Amazon bundles the Kindle Fire with its Silk browser, which supports tabbed browsing and promises faster page downloads through an accelerated browsing feature that leverages Amazon’s EC2 cloud service to help with page rendering. Unfortunately, the accelerated browsing feature hasn’t lived up to the hype so far. In fact, cloud acceleration actually provided slower average page downloads when enabled. With the feature turned off, the Kindle Fire downloaded the desktop versions of three web pages ( ESPN, LAPTOP, and NYTimes) in an average of 7 seconds, but that number jumped to 9.4 seconds with the acceleration enabled.
Download times were inconsistent. On one set of tests, the Silk browser (with acceleration disabled) took an average of 7 seconds to download the same sites which the Nook browser took 9.7 seconds to download. On another day, the Nook browser loaded those sites in 7.4 seconds, while the Silk browser took 9.4 seconds.
However, on any day, Amazon’s Silk browser offers tabbed browsing, faster synthetic scores, and the promise of cloud-accelerated browsing to really supercharge download times.
Winner: Kindle Fire
Because both devices place media consumption first, neither Barnes & Noble nor Amazon put much effort into providing good communication tools. Neither e-mail client supports Exchange, the Microsoft e-mail/contacts/calendar service preferred by most large businesses, though both devices’ app stores offer TouchDown, a free program that syncs with your exchange mail, calendar, and contacts. However, all e-mail from your personal accounts—be they POP,IMAP, or Gmail—goes through the native e-mail client on each device.
While neither e-mail client matches up to the default Gmail and e-mail clients on any Android phone, the Nook’s software is just a little bit worse because it doesn’t even allow you to send attachments, something the Fire’s mail software allows.
The Fire also has a much more sophisticated built-in contact database that allows you to store multiple e-mail addresses and phone numbers for each of your friends. Compare that to the lame contacts list on the Nook, which only allows you to store a single e-mail address and no phone number for your friends.
Though both devices have instant-messaging clients available in their app stores, the selection and quality of chat apps in the Amazon app store is miles ahead of its competitor’s. Searching the Nook store, we found just one IM client, the $9.99 IM+ pro, which allows you to chat in all the major messaging protocols, including AIM, Gtalk, Microsoft Messenger, and Skype (text-only). However, we hate IM+’s ugly interface, tiny fonts, and premium price. The Amazon app store has around a dozen chat apps, most notably imo instant messanger, a gorgeous free multi-client app.
Winner: Kindle Fire
Under the hood, both the Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire have 1-GHz TI OMAP 4 CPUs, but the Nook Tablet has 1GB of RAM to the Fire’s 512MB. Whether it’s the bigger amount of RAM or just more mature software, the Nook Tablet feels a lot faster than the Fire. Where the Fire often seems sluggish and, on our tests, often failed to respond to our taps until we hit an icon two or three times, the Nook Tablet was always smooth and responsive.
The Nook Tablet also did better on most synthetic benchmarks, scoring 42.57 on Linpack’s single-threaded test to beat the Kindle Fire’s mark of 36.75. On the Benchmark memory test, the Nook Tablet excelled, scoring 520.82 to 394.4 for the Fire. Even on the graphics-intensive An3DBench test, the Nook Tablet outscored the Kindle Fire 7,120 to 7,006.
Winner: Nook Tablet
The Kindle Fire comes with 8GB of internal storage, with just more than 5GB free after accounting for the operating system and pre-loaded apps. The Nook Tablet has 16GB of storage, with 13GB free. However, 12 of the 13GB are reserved for Barnes & Noble content only. You only have 1GB for photos, music, and movies you copy onto the device over USB. Though the 1GB amount is disappointing, the Nook Tablet comes with a microSD card slot, which allows you to add up to 32GB of additional storage, something the Kindle Fire doesn’t have.
Yes, the Kindle Fire lets you store content in the cloud, but that doesn’t help when you’re offline.
Winner: Nook Tablet
We have thus far been unable to run our standard battery test on the the Nook Tablet, but in anecdotal use, it lasted all day with Wi-Fi on. The Kindle Fire completed the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 40-percent brightness, in 7 hours and 34 minutes. With Wi-Fi off and a low enough brightness, either device could conceivably last longer than 8 hours.
For $199, the Kindle Fire provides access to a large ecosystem of books, movies, music, magazines, and apps—and it has the power to run them. For $50 more, the Nook Tablet has twice the RAM and twice the storage. However, that $50 delta is a big deal for cash-strapped shoppers.
Plus, Amazon sweetens the deal with free content. Provided you’re an Amazon Prime customer ($79 per year), you’ll get access to thousands of TV shows and movies for free from Amazon, as well as one free book per month from the Kindle Lending Library.
Winner: Kindle Fire
Though the Kindle Fire won 10 out of 18 rounds, to choose between these two devices, you must look at your priorities. Those who want a device primarily for eBook reading will prefer The Nook Tablet’s larger selection, better eReading software, and sharper screen. Parents who want to give their kids the best interactive storybook experience will also prefer Barnes & Noble’s device. However, if you want to do a lot of movie watching, music listening, communicating, web surfing, or gaming, the Kindle Fire’s superior ecosystem, solid sound, and lower price make it a better value.
Overall Winner: Kindle Fire
|Kindle Fire||Nook Tablet|
|Books and eReader||X|
|Apps and Games||X|
|Search and Discoverability||X|
|E-mail and Messaging||X|