Face-Off: Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

With highly competitive price points of just $199 and $249 respectively, the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are among this holiday season’s most tempting gifts. Built on Android but with very unique interfaces, both devices have a bright 7-inch screen and a dual-core processor, and each offers easy access to content and apps.

We put the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet through a 18-round death match to determine which device offers the best overall experience.

Design

You wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught holding either device in public, but the Nook Tablet is just a little bit better-looking. Where the Kindle Fire has classy square black edges, a glossy black screen, and an attractive soft-touch back, the Nook Tablet has a more book-like look and feel. Both devices weigh about the same; 14.2 ounces for the Nook and 14.4 for the Kindle. However, the Nook Tablet is longer and slightly thicker (8.1 x 5 x 0.48 inches vs. 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches).

Kindle Fire Design

With gently rounded edges, pewter-colored frame, and elegant triangle-shaped “nook” hole in the lower-left corner, the Nook Tablet evokes the feeling of a relaxing afternoon spent reading books over coffee at your friendly neighborhood bookstore. You’ll find yourself stroking the The Nook’s luxuriously soft, grippable rubberized back over and over. More important, the Nook Tablet sports a dedicated home button and physical volume controls, two features the Fire lacks.

Nook Tablet

Winner: Nook Tablet

Screen

Both the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire have a bright 7-inch screen with a 1024 x 600 resolution and the capability of displaying over 16 million colors. At 460 lux, the Kindle Fire’s screen is a little bit brighter than the Nook Tablet’s 392-lux display, but that’s not where the story ends.

Because there’s no air gap beneath the fully laminated surface on the Nook Tablet’s VividView display, it provides more colorful images with wider viewing angles. While the Kindle Fire’s uber-glossy display often showed a little of reflections when we tried viewing movies at angles to the left or right, the Nook Tablet’s picture looked great even at 90-degree angles to the left or right.

Winner: Nook Tablet

Sound

There’s no comparison between the accurate, loud, and rich stereo speakers that sit on the short right side of the Kindle Fire and the distorted, clock radio-like speaker on the back of the Nook Tablet. When we tried playing music and movies on the Fire, sound was loud enough to fill a room and good enough to replace a low-end stereo. The only problem with sound on the Kindle Fire is that the device lacks physical volume buttons.

Winner: Kindle Fire

User Interface

Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet use Android 2.3, but each has a completely unique UI on top that looks quite different from Google’s OS.  The Kindle Fire has an attractive home screen that’s divided into two sections: a carousel that lets you flip through all your apps and recently opened media, and a bookshelf that holds your favorite apps/books/movies/music. Above the the carousel sit a search box and tabs for apps, books, docs, music, the newstand, video, and web (the browser).

Kindle Fire Home Screen

While this UI looks great, we found the carousel a little dizzying to flip though. We also were a bit annoyed that the software-based home and back buttons don’t stay on the screen all the time. They get covered by the virtual keyboard and disappear when you’re reading a book or magazine, requiring an extra tap to make them visible.

The Nook Tablet’s interface is not only more attractive, but also a lot more functional than the Kindle Fire’s. A set of three home screens can be customized with your choice of wallpaper and shortcuts to make this device look and feel much more personal.

Nook Tablet UI

The home screens provide a plethora of ways to return to other recent activities. A black bar at the top of the screen links back to the last book you read. A pull down “more” menu shows recently read books and periodicals, along with recently watched Netflix movies and recommendations for other movies you haven’t seen yet. A scrollable list of recently used apps and media lines the bottom of the screen, and a menu with buttons for your apps, library, store, and web browser sits below that.

Hitting the physical N button once from anywhere in the Nook Tablet’s OS launches a menu with shortcuts to apps, books, the browser, newstand, and the store. Hitting the N button twice takes you back to the home screen, where you can easily navigate to any other recent task.

Nook Tablet Menu

Winner: Nook Tablet

Books and eReader

While both devices let users lend books to friends and both platforms support library-lending, the Nook Tablet also supports the popular ePub format that’s used in a number of other stores and free book collections. However, uniquely, Amazon Prime members can borrow one book per month from the service’s Lending Library.

