What’s Worse, the Kindle Fire or the Nook?

May 3, 2012
Editor-in-chief Joe Desposito compares the new 8 GB Nook to the Kindle Fire and concludes that neither one is a compelling buy.

I’m always in the market for a low-cost tablet, so the new $199 price of the Barnes & Noble 8 GB Nook caught my eye. I didn’t know much about the Nook except that one of my friends sprang for $249 (the 16 GB price) several months ago. I first saw the $199 price while I was visiting my son and his family in Gallatin, Tennessee last weekend at their local Wal-Mart. I had my 7-year old grandson in tow. He and his 4-year old sister had been pestering me all weekend to play with the tablet I had brought with me, an Acer A500, as well as my iPod Touch. I also noticed that Target is selling the 8 GB Nook for $199. Target’s flyer showed the Nook with Angry Birds on the display. I purchased Angry Birds twice over the weekend, one for the tablet and the other for the iPod. That’s what the kids wanted to play.

Then I read the news about Microsoft sinking $300 million into Barnes & Noble’s digital and college businesses. Finally, I saw a couple of Nook commercials while watching the latest episode of Mad Men. Also advertised on the show was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. I don’t know if there’s a connection there.

Keeping all this in mind, let’s get down to the comparison mentioned in the headline. I liked the $199 price of the Nook, but that brought to mind Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which also sells for $199. Which tablet is better, I wondered?

I had already looked at the Kindle Fire in another blog entry last year and came to the conclusion that it was just a barebones tablet running a smartphone operating system (Android 2.3). But I gave it some points for its innovative Silk browser and use of the cloud.   

When I looked at the specs for the Nook, I found them very similar to those of the Kindle Fire. Basically, the Nook runs on Android 2.3, has a dual 1-GHz OMAP processor from Texas Instruments and has a 7”, 1024 x 600 IPS multi-touch display, just like the KF. But the Nook has 1 GB Ram vs. 512 MB for the KF and contains a microphone for voice recording, where the KF has none. The Nook also has an expansion slot for an SD card. Neither have cameras for video recording, video calls or picture taking.

I came to the conclusion that neither tablet is really worth the price—too barebones for me. Heck, an 8 GB iPod Touch sells for about the same price and has front and back cameras. Why settle for less? But I also came to a few other conclusions based on what I experienced over the weekend. One is this: Kids really love tablets. Both of my grandkids have access to laptop PCs and have played with them in the past, but the laptop is a distant memory for them. The large tablet touchscreen is a game changer for them. If you give them the choice of a tablet or a smaller form factor, like the iPod Touch, they will choose the tablet every time. But when a tablet is not in sight, a smaller form factor device will do, as long as you can control it with your finger.

Another conclusion is this: With Microsoft investing in Barnes & Noble, it will only be a matter of time (and a short time at that) when you will see Microsoft’s tablet OS, let’s call it Windows 8, on the Nook. Unlike Android 2.3, this is a real tablet OS, like Android 3.x and Ice Cream Sandwich.

Finally, I don’t know much about handheld game players, having used the Sony PSP only briefly, but how can they possibly compete with a tablet? As I mentioned, I purchased Angry Birds, one of the most popular games on the planet, twice this weekend (for each device) at a total cost of $1.98. My grandson asked me to download Angry Birds Space as well. Since he’s only seven, I just told him no, it costs too much. But the real reason was that I wanted to play some basketball with him in the yard.

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