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.
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.
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!