the user interface of Windows 8.
“Gizmodo counts pixels, recommends Kindle Fire HD” says Amazon
Fast forward by 11 years, and there’s a new halloween trick or treat comparison: Gizmodo’s apparent endorsement of the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire HD over the $329 iPad mini.
Thanks to inflation, Apple’s $399 iPod from 2001 would cost about $517 in today’s dollars, versus the alternative music players you could buy for around $323 in inflation-corrected bucks at the time, or just over 60 percent of Apple’s price (adjusted or not). So, remarkably, Apple’s new iPad mini is substantially cheaper in today’s dollars than the iPod was in 2001 money.
Unsurprisingly, the difference between the iPod and the cheapest MP3 players at the time was almost the exact same ratio between Apple’s iPad mini and the 7 inch Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet (actually, the modern products are closer in price than the iPod was to its competitors).
What do you get for that extra price? “Far fewer pixels!” Gizmodo says. Amazon specifically says it offers “30% more pixels than iPad mini.”
What do you get to do with those 30% more pixels? Amazon suggests it improves media consumption, pointing out you can “watch HD movies and TV” on the Kindle Fire, but that there is “no HD movies or TV” on the iPad mini.
That’s odd, because the original iPad can play HD content. And by odd, I mean “outrageously dishonest deception.”
Amazon says this because the Kindle Fire HD has a 1280×800 display; the iPad mini (same as the iPad and iPad 2) has a 1024×768 screen. But when you view actual “HD” content, whether from iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu or other sources, there’s no discernible difference in video quality between the Kindle Fire HD and the original iPad.
Amazon says the iPad mini has a “standard definition” display, but that’s a term with a specific meaning related to televisions with resolution of less than 720×480. “High definition” means 720p or 1080p, but implies a 16:9 resolution. So the iPad is not technically the same resolution as an HDTV, but it’s also clearly not a “standard definition” display either. It’s an XGA computer resolution.
However, when you play back widescreen movies, both the Kindle Fire HD and iPad mini (any iPad) play them back with letterboxing. So you’re not using every pixel anyways, making Amazon’s hay over 32 extra lines of resolution particularly absurd. Kindle Fire HD does not offer higher resolution video playback; it’s just a smaller screen on a larger, thicker, heavier device than iPad mini.
Watching iTunes HD video, it’s virtually impossible to see any difference between even the original 1024×768 iPad and the 2048×1534 iPad with Retina Display, which has 400% more pixels. That’s because even a lot more pixels don’t make much of a difference when watching video at the same resolution. One can make out significant differences in the UI elements, which look twice as sharp on the new iPad.
I wanted to compare screen shots of the Kindle Fire with standard and Retina Display iPads, but the Kindle Fire refuses to take a screen shot of a playing movie. So here are photographs of the two iPads alongside a Kindle Fire HD to show the huge difference a 16:9 screen makes on a tablet for watching movies: that is to say, not any whatsoever, whether letterboxes or full screen.
Look how many pixels are lost on the Kindle Fire HD in widescreen, despite ostensibly being a widescreen tablet. If Amazon wants to draw an imaginary line at defining HD as being “1280×800” playback, then it fails its own test, because it isn’t using the whole screen, even in wide orientation. And that’s because it’s not a true 16:9 ratio like an HDTV, the very thing it is claiming to exclusively be.
More pixels don’t even improve text legibility on the Kindle Fire HD
Move to looking at detail in still photos or in text, and you can see a big difference with higher resolution displays. The Retina Display iPad makes text and UI elements appear razor sharp, while earlier generations look like a PC screen: noticeably pixelated.
But pull up text on a webpage and the Kindle Fire HD looks worse than the original iPad, despite having “more pixels” and a greater pixel density. It looks absolutely terrible. A side-by-side of the two looks like a regular/Retina Display comparison (above: Retina Display iPad, original iPad, Kindle Fire HD). What is the Kindle Fire HD doing with its 30 percent more pixels?
The screen is also less suited to looking at pages of stuff. In some cases, you see more of the page at the expense of text readability (above). In other cases, you see less content on the page, but that text is still worse (below). Things get especially bad when you try to use it in its wide orientation. Amazon’s Silk browser automatically zooms in on content, meaning you can’t even see the description of the first story on AppleInsider, while the “low resolution” iPad shows the first three top stories.
