Once upon a time, Amazon’s Kindles and Barnes & Noble’s Nooks were very similar content-consumption tablets at very similar price points. No longer. In May, Barnes & Noble rolled out a software update that allows Nook HD and HD+ users to use Google’s standard Android apps and buy new software and content from the Google Play store, knocking down the walled garden that forced you to buy books, magazines and other content from B&N.
And now the bookselling behemoth is extending a Father’s Day special — it’s still a “limited time” offer, though with no specified end — that leaves the Nook HD and HD+ with prices that are ridiculously cheap even for cheap tablets. The 7-inch Nook HD, normally $199, is now $129; the 9-inch Nook HD+ has plummeted from $269 to $149.
By contrast, Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire HD is $199 and its 8.9-inch model is $269. (It does have a basic model, the Kindle Fire, for $159.) These models are no longer exact counterparts to B&N’s Nooks: for instance, the Nook HD+ is lighter than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch, but doesn’t have a camera. But when it comes to raw bang for the buck, the Nooks trounce Amazon and everyone else.
Why is Barnes & Noble selling Nooks at prices that surely don’t leave room for a profit margin, and might involve a loss on every sale? Lots of folks are assuming that it has something to do with the rumors from February that the company might pull back on hardware in favor of selling content for other companies’ gadgets, and therefore wonder if it’s holding a fire sale so it can exit the tablet market. Could be. But it’s also possible that B&N is trying to clear out its stock because it has new models in the works.
In either case, I don’t think people who buy a Nook HD or Nook HD+ are going to end up with a doorstop. Now that the tablets work with Google Play services, they’ll be useful no matter what Barnes & Noble ends up doing.
When people ask me which tablet to buy, I have a bunch of different recommendations depending on the situation, including Kindles, iPads, Google’s Nexus 7 and others. But as long as these deals last, the Nooks have an important niche to themselves: they’re the cheapest good tablets on the market, and by a considerable margin.