Dec 312011
 

In my opinion yes, and I’ll show why, but the main question is whether the extra features are worth $50 to you. It’s impossible to recommend it to everybody because it depends on your preferences and the way you intend to use your new affordable tablet. That’s the beauty of this world – there’s something in it for everybody! But to get you closer to your decision I will first focus on the Kindle’s shortcomings, then we’ll move on the differences between the two and the Nook’s hardware advantages, after which I’ll show some advantages of the Amazon’s solution, a hardware features comparison and then I let you make the informed decision.

Scarce Specs of The Kindle Fire

Amazon’s Kindle Fire has plenty of deficiencies when compared to usual tablets, but that’s why its price is so attractive. It has only 8 GB of internal storage (only 6 GB available for the user) with no external storage microSD slot. It has only 512 MB of RAM (memory) and no navigation buttons except for the power button, as everything else is done on the touch screen, cv which according to my experience can be quite cumbersome. There’s no volume rocker, no back button, no home button, no menu button, no camera, no microphone, no Bluetooth, no GPS, no gyroscope, no 5 GHz WiFi radio (2.4 GHz only), It uses Amazon App store without Android Market and no usual Android experience (smells like Apple spirit).

Extras of The Nook Tablet

The Nook Tablet is not the cream of the crop either: it has only one speaker (but so does the iPad) and it still has no Bluetooth, no camera, no GPS, no gyroscope, but it has several better features than the Kindle Fire. If you are ready to give $50 more for these, there’s your Fire vs. Nook decision:

– 16 GB of internal storage (double the 8 GB of the Kindle Fire), however, without a root, only 1 GB is available to the user without buying an external microSD card, with the rest currently reserved for Barnes & Noble books and multimedia and the operating system,

– Additional up to 32 GB of external storage (microSD card slot) fully available to the user vs. none available on the Kindle Fire, so in the long run you’ll probably also spend $20-50 on a microSD card, but more options is better.

– Built-in Microphone (not yet good for Skype or anything except recording your read-alouds).

– 1 GB RAM (double the 512 Mb RAM of the Kindle Fire)

– Better, laminated screen with less glare and better videos (less choppy with more details)

– Hardware volume rocker and home button for much simpler controls and navigation than with the Kindle Fire.

– Better battery life: results vary in different tests, intensive use averaging about 8.5 vs 7 hours of the Kindle Fire

Amazon Advantages

Heavy Amazon users, especially those with Amazon Prime subscription will probably be better off with the Kindle Fire, in spite of its slightly worse hardware specs and video/picture performance. Amazon is trying to provide a seamless user experience with Kindle Fire, which is where they may approach Apple if they do it right. The advantages are significant for an average user who doesn’t want to mess with the tablet they have: dealing with Amazon hardware and Amazon-purchased software, without endless fingerpointing and with only one neck to choke if things don’t work right. This is great for those already used to Amazon content and accessing books, music and movies, although, to complicate your decision, these are also available on other Android tablets and phones, but not (yet?) on a vanilla version of the Nook Tablet, which on the other hand also has no in-store movie service, but relies instead only on Netflix and Hulu Plus which are also available on the Kindle Fire together with the Amazon store. Amazon also allows for download of multimedia files so although this tablet is made primarily for the cloud storage, you can download file for access when you’re out of a WiFi connection.

With the Kindle Fire your hardware cost has a low ceiling – you can’t spend more than $200 on the hardware, unless you want fancy stands, cases or anything else that in my opinion is a waste of money, simply because there are no real hardware upgrades possible. However, after the first free month, the Amazon Prime membership without which you won’t have access to many thousands of their streaming movies will cost you an extra $80/year. This is cheaper than if you want to use Netflix and with this membership you also get other perks like free two-day shipping of Amazon.com purchases and book rentals. Again, Amazon Prime streaming works on many devices and tablets, (not yet on the Nook Tablet), so you’re not bound to the Kindle Fire although it does give a very controlled environment that lets the provider make most of the decisions for the user and lulls the users in the comfort of their limited decision-making. Perfect for those who like no-brainers!

Movies? Really?

