It’s been a frequently asked—and highly contentious—question since their nearly simultaneous release in mid-November: Which is the better color ereader/tablet, the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet? I had the opportunity to test the popular devices side by side, so, like it or not, here’s my verdict:
First of all, these little tablets—neither of them exactly iPad killers—are much more similar than they are different. While not full-blown tablets like the iPad or the dozens of like-sized Android competitors, they’re both great at what they’re intended to do. Both are WiFi only, sport similar seven-inch, 1024 x 600 capacitive multi-touch screens that are crisp and vibrant, and boast battery life of about eight hours per charge.
Both are powered by similar 1GHZ dual-core processors and run versions of the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) OS with customized user interfaces that access their respective stores featuring limited selections of approved apps rather than offering everything you’d find in the overall Android marketplace. While the Kindle Fire is clearly geared towards channeling users to Amazon’s wide-ranging ebook and movie/TV show content and Amazon’s associated cloud storage, the Nook tablet relies a bit more on third-party content, especially for streaming media.
Perhaps because of that, the Nook Tablet features twice as much internal storage (16GB vs. 8GB) as the Kindle Fire and it has an SDHC card slot for an additional 32GB of removable storage. With 1GB of RAM to the Kindle Fire’s 512MB, one might expect nimbler performance from the Nook Tablet, but I really didn’t notice much of a difference. Plus, while the Nook Tablet has beefier hardware, Amazon offers the Kindle Fire at $199—50 bucks less than the Nook Tablet. Presumably because Amazon is betting Fire users will more than make up for that initial loss in device sales profit as they subsequently pick and choose from Amazon’s superior catalog of proprietary content.
Which brings me to a big point: being a librarian, I think it’s in my DNA to bristle at any device that tries to lock me into its proprietary content—especially when it comes to ebooks. Freedom of choice is a huge deal to me. And, frankly, neither tablet comes close to actually inviting you to buy ebooks from competing vendors. You won’t, for example, find a Nook app in the Kindle store, nor a Kindle app in the Nook store, which I think is a big disadvantage compared to using a tablet running a vanilla version of Android as an ereader.
In pursuit of said freedom, I did find a hit-and-miss workaround: if you go to the settings menu in either device, you can elect to allow installs from “unknown” developers and then use your web browser to download and install apps not available in either device’s app stores. To make this even easier, I first used each tablet’s browser to install a noncommercial app store application called GetJar. I then used that app to select and install other ebook apps like Kobo and Aldiko onto my Nook Tablet and the Nook and Kobo onto my Kindle Fire. Free at last!
It’s worth mentioning, though, that the newest Kindle app wouldn’t install on my Nook Tablet. Moreover, I couldn’t get non-Nook approved apps to display on the Nook Tablet’s main app menu, so I had to launch them from the search prompt. The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, automatically displayed the nonnative Kobo and Nook apps in its slick carousel menu.
So, which is the better color ereader/tablet? That’s a tough call. I think it totally depends on the user’s needs. If, for instance, you’re a school librarian who wants to load up a device with primarily ebook content that’s available to borrowers offline, the Nook Tablet would clearly be worth the extra $50. Techies who want to root their device to make it a relatively inexpensive vanilla Android tablet would also be happier with the Nook.
On the other hand, if users will typically be WiFi connected and are most interested in convenient, cloud-based access to a wide-ranging catalog of pay-per-view streaming media, then the Kindle Fire wins, hands down.