Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet: Which Should You Buy?

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Buying or Renting Books, Music, and Video

Winner: Kindle Fire

Amazon's Kindle Fire acts as a great vending machine for Amazon's music and video offerings. Amazon's video store is as easy to use on the Kindle Fire as iTunes is on Apple products. The Kindle Fire simplifies acquiring books, periodicals, and music, and streaming or downloading videos.

On the other hand, I also appreciated the clean approach of the Nook Tablet's Shop app, which lets you buy books, periodicals, and apps from the Nook Store. Its layout is pleasingly flexible.

Barnes & Noble doesn't sell video or music content; instead, it offers apps that let you stream content to the tablet. Hulu Plus and Netflix come preloaded, as does Pandora, Rhapsody, and TuneIn Radio Pro. They're a good start--and they offer consumers choice--but the Nook Tablet needs more options. B&N says that it will have download and rental services ready to go live early next year; but for now, this tablet is a good choice only if it already supports your chosen streaming service.

Music Player

Winner: Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire's well-designed, convenient music player is one of its greatest strengths. The music player lets you sort by playlists, artists, albums, and songs. You can shop at Amazon's music store from within the music player, and the integration is terrific. Navigating through the music stored on your tablet and through the tunes stored in Amazon's cloud is easy, though you can't build a playlist that includes both types of files. The Nook Tablet's music player, meanwhile, seems like an afterthought. It's awkwardly designed and awkward to use. Trying to find music can be frustrating, and the player--like the tablet's menus--is locked into vertical orientation.

This view of the Kindle Fire's native music player shows the aesthetics and the tight shopping integration that exist throughout Amazon's tablet.
Unlike Amazon, Barnes & Noble doesn't sell downloadable music, so the Nook Tablet has no built-in store for buying individual music tracks. But it does come preloaded with optimized versions of TuneIn Radio Pro, Rhapsody, and Pandora. Barnes & Noble did a good job adapting these apps for the Nook Tablet. The Pandora app, for example, seems designed for the Nook's screen--a vast improvement over the way it looks on other 7-inch tablets.

Speakers

Winner: Kindle Fire

Amazon made a mistake by putting both speakers along the same edge of the Kindle Fire; time and again, I blocked the lower speaker while holding the tablet in two hands. But at least the Kindle Fire has stereo speakers. And they sound fairly decent, too, at least for music. When I played videos, the Fire's audio seemed too faint; but that appeared to be a software problem, not a hardware problem.

The Nook Tablet has a single monaural speaker on its back. Audio sounded tinny and thin. The original Nook Color also had a single speaker, and it's one area where Barnes & Noble should have invested in an upgraded design.

Email

Winner: Nook Tablet

Neither the Nook Tablet nor the Kindle Fire has a great native email client, but the Nook Tablet's is the better of the two. It lets you jump into Gmail labels, for example; and emails resized better to fit the 7-inch vertical display. It's too bad that the email app displays mail only in portrait mode. Also the Nook Tablet's email program lacks the Universal Inbox offered by the Kindle Fire.

Next: Pictures and Personal Video, and Apps

At a Glance
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