Barnes & Noble announced a $249 Nook Tablet Monday that will compete with Amazon's not-yet-launched Kindle Fire tablet; the Nook Tablet sports a customized version of the Android OS, runs Android apps, streams video from content partners such as Hulu, and (of course) can be used as an e-book reader.
Though it officially goes on sale at the end of next week, you can preorder the Nook Tablet now, according to Barnes & Noble.
A Closer Look
The 7-inch Nook Tablet is the second generation of B&N's Nook Color platform, and with the adoption of the simple name “Nook Tablet,” the company acknowledges what we've all known for the past year: That this LCD-based platform is as much a tablet as an e-reader. The Nook Tablet will cost $50 more than Amazon's Kindle Fire, but for that, you get more than what Amazon offers. Or what any other tablet offers, for that matter.
That said, the Nook Tablet's interface looks nothing like that of the Android masses. The software is a wholly customized version of Android 2.3, with optimizations for accessing your reading material. Like the Nook Color before it, the Nook Tablet lacks access to Google services, including Android Market; to download apps, you'll have to go through B&N's own app store, which is growing daily.
The device itself has the same physical design as the Nook Color; the only difference is that the Nook Tablet is slightly slimmer, and 1.7 ounces lighter (it weighs 14.1 ounces, or 0.88 pounds, the same as other upcoming 7-inch Android tablets such as the Toshiba 7” Thrive). It also has the same 1024-by-600-pixel LCD display as the Nook Color; uniquely, this display uses bonding technology to eliminate the air gap between the glass and the display to minimize glare—a common issue with LCD tablets.
Under the Hood
Inside is where the big changes lie. The specs of the Nook Tablet have brought what was an e-reader into direct competition with today's crop of tablets, with a 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of built-in storage. That beats what Amazon's offering in the Kindle Fire hands down, with twice the RAM and twice the storage of the Kindle Fire. On top of that, you still get a MicroSD card slot with the Nook Tablet, something Amazon doesn't offer.
B&N makes up for the lack of integrated services by including media streaming apps on the device--most notably Netflix, which is integrated into the menu system so you can easily access what you were last viewing directly from the home screen. Also preinstalled: Hulu Plus for video, and Pandora and Grooveshark for music streaming. The device's boosted specs mean it can smoothly stream 1080p video.
Barnes & Noble also adds a microphone, so you can record notes or your own reading of a child's book, for example. On the downside, the speaker is mono, and the tablet has no Bluetooth support.
B&N says the battery will last 10 hours for reading, and 9 hours for high-def video playback—an almost 20 percent improvement over the Nook Color.
In Video: Nook Takes on Fire
Nook Color Updates
Speaking of the Nook Color, the price drop seen at Best Buy this weekend becomes official and across-the-board: B&N is now selling the Nook Color for $199, the same price as Amazon's Kindle Fire.
Existing Nook Color owners will get a software update this month to reflect the company's tablet optimizations. B&N also updates the E Ink-based Nook Simple Touch e-reader with sharper text, better contrast, longer (up to two months) battery life, and faster page turns for 80 percent less flashing—at a lower price, just $99, down from $139. Already have a Nook Simple Touch? No worries—you'll get all the new features via a software update.