November 08, 2011, 7:34 AM — So the Nook Tablet is official! And it turns out the leaks were all pretty much spot-on. Barnes & Noble's second generation Android tablet (this time actually being billed as a tablet rather than an e-reader) is available for pre-order now with a ship date of the 17th of this month. You may want to read our launch article to get the fundamentals down.
So the obvious decision now, and one that Barnes & Noble is hammering home, is whether the Nook Tablet or the Kindle Fire is the right choice for you. Cnet compiled a nice chart of the technical specs of the two devices, making it easy to compare the hardware. The big differences are memory and storage and in both cases the Nook Tablet 'beats' the Kindle Fire. The Nook has twice the RAM (1 GB vs the Fire's 512 MB) and twice the on-board storage (16GB vs 8GB) and perhaps more importantly, the Nook has a MicroSD slot for additional storage.
Of course, the Nook costs $50 more than the Fire.
So which device should you pick? Bearing in mind I haven't had hands-on time with either on, here're my thoughts.
If you like to carry your media around with you, clearly the Nook is the way to go. The Fire's 8GB of storage space is large enough to store lots of apps but video and music files are going to eat it up pretty quickly. The Nook Tablet has expandable storage. If you're the type who rips DVDs (or makes use of the digital copies included on many disks) and CDs then the Nook Tablet is clearly a better fit.
The Kindle Fire is heavily cloud based. Your ebooks, video (at least, the stuff you purchase from Amazon) and music will all be backed up in the cloud. Streaming content, of course, comes from the cloud. This means you're often tied to a WiFi connection. Whether or not this is a big deal depends on your lifestyle. Personally I find it's pretty rare that I find myself away from WiFi and wanting to use a tablet, but then I don't travel much.
If you're not very technical and like lots of hand-holding, the Nook may be a better choice since you can walk into a Barnes & Noble store with tablet in hand for help. How much help you'll need, and how well-staffed B&N stores will be when it comes to technical support, remain unanswered questions. I'd like to think both the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire are easy enough to use that you won't need help. Almost certainly readers of ITworld will be able to manage on their own.
Beyond that I think it comes down to the services you desire. If you want Netflix on one more device, well, the Nook Tablet will have it pre-installed. We don't know whether the Kindle Fire will or not; it could go either way. Amazon probably prefers that you use its streaming service, but then if offering Netflix means not losing sales to the Nook Tablet they might just let the user decide. It's pretty certain we'll never see Amazon Streaming on the Nook Tablet, though.
A lot of ink has been spilled on the fact that you need to be an Amazon Prime member to get the most out of the Kindle Fire. The $79/year Prime Membership gives you access to Amazon Prime Streaming, the Kindle Owner's Lending Library (essentially a free book every month) and 2-day free shipping on anything you buy from Amazon. $79/year is about $6.58/month. On the Nook Tablet you can get Netflix ($7.99/month) and/or Hulu Plus (also $7.99/month). So it looks to me like Amazon Prime is a better deal than Nook Tablet and Netflix (or Hulu Plus). Also keep in mind that Amazon's Video on Demand allows you to rent or purchase movies and television shows beyond what is offered via Prime Streaming. B&N says they'll be adding Vudu that should allow the same functionality for movies.
Of course, you may already be paying for Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime, in which case the 'best deal' argument will depend on what you've already got.
If you haven't yet pre-ordered a Kindle Fire, my suggestion at this point would be to hold off. Next week we'll know a lot more about what services the Kindle Fire will be offering. We'll also be seeing more head-to-head comparisons on how much faster the Nook's extra half-gig of RAM makes it. The $50 difference in price seems inconsequential when you figure this is a device you'll be carrying around for a year or more.
From what we know now, I'm not seeing a clear 'best' tablet in this race. I'm keeping my Kindle Fire pre-order because I'm already committed to the Amazon ecosystem (I own a bunch of Kindle books and some Amazon Video-on-Demand content, and I'm a long-time Prime subscriber). For a 'fresh' consumer the Nook Tablet might be a better choice, but remember that you'll be picking up services a la carte (B&N for ebooks, Netflix for older TV and movies, Hulu for current TV, uploading MP3 or picking a streaming service for audio, etc). This gives you more control but may be less convenient and potentially more expensive.
Another way of looking at it is that the Kindle Fire is an Amazon tablet. It's primarily designed to allow you to consume ebooks, video, music and apps all provided by Amazon. Sounds a little bit like the Apple model, no? The Nook is more of a general purpose lite Android tablet, with B&N's app store replacing the Android Market.
Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet: this is going to be an interesting fight. Perhaps more interesting is what, if any, impact these two devices will have on the rest of the Android tablet market.
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