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

Web Browsing

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. 

Nook vs. Kindle Browsers

Despite the unfulfilled potential of its accelerated browsing feature, the Silk browser still outshines the Nook Tablet’s built-in browser. The Kindle Fire took just 2591.7 milliseconds to complete the the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, compared to 3,894.3 for the Nook. On the Peacekeeper benchmark,  higher scores are better and the Kindle Fire’s browser achieved them with a mark of 317 to the Nook’ browser’s 232. 

Peacekeeper Benchmark Scores

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

E-mail and Messaging

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.

Nook E-mail
Kindle Fire E-mail

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.

Nook Contact Info
Kindle Fire Contacts

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

Performance

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. 

Linpack Score

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

Storage

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. 

Nook SD Card Settings

Yes, the Kindle Fire lets you store content in the cloud, but that doesn’t help when you’re offline.

Winner: Nook Tablet

Battery Life

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.

Winner: Draw

Value 

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

Verdict

Kindle FireThough 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
Design   X
Screen   X
Sound X  
User Interface   X
Books and eReader   X
Magazines X  
Movies X  
Music X  
Apps and Games X  
Search and Discoverability X  
Kid-Friendliness   X
Web Browsing X  
E-mail and Messaging X  
Performance   X
Storage   X
Battery Life X X
Value X  
Total: 10 8

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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