Both devices offer powerful eReading software that saves your place across devices and lets you configure fonts, set bookmarks, take notes, highlight text, and use a dictionary to look up words. However, the Nook’s eReading app is just a bit better. Though the Fire turns pages a bit faster, the turns seem more natural on the Nook because, no matter how quickly you flip, the system never stops to buffer.

Both the Nook and Kindle apps let you share passages you’re reading to social networks, rate books, and like books on Facebook, the Nook app gets you there in one less click.


Nook eReader

The Nook app has a share button that lets you post your reading status to social networks, rate the book, and “like” the book on Facebook from within the app. It also has a great “recommend” button that shows similar books.

Nook Recommendations

Winner: Nook Tablet

Face-Off: Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. DAn Says:

    Fire is just better, cooler and more funtional. Bye Bye B&N the Fire is your swan song. Selling the nook under cost your last profit stream is gone.

  2. Gree Roberts Says:

    Can the Fire be used as a laptop? Can you do the same things with it that you could with a laptop such as Word doc., excel, and so forth?

  3. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Gree, The Fire is definitely not a replacement for a laptop. It can’t even really replace a full-fledged tablet like the iPad 2 or ThinkPad Tablet.

  4. Ash Says:

    @DAn: a swan song is the last hurrah before demise, therefore if B&N went down after the NOOK Tablet’s release, that Tablet would be their swan song…not the Kindle Fire… It was a good try at making an awesome reference, though.

    I used both devices for extended periods for a review and comparison. The NOOK’s display is far and away better, and the hardware design beats Kindle Fire easily. Kindle Fire feels better, IMO, in your hand and looks sleeker. Its lack of hardware controls is super shitty and can be annoyingly distracting; furthermore, if you want to use it as a regular tablet the Kindle Fire’s main downfall is its lack of expandable memory. :/

  5. Justin Says:

    Your chart on the “linpack score” is inconsistent with the text.

    text:
    Nook scored 42 Kindle scored 36

    graphic;
    Nook scored 36 Kindle, 42

  6. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Justin. Our bad. Fixed.

  7. tvfeet Says:

    I don’t see how the Kindle Fire can be considered all that enticing when the only way it betters the Nook Tablet is by adding on pay services, like Amazon Prime ($80/year) and storage for your music from Amazon ($20/year) so you can stream it back to the Fire. At least with the Nook Tablet you can dump up to 32gb of music/movies onto a card and stick it in the slot for use any time you feel like it, rather than just when you’re on wifi.

  8. Errrrmmm Says:

    Really at the Value section?

    It’s not ok to spend $50 extra for that HUGE upgrade on the nook ( double CPU memory, and onboard memory + expandable SD slot and the fact that you do become a Barnes and Noble member for FREE ) for cash strapped shoppers yet it’s okay to spend $79 per year on amazon prime service? Bullshit much?

    Please, do an unbiased comparison

  9. Ben Says:

    Well turns out you can add other marketplaces w/o rooting the Nook: http://www.theverge.com/2011/11/17/2568172/nook-tablet-can-sideload-android-apps-no-root-required

    Amazon sells their music as DRM free .mp3. You can purchase mp3′s from amazon and listen to them on your Nook. (You can probably even buy mp3′s from amazon directly on your Nook’s web browser.)

    I’d be curious to see how hard it is to rent amazon movies on Nook, but I’m guessing someone smart will figure it out, since amazon’s movies are compatible with other android devices. But if you are really hard up for the latest movie. Buy the DVD and side load it onto your Nook (or load a few onto an SD card for that road trip. The extra storage is a big advantage when you are away from Wi-Fi).

    Nook is better hardware. And in the unlikely event that B&N goes under before the next great device comes out, then you can still root your Nook and have a far superior android device to the Kindle. Besides, if you’re clever, you should be able to get at most of Amazon’s content on your Nook anyway.

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