If it’s a cheap tablet you’re after, Barnes & Noble and Amazon want your business. Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet both look promising on paper—the former with its suite of Amazon services, and latter with its superior specs and more diverse streaming video offerings—but chances are, you’ve only got room for one tablet on your holiday wish list.
As is often the case with gadgets, finding the best 7-inch tablet is a matter of figuring out your personal needs. Below, I’ll divvy up the strengths of the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire so you can figure out what’s most important.
The Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire both have app stores, but Amazon’s tablet has a bigger selection. Its gaming library, in particular, is much more diverse, with categories for RPGs, strategy games, shooters and more, whereas the Nook focuses mostly on lighter fare. The Amazon Appstore also offers more free apps, and gives away one paid app every day.
Advantage: Kindle Fire
Netflix is integrated with the Nook Tablet, pushing recommendations to the user’s home screen, and Hulu Plus is pre-loaded, making Barnes & Noble’s tablet a strong streaming video device. Although the Kindle Fire has its own streaming video service through Amazon Prime, it’s only ideal for people who already subscribe to the $79-per-year service for something else, be it the limited book rental library or free two-day shipping. For everyone else, the Nook Tablet’s video services have a better selection and wider availability on other devices, such as smartphones and game consoles. Streaming music is a toss-up, with both tablets offering apps for Pandora, MOG and Rhapsody. (UPDATE: The Kindle Fire will be getting a Netflix app at launch. I’m still giving the edge to the Nook Tablet for now for its Hulu Plus support.) (UPDATE 2: Amazon now says it’s getting a Hulu Plus app on launch day as well, giving the Fire more streaming video options than the Nook Tablet. I’m changing my vote here.)
Nook Tablet Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet hit all the same feature checkboxes for e-reading. Both devices offer millions of e-books, plus newspapers and magazines. For parents, the Nook Tablet gets a slight edge for its “Read and Record” capability, which lets you record your own story narrations, but Amazon Prime members will prefer the Kindle Fire for its selection of free e-book rentals. Comic book fans will be divided; the Nook Tablet will have graphic novels from Marvel, while the Kindle Fire has a deal with DC.
article continues on next page…
No contest here. The Kindle Fire will let you purchase or rent videos on demand, and includes access to Amazon’s MP3 store. Best of all, any content you purchase from Amazon is stored online for free, so you won’t have to worry about wasting storage space on the device. The Nook Tablet doesn’t have a way to let you buy music and video on the device, so you’ll have to bring your own content from elsewhere.
Advantage: Kindle Fire
Although the Nook Tablet is $50 more expensive than the Kindle Fire, you get your money’s worth in raw power. Barnes & Noble’s slate has twice the RAM at 1 GB and twice the built in storage at 16 GB, plus a microSD card slot for even more storage. Otherwise, the two tablets have similar specs, including dual-core processors and 7-inch, 1024-by-600 resolution displays. If you plan to hack either tablet to run a pure version of Android, the Nook Tablet’s extra RAM will be worth the extra scratch, but either way, its generous storage will come in handy.
Advantage: Nook Tablet
Little Details and Intangibles
Specs and features only go so far. Both tablets look good on paper, but either one could be buggy, laggy, unresponsive or otherwise broken at launch. And although Barnes & Noble brags about how the Nook Tablet is lighter than Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the two have very similar proportions, so the difference really comes down to how each one feels in your hands.
Barnes & Noble has one more advantage in its ability to offer free support, free Wi-Fi and special offers for Nook Tablet owners at its retail stores. Amazon, meanwhile, plays to its own strength in web services. The Kindle Fire offers free cloud storage for purchased content, and includes a web browser called Silk that taps Amazon’s web servers to load pages faster. I’m not going to pick a winner or categorically declare one tablet better than the other—at least not until I’ve tried both of them in finished form.