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Best 7-inch tablets - Samsung, Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD

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One of the best gift ideas for Xmas 2012 is a 7-inch tablet. They won’t break the bank, they’re handy little gadgets people will actually use and – finally – smaller tablets are actually really rather good.

But which is the best one to get?  On our hit-list are five relatively low-cost 7-inch tablets that should put a smile on the face of just about anyone.

5. Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0

From £157 - full Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 review
Pros – Expandable memory, all-round flexibility
Cons – Poor screen resolution, not as powerful as some

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is an update of one of the first very Android tablets, the original Samsung Galaxy Tab. It arrived before most of the other tablets here.

Key benefits include that, unlike the Amazon and Barnes & Noble tablets, it comes with Google Play pre-installed, giving you the freedom to install the apps you want rather than relying on a limited selection. Core specs are fairly decent too, with a dual-core 1GHz processor, expandable memory and a basic rear camera.

However, that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 showed up earlier than the competition is clear in its screen cred. The tablet has a 7-inch screen like its Android rivals, but screen resolution is much lower than the others here. With 1,024 x 600 pixels to go around, its display is significantly blockier than the pixel-packed Nook HD. It’s the lowest-res model here, taking it out of the running for all but those obsessed with having expandable memory.

4. Amazon Kindle Fire HD

From £159 - full Amazon Kindle Fire HD review
Pros
– Decent apps and games selection, easy enough for newbs, good internal speakers
Cons – Patchy performance, relatively inflexible, quite heavy

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD is one of the most popular 7-inch tablets in the UK, and one of just a few that has any level of mainstream public recognition. It’s also one of the few tablets to put a focus on the quality of speakers it uses. There are two drivers on each side of the tablet, giving the Amazon Kindle Fire HD much greater volume output than most.

The tablet also features a microHDMI video output, letting you plug the thing directly into your TV to use as a media jukebox.

There are downsides, though. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD uses a custom interface designed by Amazon that sits on top of the core Android OS. You’re relatively restricted as to what you can do here – you have no access to the Google Play app store and can’t manually install apps. Instead, you have to use Amazon’s own app store, its video library and music store.

Android nerds won’t like this, but Amazon’s selection of apps and games isn’t too shabby these days. Performance isn’t too great, with clear lag, but this will hopefully improve with upcoming firmware updates. What won’t improve in time, though, is the weight. It’s almost 100g heavier than some 7-inch tablets.

3. Barnes & Noble Nook HD

From £159 - full Nook HD review
Pros – High-resolution screen, light body
Cons – Limited apps and games selection

The Barnes & Noble Nook HD is the fiercest rival for the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. In the US, both Book and Barnes & Noble are big names. In the UK – not so much. But there are several core reasons why we like the hardware of the Nook HD that bit more.

Crucially, it’s a lot lighter, making it more comfortable to use on-the-go. It also feels a bit nippier, which is as much down to the optimisation of the tablet’s software as its slightly faster processor. Its screen is also super detailed, with higher resolution than any other tablet here.

Like the Amazon tablet, the Nook HD uses a custom interface that sits on top of Android. It limits what you can do, restricting you to using the Barnes & Noble stores for apps and games, but the interface is dead simple for tech beginners.

More so than any of the other tablet here, the Nook HD requires a bit of patience. The apps and games store is not very well-stocked at present, and neither is the movie store, which wasn’t even launched at the time when we reviewed the tablet.

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