Having nearly a third more pixels and a slightly higher pixel density doesn’t make the Kindle Fire HD better at video or at text, never mind how poorly it responds to touch, or the flaws in its user interface, or its limited support for video (it can’t play any iTunes content, and trying to find top movies in Amazon’s store is frustrating). But it does have more pixels.
Two speakers are better than one, but not better than headphones
What about speakers? Amazon promotes the Kindle Fire HD as having two for stereo sound, while previous iPads only had one (update: the new iPad mini does actually have two speakers, delivering stereo sound). The quality of the builtin speakers on either device are only smartphone-level, but having two speakers is better than one; the iPad’s single speaker makes its sound very directional, while the Kindle Fire HD’s is less so, and is in stereo.
But that only really applies in its horizontal orientation. Held vertically, its two speakers are at the top and bottom of the device, which is kind of odd. (I haven’t yet tried out the iPad mini’s stereo sound).
Chances are, though, if you want decent sound (especially when playing games or watching videos) you’ll be listening via headphones, not through the tiny builtin speakers on either device.
Alternatively, you might want to play content out through your TV. With any iPad, you just touch the AirPlay button and wirelessly stream HD video, a feature Amazon doesn’t match. The Kindle Fire HD does have an HDMI output port, so if you want to deal with plugging in a cable to your TV, you have that option. With any iPad, you’ll need both a dongle and a cable for HDMI (making wireless AirPlay that much more preferable).
And what about “Ultra Fast MiMo WiFi”?
Amazon indicates “Ultra Fast MiMi WiFi” is a feature exclusive to Kindle Fire HD, suggesting that it’s something the iPad mini lacks. If you examine the device’s Amazon page, the company compares it to the iPad 3 and a “Google tablet” saying the Kindle Fire HD’s 32Mbps WiFi is 41% faster than the 22 Mbps iPad 3 and 54% faster than Google’s 20Mbps tablet.
But the previous generation iPad 3 doesn’t have the same WiFi as Apple’s new iPad mini or iPad 4: both support what Apple says is “advanced Wi-Fi that’s up to twice as fast as any previous-generation iPad. With dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi and support for channel bonding, download speeds can reach up to 150 Mbps.”
Why does Amazon say that Kindle Fire HD is faster in WiFi than iPad mini when in reality it is slower?
And why does Gizmodo only say, in Jesus Diaz’s “iPad Mini – everything you need to know” article, “It naturally comes with 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (like Amazon and Google’s models).”
But that’s not true at all, not any more than Amazon’s purely false comparison of WiFi speeds. All WiFi is not the same. More antennas, channel bonding and other features mean a huge leap in speeds, far larger than the difference between HSPA+ and LTE that nerd sites like Gizmodo liked to prattle on about as a life and death difference before Apple released any support LTE.
And technically, Kindle Fire HD is Bluetooth 3, not Bluetooth 4 like Apple’s gear over the last year.
I wanted to install the free Android Speedtest.net app on a Kindle Fire HD, but it’s not in Amazon’s store. It is in Google Play, but Amazon works hard to prevent you from being able to use that – you have to jailbreak the device to install apps from Google’s store. And to jailbreak it, you apparently need another Android device to download the apps you need to jailbreak the Kindle Fire.
Is Amazon trying to hide the fact that the Kindle Fire HD has less impressive WiFi than it does, or is the tablet just saddled with a poor software store and competitive barriers that effectively make it a nonstandard pseudo-Android device? Unfortunately, the former is true, no conspiracy needed.
Of course, WiFi speed is not the top problem for the Kindle Fire HD. No matter how fast it can download, its still hobbled by a laggy user interface, poor software selection, a third rate browser and other flaws that essentially make it an oddball, oversized Android phone without the phone (or subsidy).
It’s similarly clunky and annoying to use as the Creative Nomads were a decade ago. I don’t think being 60% of the iPad mini’s price will make a difference to people who want a functional tablet, any more than being a bit cheaper than the iPod helped Creative. On top of that, the value of a tablet today is largely related to how well it can surf the web and the apps available for it, software issues that weren’t really an issue with MP3 players.
But these are the issues that a tech blog like Gizmodo is supposed to draw attention to. Instead, Jesus Diaz simply compared some spec numbers and gave his readers misleading generalizations and false information they could get from Amazon itself.