Posted by: Eddie | November 20, 2011

Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet: An owner’s comparison

I’m a gadget nut, and have bought both a Kindle Fire (KF) and Nook Tablet (NT) after receiving spousal approval. (He’s angling for a Macbook Air upgrade in the near future, so letting me get a couple cheap tablets paves the way for my approving that…). I’m quite happy with both of them, and think either one is more capable than many reviewers are giving them credit for.  (I also own an iPad 2, so am familiar with the “gold standard” of tablets.)  I think either one can be a great choice for someone looking for a capable tablet/e-reader on a budget.  I’m really liking the 7″ form factor and may be using one or both of these more than the iPad 2 simply because either is so much easier to hold for long periods, and the smaller screen bothers me less than I initially thought it would.

Significant differences

There are already several articles comparing and contrasting these two devices, and I’m not going to do the usual spec and storage compare/contrast they’ve all beaten to death. Rather, I’d like to discuss some significant differences I’ve seen that other reviewers either don’t mention at all, or don’t go into enough detail.

Do you like your screens warm or cool?

Some reviewers preferred the NT screen, others found them fairly equivalent. What no one mentions is that the NT has a much “warmer” screen than the KF. If you have a newer TV then it probably has color settings that let you pick a warmer or cooler look to it.  A warmer display has more of a yellowish tint to it, and a cooler display has a bluish tint. When placing the two side-by-side the difference is very noticeable.  Whites on the NT look much more like an off-white in comparison to the brighter/bluish white of the KF.

In most situations I prefer the NT screen’s warmer tones (and darker blacks), but anyone with a preference for a cooler palette would definitely prefer the KF.

Do you like your fonts anti-aliased?

Most reviewers say the NT has sharper text when reading books, and that is definitely true. BUT, I find myself preferring the fonts on the KF. It’s clear when comparing them side-by-side that the KF is applying heavier anti-aliasing to its fonts, which leads to the slightly “fuzzier” look to the letters, but it also makes the type look smoother and in my eyes more pleasant to look at. Yes the letters on the NT are sharper, but there’s also a little bit of “lumpiness” to them that I find unattractive.  Some fonts are better/worse than others, but initially I like the KF fonts more.

I’m not sure which will be easier on the eyes over the long-haul, but I was surprised to find myself preferring the smoother KF fonts over the sharper but less attractive NT ones.  Having said that, this is clearly a personal preference, so if you want razor sharp text then the NT is definitely the better choice for you.

While on the subject of readability, I like to choose a sepia-colored background while reading books to keep things easier on my eyes (along with lowered brightness). Here too I prefer the KF’s choice of color. It has a much more muted and soft yellow background, whereas the “sepia” setting on the NT is really really YELLOW. I find myself using the ”butter” setting, which is a slightly off-white. The KF’s yellow background is halfway between the “sepia” and “butter” choices on the NT, which for me is the sweet spot.

On the other hand, I like the UI for the NT when it comes to reading books. It’s obviously more mature than the KF’s, and to my eyes more elegant and polished. The “Nook Friends” social stuff is a pleasant touch, but unfortunately my other friends that are on it haven’t done much in a year or so with it, so I don’t know how much I’ll be using it.

Overall I find both tablets to be very capable book readers.  I’m not much for magazine and newspaper reading on either device, but from my initial playing around I’d agree with the general reviewer consensus that while the KF is ok, the NT is more capable in both these areas.

The tortoise and the hare

Ok, the difference in browser speeds isn’t QUITE that extreme, but I was shocked at how much faster the NT’s web browser was than the KF’s. I kept the KF set to ‘Accelerated browsing’, and set both to prefer desktop over mobile versions for pages.

The KF is more than acceptable to me, but in side-by-side testing on more complicated sites (cnn.com, msnbc.com, nytimes.com, imdb.com, etc.) the NT almost always finished sooner.  The typical difference was a second or two, but sometimes it was several seconds.  Amusingly, the NT even rendered amazon.com quicker than the KF did!  Out of about 30 sites there were only 2 that the KF rendered faster.

One other notable difference: other than a narrow bar at the bottom, the NT browser devotes the whole display to the web page, whereas the KF kept a thicker bar at the bottom as well as a bar at the top. BUT, that top bar is for tabbed browsing, which I *really* like, and the bottom bar kept the home screen, back button, browser settings, and bookmarks a single touch away, which I also greatly appreciated.

