Buying a tablet: Apple, Amazon, Google media stores compared

October 2012

If it seems like I sometimes get stuck on a theme in my column, it's because I do. Last month we did tablets and this month we're going to do tablets. And next month, too.

Tablets are big. PC sales are dropping, and tablet sales are skyrocketing. They're a perfect device for portable email, web browsing, music, movies, ebooks, and more. And finally you have a range of solid choices.

This month's message is this: when you buy a tablet, you're not just buying a computer, you're also choosing a store where you'll get your media: Amazon, iTunes Store, or Google Play.

Take my friend Brad. He loves his iPod touch, and uses it for listening to music and watching TV shows and movies. And he's planning on moving up to a tablet. The iPad is a bit pricey, so he got excited when he saw my Google Nexus 7, which sells for $199.

"So will I be able to move my iTunes music and videos to the Nexus?" he asked. My answer was nope. All of the media content in the iTunes Store is pretty much tied to the iPhone and iPad, or to desktop computers. "I guess I'll be getting an iPad, then," said Brad. (In fact, it is possible to convert these media, but not easy.)

Similarly, Amazon's store is completely integrated into their Kindle Fire, and the Google Play store is built into the Nexus 7.

Here's another example. I can read books on my iPad from Amazon's Kindle Store by using Amazon's Kindle app created for my iPad. Or I can stream movies from Amazon's Instant Video service to my iPad using the Amazon Instant Video app.

But in both cases, it's not seamless. Apple won't let you buy books from within the Kindle app. You have to use the Web browser on the iPad or on your desktop computer to buy the book, which is then automatically transferred to your iPad. Same thing for video. You have to first rent or buy it on the Amazon site via your browser, and then you can watch it on your iPad.

So which one should you get? The Kindle Fire/Amazon store, the iPad/iTunes Store, or the Nexus 7/Google Play store? I don't have the space or time to go into great detail, but let's look at a few of the main considerations.

Books: There are Kindle apps for both the iPad and Android devices such as the Nexus 7, so if Amazon has any edge in selection or price, you need not think that it's necessary to get a Kindle Fire. The only hitch is that on the iPad you need to first purchase the book via a browser, but that's a minor inconvenience.

TV Shows: Apple has the largest collection of TV shows, approaching 100,000 episodes. Amazon's catalog is considerably smaller, while Google Play has very few TV shows at this point. Prices on the iTunes Store and Amazon are similar.

Movies: Both Amazon and the iTunes Store have on the order of 50,000 movies, with Amazon's collection being somewhat larger. Again, Google Play's catalog is small by comparison, and Google will only say that it has thousands of movies. Prices are generally similar: $3.99 and $14.99 for SD rental and purchase of current movies, and $4.99 and $19.99 for HD. However, many of Google's movies are SD only.

Prices vary widely for older movies. Amazon's Instant Video streaming movies are available on the Kindle Fire and iPad but not the Nexus 7. Also, while both Amazon and Google Play offer instant streaming, the iTunes Store doesn't support that feature. Once you start watching a rented movie, Google and Amazon give you 48 hours to finish compared to 24 on iTunes.

Music: iTunes has some 28 million songs, while Amazon has 20 million. Google will only say that it offers millions of songs, but its catalog is much smaller than the others. Pricing is similar, with Amazon's prices for albums sometimes being less expensive.

Magazines: The content of the stores is similar, but in general you'll have a better experience reading a magazine on a 9- or 10-inch tablets from Apple, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Overall, Google Play has less content, and the iTunes Store has the most. Amazon's content is compatible with a wider range of devices and sometimes has lower prices.

Barnes & Noble has recently announced they'll also have a full media store, including video, so it's clear that they also want to be a player.

This month's hot tips:

Check out Amazon Prime. For $79/year you get Netflix-style unlimited streaming, one free book checkout per month, and free shipping on purchases.

© 2012 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpe