Some people want a tablet but don't want to shell out big bucks for it. For those frugal shoppers, this week was special, as it marked the release of the $200 Amazon Kindle Fire and the $250 Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.
Which is a better buy? I tried both for a wide range of tasks--reading books, buying and watching movies, listening to music, browsing the Web and answering email--and found that each has its own strengths and weaknesses. As a result, the right one for you may depend on what you want to do with it. (I pick my favorite for each task below.)
If you're in the market for a color e-reader, the Nook Tablet has the clear advantage, with its superior layouts and more readable, less glary display. But if you're committed to buying and renting media from Amazon, the Kindle Fire may be what you're looking for, despite its shortcomings.
To bring their tablets in at a relatively low price, Amazon and Barnes & Noble had to make sacrifices. As a result, neither tablet matches the versatility of the Apple iPad 2, or even the capabilities of a well-appointed Android 3.2 Honeycomb tablet, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
Though the Nook Tablet has slightly better specs than the Kindle Fire (including 1GB of memory versus 512MB), they didn't deliver dramatically different performance, and both have their share of glitches.
But a tablet's overall performance may not be as important as itd ability to do what you want it to do well. Here's my take on which tablet is better at various tasks.
Winner: Nook Tablet
Trade books, mass-market books, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, and children's books all look and function better on the Nook Tablet than on the Kindle Fire.
Both tablet's screens have a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels, which limits how sharp the text they display can be. But the Nook Tablet's screen is less reflective than Kindle Fire's; the LCD is bonded to the glass, which mitigates reflection and increases contrast and sharpness. In comparison, I often encountered glare on the Kindle Fire's display.
I looked at the same magazines and books on each device, and the Nook Tablet was the clear overall winner at rendering text. At comparable font sizes, text on the Nook Tablet looked crisper than on the Kindle Fire.
In presenting standard books, the Nook Tablet offered more meaningful viewing choices. Though both tablets provide eight font-size options, the sizes on the Nook are more useful. It's definitely better for readers who need large type.
The Nook Tablet comes out on top for magazines, too. Barnes & Noble seems to have a broader selection of periodicals than Amazon does. Also, the Nook's scrubbing bar for moving forward and back in the magazine is better constructed than the one on the Kindle Fire. And the Nook Tablet's single-column text view makes far more sense than Kindle Fire's awkward text view, which fills the screen with hunks of text. Magazine text was more readable on the Nook Tablet overall.
The Kindle Fire often garbled entire lines of text in magazine pages; and even when I zoomed in to enlarge a page, its text looked softer than on the Nook Tablet. When I zoomed in on a magazine page on the Kindle Fire, I had trouble controlling where I ended up--the screen was so sensitive that the page jumped all over the place.
The Nook Tablet has access to a wider selection of children's books than the Kindle Fire, and presents them better. The Nook Tablet has a read-aloud feature, where a prerecorded voice reads the picture book, as well as new recording capabilities, where you can record your own soundtrack to accompany the book--a nice benefit for parents and kids alike. Better still: Many children's books on the Nook Tablet have page animations: Tap a specially coded spot, the illustrations move. The Kindle Fire versions of the same books lacked this feature.
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