Overall I prefer the KF browser’s layout that sacrifices a bit of page space for tabbed browsing and ease of access to other navigational controls, but the NT’s speed advantage is significant. Also, I found the warm/cool color tones very noticeable on web pages that normally have lots of white in them, with the NT display more pleasant.

An app a day keeps the doctor away?

When considering price differential, Amazon’s “free app of the day” is not discussed enough. These are applications that normally cost money, but are offered free for one day.  (Not just to be used for one day, they’re yours to keep as a full purchase!)  They sometimes have wonderful apps available, and I love checking this each day.

Recently they had the descriptively named “Enhanced E-mail” application, which has some nice enhancements over the stock e-mail application, as well as QuickOffice and Autodesk’s Sketchbook. In other words, it’s not just a bunch of cheesy games, they’re giving away some significant apps!

On the NT side, the app selection is much smaller, however the apps I’ve used so far all seem much more custom crafted for the NT, and sometimes take better advantage of the hardware.  In both cases we have a “walled garden” of apps, with Amazon taking a more liberal approach that allows in a bit more in the way of junk, but provides a better selection, and B&N that is much stricter, but provides greater confidence that an app will work well if you do get it.

The free apps I’m getting through the Amazon store will ultimately give me more good apps on my KF at no cost, and that tips the scale for me in preferring Amazon’s approach.

Bottom’s up, or, the merits of being flexible

One thing many KF reviewers complain about is the positioning of its power button and headphone jack on the bottom, and how it leads to accidental presses on occasion. But, one of the strengths of the KF is that it is more than willing to orient its UI any way you like: landscape or portrait, with either direction being up.  All you have to do is rotate the KF so the power button is on the top, and the UI happily adjusts and problem solved!  (Apps I’ve used so far adapt as well.)

On the other hand the NT’s UI stubbornly insists on using it in the one orientation.  The web browser, book reader, and most apps are flexible enough to change as you rotate the NT, I just wish its main UI screens would as well.

In terms of what you can do with the main UI itself, the KF has a very fixed way of doing things, with a carousel showing your content ordered by when last accessed (mixing together books, apps, last viewed web page, music, videos, etc.) and shelves of favorites (4 per shelf, that you get to choose) below. While you can re-order your favorites, new ones are always added at the start of the top shelf.

At first I was dubious about this very rigid approach, and wanted a more traditional arrangeable screen, I found that it was surprisingly efficient, with the slickly-quick carousel acting as quick access to recently accessed items, and the shelves for my favorites. Top menu options for Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web let you quickly get to content by category, but you don’t have many sorting options *within* those categories. But, if you’re looking for a specific item on your device the always-present Search box at the top works very well, searching across all categories of content.

The NT has a more traditional UI, with multiple screens you can design by drag-and-drop. But, in order to search content you first have to select the category (Books, Apps, etc.) and then within that section you are presented with a search box.

Overall the NT’s UI is definitely more flexible, but I often find the KF’s more efficient, especially once you learn to leverage that search box to quickly find just about anything on your device. So, points to the NT for flexibility in terms of user choice and design options, and points to the KF for a UI that is flexible in letting you hold the device however you want. You just have to be willing to work with the limited set of choices it gives you.

An audible difference

Speakers on either device are limited at best. I’m more concerned about how headphones sound, and I was surprised at how much better the KF sounded through headphones.  The volume range was greater, and bass response was noticeably better, which is key for a fan of electronica like me.  I think fans of classical music might prefer sound on the NT though, so if/when you do go to check out each device, be sure to bring a pair of your favorite headphones along to test them out if this is going to be important to you.

Which is better? Don’t listen to salespeople: see for yourself!

In the end I can’t confidently recommend one over the other. I think both companies should be proud of their efforts, and either one is a solid purchase for the money. I don’t think either one clearly is “the winner”, because individual preferences and usage patterns ultimately determine which is the better choice for you.

Do your research, go to stores to use each product, and IGNORE WHAT SALESPEOPLE SAY. I was at a Best Buy and overheard a salesman saying all sorts of wrong things about a Kindle Fire to someone, trying to steer him to a more expensive tablet.  Literally everything I heard him say about the KF was untrue. Every single sentence.

The B&N staff I encountered were friendly, and seemed fairly knowledgeable about the NT, but I wouldn’t try asking them to be fair about the KF in comparing it, that’s not their job. Their job is to sell you the NT, as it should be.

