Two new tablets, the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7, offer college students new options for both work and relaxation for a low price. So which should you buy?

With college textbooks only getting more expensive, renting eBook versions of course materials is becoming an increasingly popular way of saving a lot of money. But up until this year, using those eBooks would require students to either spend all their time studying in front of their computer, or spending $499 for a technologically less-than-impressive iPad. But now, with the release of the Nexus 7, an Asus-made tablet developed by Google, and the newest version of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Fire HD, the tablet market has gotten a lot more accessible for students on a budget. Both have similar designs and specs, but a few key differences set the two apart. So which is the best for a college student?

Kindle Fire HD

Amazon’s first foray into the tablet market with the original Kindle Fire was decidedly less stellar than it could have been. The offerings of highly-specialized tablets instead of the all-in-one capabilities found in the iPad kept many would-be consumers from bothering, and understandably so. However, Amazon has taken this lesson to heart with their latest attempt. It currently runs a modified version of Android 4.0 on a Dual-core, 1.2GHz processor. Storage space is also much larger for the price, with 16GB offered on the $199 model as opposed to the 8GB Nexus 7 for the same price, and 32GB for $249 vs. 16GB on the Nexus 7. In terms of size, it’s a hair shorter than the Nexus 7, but substantially wider, boasting 5.4 inches to the Nexus 7’s 4.7 inches.

The Fire HD’s greatest strength comes from its connection to Amazon.com’s library of media, including the all-important textbook market, which is likely going to be less of a strain on your bank account than those offered through your University bookstore. Additionally, Amazon has taken great care in ensuring that it’s as friendly to the eye as possible by introducing an antiglare screen similar to those found on the regular Kindle, which will definitely help during an all-night study session, as well as possessing an HDMI outport.

However, as the OS would indicate, the Fire HD is a closed system that means no access to Google Play is available, and it notably limits any technorati’s ability to play with the internal software at all. So if you’re a computer engineer or programming major, the Kindle HD is likely to rankle. On top of that, the Fire HD’s lockscreen will have ads loaded from the Amazon storefront on both models. Although this may not be a deal breaker for most, it’s easy to see how this could irritate a few users.

Nexus 7

Google’s Android OS has always had its greatest strength is its open source software and an ever-growing number of apps. While still lagging behind the iPad, Android’s typically erudite enthusiasts are already on their way to creating an exponentially growing number of programs for the new tablet. In the next year, we can expect to see an impressive roster of apps for the Nexus in addition to some extremely novel hacks. Not to mention that the full integration of Google’s suite of apps and services means that switching between your computer, Android smartphone, and tablet will be noticeably less clunky than on the Fire HD.

In terms of hardware, the Nexus 7 has the advantage; it utilizes a Quadcore Tegra 3 processor, making it significantly faster than the Kindle. However, as stated above, the faster processor is a tradeoff for less storage space. With no external memory slot available for either, the 8GB limit on the $199 Nexus 7 model could pose a problem for the media-savvy.

When it comes to games, however, the Nexus 7 has the Fire HD beat. A number of classic console games accessible through the Google Play store, such as Grand Theft Auto III, are being made available for the Nexus 7. Add this to the free-to-play casual games typical of any Android device, and any gamer will find themselves without want for options.

Possibly the biggest downfall for the Nexus 7 is a complete lack of mobile connectivity when WiFi isn’t available, but the 250MB plan offered by Amazon is also pretty unimpressive. Most users would go through that in a few hours of video streaming, meaning that both tablets are likely going to need a WiFi connection regardless.

The Verdict

Both tablets are great pieces of technology, and with their incredibly low prices when compared to the iPad, both are likely to be a hit. As for which is better, it’s definitely a tough call. As an omnibus media device, the Fire HD is the clear victor. HDMI-out, more storage, and a reader-friendly screen make it the obvious choice for someone watching Netflix on-the-go in between studying. But with the Nexus 7’s clearly superior technical specs and ease in personalization, I personally find myself gravitating towards it over the Fire HD. However, preference for one over the other will only come down to how they’re being used and by whom, and a casual user could definitely be content with the Fire HD.

The competition between the two products, however, is perhaps the best thing to happen this year: both Amazon and Google are likely already back in the drawing room coming up with the next iterations of these products, and things are only looking up.