But let’s pause and reflect for a moment. Regardless which of the two you prefer, ask yourself one thing – is it worth watching movies on a 7″ screen? How often will you do it? For real? Will the experience be anything like watching it in a theater or on a high definition big screen TV with surround sound? All movie directors and professionals make their art for the big screen and all of them will agree this is a perfect way to cripple the experience and impair their artistic expression. With none of these tablets having a HDMI port nor enough umpf on the graphic card to drive anything bigger than their measly 7 inch screen, it’s much better to get a Roku, or any other Netflix player that connects to a bigger screen. Heck, I can even watch movies on my big TV from my HTC EVO 4G! Not that I would though, because I usually watch much better Bluray features in surround sound. The only reason these tablets could be justifiably used for movies watching is on a long trip where there’s no bigger screen, if you have some movies downloaded on your tablet to kill time (I’d still use a 10″ tablet instead, as even my kids’ video dvd player is 10″), or to let your kids play movies without capturing the TV away from you, which happens often in my home.
Aside from movies, Amazon music streaming is a winner in my opinion because unlike iTunes it lets you upload your music and download it to wherever you want. But if you want to carry your music with you and you have tons of it, your primary choice is the Nook Tablet, which is also the case if you don’t have permanent and consistent access to the internet.

Root and Android Firmware

CyanogenMod works on the Kindle Fire but it’s still in development so it should work much better soon. But if I were about to buy one of these two tablets intending to root them, I’d definitely go with the Nook Tablet because even without rooting it provides more of a true Android experience although without rooting none of the two devices allows for Google Android App Market, so these publishers (Amazon and Barnes & Noble) get to control what you can and cannot download. This is good for an average user, but bad for the rest of us geeks who like to have a full control of our devices. In case of a root or CyanogenMod installation the limited storage on both tablets would suddenly become more usable and the 1 GB of user space before buying an external microSD card would suddenly become close to 16 GB or at least 14 GB.

Specs & Differences Summary

Here’s a simple list of hardware specs on both Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet
(I didn’t want to put this in a table for mobile users’ experience sake):

Different:

Technical Specs for Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, respectively:
Storage (built-in): 8 GB, 16 GB
Available to user: 6 GB, 1 GB (without storage upgrade)
Add-on storage: None, 2-32 GB (MicroSD card)
Maximum storage: 8 GB, 48 GB (with add-on)
RAM (Memory): 512 MB, 1 GB
Built-in microphone: No, Yes (limited*)
Volume rocker: No, Yes
Stereo speakers: Yes**, No
Battery life (hrs): 7, 8.5

Same:

Screen diagonal: 7″
Main processor: 1 GHz TI dual core
Screen resolution: 1024 x 600
Screen DPI: 169
2.4 GHz WiFi radio: Yes (both support 802.11b/g/n)
5 GHz Wifi radio: No (neither supports 802.11a)
Bluetooth support: No
Built-in camera: No
GPS (navigation): No
Gyroscope: No

*While the Kindle Fire can work only with a headset with microphone and only in some programs. Skype doesn’t currently work on either one , at least not yet, but it doesn’t yet work on the Nook Tablet either.

**Good luck with stereo sound perception with the Kindle Fire speakers mounted too close on the shorter instead of the longer side.

As a proud geek I like to customize and root my systems and I bet that once CyanogenMod “vanilla” Android port is ready and stable on both devices, the Kindle Nook will perform much better due to the double the amount of RAM, but this is what makes that device more attractive to a narrow group of geeks like us. Although the manufacturers frown upon these maneuvers of technical enthusiasts which seemingly bring them no profit, they do bring popularity and fame to certain devices. After all, think about who recommends them.

Summary

If you don’t travel a lot and if you have a good high speed internet connection at home or wherever else you roam, and if you don’t need the built-in microphone and the extra storage space option, you can save the extra $50 and go with the Kindle Fire, especially when buying this for your kid as his or her first tablet.

On the other hand, if you prefer the better hardware specs (particularly if you intend to root it or put CyanogenMod on it) and either prefer to carry most of your music and movies with you instead of streaming from the cloud, the Nook has the better outlook in your book so add 50 buckaroos more for pure, affordable joy.

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