Read the reviews, take my ramblings for whatever their worth, then GO USE THEM. Pick them up, play with the UI, tell salespeople to leave you alone, and spend some time with each one. Try to see both on the same day, while impressions are fresh. Odds are good you’ll feel a pull towards one over the other, and THAT will be the right choice for you. After that, please just be respectful to people who made a different choice!

Please say hello

Feel free to ask questions in comments if you’d like, and if you use any B&N products then please ask for details to add me to your “nook friends” list, especially if you like SF, fantasy, and/or horror!

May whatever device you choose bring you many years of reading/viewing/gaming pleasure!

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Responses

  1. Fantastic review! It is the most objective I’ve read about these tablets.

    • Thanks Don, I appreciate that!

  2. Very good advice on a choice of tablet. Hands on is always useful before buying. I am personally looking for a book reading device and liked the original kindle which has sadly been stolen. My choice I think will be the NK simple touch. We shall see. Thanks for your observations.

  3. Great review! I’ve bitten the bullet and gotten the Tablet for myself and my girlfriend after owning a Nook Color. Haven’t gotten to play with the tablet yet since it is an Xmas present. I’d be happy to add you as “Nook Friend” as well.

    • Thanks Ryan! I sent you a nook friend’s invite under the name of Eddie. I hope you and your girlfriend have a great time with your new nook tablet. 🙂

  4. Useful comments. Two things you did not mention.

    1) It is quite possible to get and install the Amazon free Android App of the day on the Nook Tablet. I have done so. You just need to install a second launcher as described on various e-reader websites.
    2) The Nook Tablet allows reading books in landscape mode. My understanding is that the Kindle Fire does not.

    • Hi Jim,

      You can do a lot more with both tablets if willing to sideload and/or root. I’m just limiting myself to “out of the box” experiences with each.

      I just tried and was able to read a book in landscape on my Fire fine. They had an update that installed when I first unboxed it, so my guess is that may have been true before the update but they’ve addressed that now.

  5. Nice review, thank you. I appreciate you giving a different perspective than most review sites. I also concur that 7″ is must more comfortable than 10″ form factor. I wonder if the 8-9″ form factor is actually a nice compromise? I would be curious to see a review of 7″ vs 8.9″ vs 10+” tablet form factors.

    • That’s an interesting question, cc, I’ll have to keep an eye out for an 8.9″ tablet and see how that feels.

  6. Finally! A good review of the pertinent features of two budget tablets. One of my biggest concerns was about how well type looked, given the higher ppi against the “Gold Standard” of the iPad. I think I do prefer more anti-aliasing. I’m looking forward to going and trying out both tablets. Thank you for an honest and unbiased look at them both!

  7. I have a Nook Color and would choose the Nook Tablet hands down if I were going to upgrade. That said, I have read lots of reviews of both and am similarly impressed with each offering. The one thing no one seems to be mentioning is the EPUB vs MOBI format. I have little experience with any of the Amazon offerings, but I think that the ability to use an open format over a proprietary one would also figure into one’s buying decision. Most of the library programs seem to favor EPUB and if you plan to borrow books through your local library, you can’t do it on the Amazon products as far as I’ve seen. Just my 2 cents.

    • I’m a member at 3 public libraries (North Dakota, Virginia & Pennsylvania), & as of a few months ago, they’ve all added the Kindle format to their EPUB digital choices on most eBooks. I use the Overdrive app on my various eReaders.

      • Good to know, thanks for mentioning it Dixie!

  8. Great review. Thank you for taking the time to give a great objective review of the two tablets. Still haven’t decided, but you certainly provided a lot of helpful information.

    • Thanks Frank. I hope whatever tablet you end up getting brings you much enjoyment!

  9. @Alfred, Kindle books are available in public libraries that support Overdrive. Each book now has a Kindle version. The difference is the Fire downloads these books wirelessly through Whispersync whereas with epub books you have to download them to your computer and then sideload them onto your ereader.

    I once thought like you about the “open” format of epub and the ability to buy from other sources until I realized all these sources are much more expensive than Amazon, including Barnes and Noble. Of the 10 books I purchased this week I saved over $20 buying from Amazon versus B&N. The savings add up over time.

    • Nice review. I have been a nook owner for a few years and I am considering purchasing the Nook Tablet as an upgrade or the Kindle. One of things I enjoy about the nook is that B&N has “Free Fridays” where selections of books are available for free downloading. This has saved me a few dollars and allows me to find new authors to follow. Does Amazon have a similar feature for receiving free books?

