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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Nook Tablet Review Roundup

As Barnes and Noble’s Kindle Fire competitor ships, the reviews trickle in. How does it measure up to the Kindle Fire?

  • November 22, 2011

A few weeks back, Barnes and Noble announced it would be launching a new tablet for $249 to compete with the Kindle Fire. We knew the most basic specs of the device—memory, size, and reported battery life, all of which measured up favorably when compared to the Fire. Now that reviewers across the country are getting their versions of the tablet, does it seem worth running out to buy?

Overall, the reviews out there are favorable, with caveats. There is excitement over some of the things the Nook does better—its video performance, for instance—while there’s frustration over the things it does worse, like its lack of a direct music and video store.

The Huffington Post calls the Nook Tablet a “solid product” and a “worthy foe” to the Fire, touting some of its unique features: a microphone, a memory card slot, a sharper Netflix stream, and the option to load up e-books from third-party sources (Google Books, for instance). All in all, HuffPo finds the $50 premium over the $199 Kindle Fire to be justified.

BusinessInsider’s Steve Kovach takes the approach of comparing the new tablet to the Nook Color, whose April software update gave it some tablet-like functionality (though with mediocre performance for processor-intensive tasks). Kovach says he’s “not impressed with the … design” and that while B&N claims the Nook Tablet is thinner and lighter than the Color, any difference is negligible. He adds that the browser is merely “decent” and that the e-mail app is “almost useless.”

Kovach finds the Nook Tablet to be greatly improved in terms of streaming video, but finds those gains to be somewhat wasted, given that B&N is not offering a music and video store yet for the device—“a big mistake.” If you buy an Amazon Kindle Fire, you’re instantly holding a portal to a universe of music and video content. With the Nook Tablet, you’ll have to upload that content via your computer, or using an SD card—at least for now. Then again, if you’re a Netflix fiend, you’ll be pleased to find that the Nook Tablet is the first to directly integrate Netflix into the mobile OS—you don’t even have to open a the Netflix app to resume a movie you’ve been watching.

CNET, one for simple scorecards, sums up the Nook Tablet thusly: 8.0 (out of 10) on Design, 7.0 on Features, 8.0 on Performance. Overall: three and a half stars out of five (and its few dozen reader reviews agree on that almost exactly), or “very good.” Its reviewer makes the excellent point that whether or not the Nook is worth the extra $50 may come down to “how much of an Amazon or Barnes & Noble person you are.” If you are a person who reflexively types “bn.com” when in the mood to order a book, your decision has probably already been made for you. In practically all departments CNET focuses on—screen, performance, storage, book selection, etc.—it either gives the advantage to the Nook Tablet or calls it’s a toss-up between the Nook or the Fire, writing, “[w]ith the Nook Tablet, Barnes & Noble has simply improved upon a good thing.”

Finally, if you really want to go deep under the hood of the new Nook Tablet, check out Engadget’s review. A few highlights there: they tested the battery, and found it clocked in at 8:20, versus the iPad 2’s 10:26 and the Kindle Fire’s 7:42. They’ve got screenshot comparisons on how the Fire and Nook process video, writing that “the most clear performance distinction between the Fire and the Tablet can be seen when playing video” (the Nook Tablet screenshot does look quite richer). And since the Nook is supposed to be the “reader’s tablet,” Engadget goes so far as to sample all the different kinds of books available, including comics and children’s books. Though Engadget appreciates that you can pinch to zoom on comic panels, the reviewer actually thinks that the “Fire’s panel-by-panel reading method is really the ideal way to experience a comic on a screen with limited screen space.” For children’s books, there is an adorable (or maybe slightly sad?) “Read and Record” option that lets you record narration on kids books, “so children have someone to read to them when they’re not around.”

So, for all those who simply scrolled to the bottom of this post looking for advice, should you buy the Nook Tablet or not? The comparisons between the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire are simply too nuanced for easy summing up, depending as they do on your feelings on such varied topics as video performance, third-party book availability, and whether you’re generally a B&N person or an Amazon person. What’s clear, though, is that the Nook Tablet is a mostly worthy new offering in the low-price tablet market.

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