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Barnes & Noble joins the tablet wars in earnest today, with the Nook Tablet, a $249 offering that, like the Kindle Fire, is largely intended for consuming media like e-books and movies. The device, which you can pre-order now, will be available on November 18th, in time to do battle with its Amazon-spawned foe, which ships three days prior. When the device launched Monday at an event in New York, B&N CEO made sure to take a dig at the Kindle Fire, calling it “deficient for a media tablet,” and promising that “content will render better on Nook,” according to CNN.

Naturally, you’ll be wanting to know how the Nook measures up against its rivals–not just the Kindle Fire, but also the Apple iPad. For visual learners, WSJ has a helpful infographic here, but I’ll sum up the details. The Nook comes in at $50 more than the Kindle Fire ($199), but still half the entry-level price of an iPad ($499). The Nook Tablet has 16 GB of memory; the Kindle Fire has 8, while the iPad has between 16 and 64. The Nook gets the best battery life of the bunch, reportedly: 11.5 hours versus Kindle’s 8 hours, and the iPad’s 10. The Nook Tablet is a tad bigger than the Kindle Fire, though still smaller than the iPad: the Nook Tablet measures 5.0 inches by 8.1 inches; the Kindle Fire measures 4.7 by 7.5 inches, while the iPad measures 7.3 by 9.5 inches. The Nook weighs less than a pound, and is powered by a dual-core processor. B&N has a more exhaustive list of features–expert recommendations, email, apps, and the like–here.

Here’s “Kate” to enthusiastically tell you more!

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps probably sums it up best, when she says to the WSJ, “While some consumers will compare the technical specs and make a decision, more will choose on the basis of the brand with which they identify.” Epps thinks that B&N will sell as many as two million Nook Tablets by January 31, but that the Kindle Fire will likely sell twice as many, while Apple might sell up to 20 million iPads globally in the last quarter.

Barnes & Noble, at this point, is an interesting hybrid creature: something between a software company and an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retailer. Its once-mighty retail rival, Borders, has fallen; its most direct e-reading competitor, Amazon, is fully virtual. On Monday, B&N’s CEO boasted of the fact that customers needing troubleshooting help with their Nooks could bring them in to one of B&N’s 700 retail stores. This in-between status is one reason why some observers wonder if B&N might be ideally positioned to marry paper books and digital ones, in one way or another. “A company like Barnes & Noble could, in its physical bookstore, give a Nook code for every physical book purchased there,” envisions CNET’s Scott Stein. He points out that Hollywood does something similar with Blu-rays, by packaging discs together with digital download codes. Could B&N, with one foot in the digital and the other in the physical, be the first to achieve a similar outcome for books? Looking ahead, is its lingering brick-and-mortar presence really an asset, or a hindrance?

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