      • Hi Don, if you’re an Amazon Prime member they have recently started the “Kindle Lending Library” feature that lets you pick one book from a list per month to read for free. You can keep it as long as you like, but then “return it” and then get another one each time.

        Like B&N there’s also tons of e-books that temporarily are free in order to promote them. There are newsletters that can keep you informed of the latest freebies.

  10. Hi Karma,
    Good review. I will add that the warmth or coolness of each screen may be down to individual displays. My Fire display is very warm, yellowish when I compare it to any of my notebook/netbook screens.

    That’s fine. I like the pale yellow tint on the screen. Easier on the eyes. Others have commented on the Kindle boards on their Fire screen being quite yellow or warm-based. So this must mean that the tone can vary from screen to screen even within the same maker.

    On anti-aliasing, I can’t say much. Only that I compared my Fire’s type while reading to a similar page on the NookColor (not the NT) and found the NC to be softer fonts. The NT likely changed that. I don’t know. But my Fire’s type seems fairly sharp.

    I’ll need to compare them in-store when a store rep isn’t looking!

    • Terry, thanks, that’s interesting. I wonder if Amazon had more than one manufacturer for their screens? I’d be interested in hearing how it goes if you can sneak a direct comparison to a Nook Tablet.

  11. Thanks for the thoughtful review from a human being’s perspective, a refreshing change from the repeated spin and marketing bs we’re all used to and no longer trust.

    I too am a gadget person but have successfully resisted purchasing things I don’t see as filling an actual need. Then I see these little beauties, leaving me to pose the question… if one is not really a book reader what other uses/value does either device offer beyond e-books. I would like it if you, and any others, can help explain that to me as part of my decision making process.

    Thanks!
    Msh

  12. Thanks for the excellent review. It’s good to get a personal view from someone who actually uses them. Personally, I suspect the KF will get a lot more buyers simply because it is $50 cheaper, something B&N will have to address (probably after Christmas).

  13. Thank you….It is a great review.

  14. Thank you for the review. Can you please clarify something for me? It seems to me that I cannot download movies from the net and watch them on the KF, but I can do so with the NT (if they are in MP4 format). Is that right? That would be a deal breaker for me.

    It seems that everything that doesn’t come from the Amazon site cannot be used with the KF. So you CANNOT download stuff from the net and read/watch/play them on the KF, while you CAN download stuff from the net and watcn/read/play them on the NT?

    • Hi John,

      I’m more of a streamer than a watcher so don’t know off the top of my head what the options are for the KF in terms of sideloading/watching movies. Let me poke around a bit and I’ll post a reply here in a day or two if someone else more knowledgeable doesn’t beat me to it. 🙂

      • Hi,
        I have the Kindle Fire and can confirm that I can view any MP4 format movie on it. The movie does *not* have to come from the Amazon site. Also, I use a $10 app from tool4movies called “DVD Catalyst 4” to rip any of my DVD’s into MP4 format and watch them on the Fire.

  15. Thanks Eddie. I am concerned with the update 1.4.1. on the Nook, which apparently forces people to buy apps from BN only. Can one still download a movie from the internet on the micro-sd, and watch it? Thanks a lot!

  16. This was a great review and I found it very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to write down your impressions. It’s a much more personal approach to comparing tablets than one gets from other sites.
    Mark

  17. Thanks Mark, I’m glad it was helpful!

  18. Very good article. I definitely appreciate this website. Keep it up!

  19. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who had been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me breakfast simply because I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this topic here on your internet site.

    • Lol, glad it was helpful!

  20. New to tablets but currently have a a plain Nook, if I was to get a Kindle Fire where does my library of books go that I have with B&N?

    • Hi Kathy, you can either use a program like Calibre to convert them to the kindle’s mobipocket format, or just access them through the nook app on a pc, tablet, or smartphone.

      EDIT: You can even run the nook app on your kindle fire, it just takes a bit of side loading yourself. Google “nook app on Kindle fire” for details….

      • thank you so much for the info!

      • Yes, the Nook app on the Fire is the way to go. Works well on my Fire. But Calibre can’t convert a Nook book to MOBI if the file is DRM-protected (as all Nookbooks are, I believe.) Calibre does have available a plug-in to strip the DRM from the book file and then convert it, but the user would have to know how to set it up, which is not simple for many.

  21. A great one. Nice and thanks for the advice. I like warmer screen by the way.


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