The Google Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD are cheap tablets that all offer incredible value. This is because each tablet is sold as a loss-leader, designed to either encourage uptake of the Android platform or content sales in their manufacturer's independent app and media stores. (See also: Kindle Fire HD vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 review.)
As such, you're unlikely to feel cheated by any of these devices. But if you don't have a particular preference over whether you purchase your books, music, videos and apps from Google, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which is best? Here we compare each tablet spec by spec to help you choose. See also: Group test: what's the best cheap tablet?
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Price
Each of these tablets cost from £159. While this amount of money will get you a 16GB Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD, you'll be looking at a Nook HD with just 8GB of storage. Amazon and Google also offer 32GB models at £199, while the 16GB Nook HD costs £189. A 32GB version of the Nexus 7 is also available for £239. This might make the Nook HD appear to offer less value, but it's the only tablet here to accept microSDXC memory cards, enabling you to add an extra 64GB.
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Dimensions
Given that all three tablets have 7in screens, they're fairly evenly matched in terms of size and weight. The Nook HD is the thickest, but also the lightest, at 127x194x11mm and 315g. The Kindle Fire is the widest, the heaviest, and also the thinnest, at 137x193x10.3mm and 395g, and the Nexus 7 is the tallest, at 120x199x10.6mm and 336g.
Barnes & Noble Nook HD video review
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Screen
All three tablets have 7in in-plane switching (IPS) capacitive multitouch displays. The only difference is in their resolution, where the Nook HD takes the lead with 1440x900 pixels over the 1280x800 of the Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. This means it has a tighter-packed pixel pitch of 243ppi, versus the 216ppi panels of its two rivals.
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Processor
One area in which there are clear differences between the tablets is in processing power and the resulting performance. The Nexus 7 has the fastest hardware, with a 1.3GHz quad-core nVidia Tegra 3 chip and quad-core ULP GeForce graphics. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD has the slowest hardware, with a 1.2GHz dual-core TI Omap 4460 processor and dual-core PowerVR SGX540 graphics. The Nook HD sits in the middle, with a 1.3GHz dual-core TI Omap 4470 processor and dual-core PowerVR SGX544 graphics. Unsurprisingly, then, the Nexus 7 boasts by far the best overall performance, while the Fire HD is the slowest.
In Geekbench, in which a higher score is better, we measured 1,452 points for the Nexus 7, 1,199 for the Nook HD and 1,124 for the Amazon tablet.
This performance was mirrored in the GLBenchmark graphics test, in which a higher framerate is better. We recorded 20fps for the Nexus 7, 14fps for the Nook HD and 8fps for the Kindle Fire HD.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD video review
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Storage
As we mentioned earlier, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7 are available with larger storage capacities out of the box, offering 16- and 32GB against the Nook HD's 8- and 16GB. However, a microSDXC expansion slot means the Nook HD can hold the most content, potentially up to 80GB. You'll need to factor in the cost of a microSDXC card, of course.
Amazon's tablet offers 5GB of web space for your documents, photos and media, while the Nexus 7 has access to all manner of cloud-storage apps. The difference here is that you'll be able to access content stored in the cloud only when you have an active internet connection, which isn't so great on the road.
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Cameras
If a camera is important to you, don't buy the Nook HD - it has no camera at all. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire HD's 1.3Mp webcam is rated ever so slightly higher than the Nexus 7's 1.2Mp snapper; both can record HD (720p) video.
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Connectivity
We love the Nook HD's microSDXC card, but its single-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0 and proprietary dock connector don't stand up to the competition here. Both the Amazon and Google charge over Micro USB, cater for the latest Bluetooth 4.0, and the Kindle Fire's wireless support is dual-band. The Nexus 7 also boasts GPS and NFC, and 3G connectivity is an option, while the Kindle Fire sports Micro HDMI. All three have a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Google Nexus 7 video review
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Software
All three tablets are Android-based, but whereas the Nexus 7 runs the very latest Android 4.2 Jelly Bean software, both Nook HD and Kindle Fire HD run heavily customised versions of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Nexus 7 offers full access to Google Play, which means you can buy content from whoever you like, including Amazon, while the Fire HD offers access only to Amazon Appstore, and the Nook HD only to the Nook store.
The Nook store, in particular, is currently limited. Amazon's Appstore is better, if not up to Google's level, but the firm also owns Lovefilm, so those who hold a subscription to this service can also stream movies on the tablet.
Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD: Battery
Google's tablet kept going for nine hours 40 mins in our tests, while the Kindle Fire HD's slightly larger-capacity battery (16.4Wh vs 16Wh) lasted a shorter seven hours 42 minutes. The Nook HD trailed the pack, able to endure five hours 25 minutes of our video-looping test.