We have finally reached a watershed moment in the world of Android tablets: Amazon with its newKindle Fire and Barnes & Noble with its new Nook Tablet are finally giving the Apple iPad a run for its money.
It’s clear that both Amazon and B&N realize that theway to successfully compete with Apple is to offer a great user interface, easy access to content and a lower price than the iPad. It’s no longer possible for manufacturers to simply offer the basic Android tablet user interface and let the user figure out where to find useful content.
TheKindle Fire and Nook Tablet integrate proprietary user interfaces on top of Android. Both integrate access to rich media content. Both have Texas Instruments dual-core 1GHz processors and 7-inch bright color displays (1,024 by 600). Both decode HD video (up to 1080p and 720p Flash) and render it at 1,024 by 600. Both are aggressively priced-$199 for the Kindle Fire and $249 for the Nook Tablet.
The Verge andGeek each provides a good comparative review of the features of the two tablets. The main difference in the hardware is that the Nook Tablet has an SD slot and 16GB of internal storage versus no slot and 8GB of storage in the Kindle Fire.
I recently tested a Kindle Fire and found it a delight. The Kindle Fire doesn’t come with a user’s manual, but does welcome you with a short on-screen tutorial. You just turn it on and start navigating through the options to access content. If you are a current Amazon customer, the device comes preregistered to you with all of the content you’ve previously purchased waiting for you in your libraries.
Access to the Amazon Appstore for Android is there, but the device “screams out” to the user to easily swipe through IMDb for movies, Pulse for news, Facebook, the full online Amazon store or any category tabs, giving access to millions of books, music, magazines, apps, games, videos and Web access via Amazon’s cloud-based Silk browser.
Amazon Prime, a value-add service that sells for $79 per year but that every Kindle Fire customer receives as a free 30-day trial, provides free streaming access to movies, music and TV shows. It also provides access to more than 5,000 books, including New York Times best sellers, from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library-and, of course, free, two-day shipping for “physical” (versus digital) products purchased through the store. You can set up email on the Kindle Fire, but it’s located down a few levels.
Amazon needs to relocate the Power button from the bottom to the side or top, and it needs to add volume buttons on either the left or right side. The default lettering on the virtual keyboard should also be changed from lowercase to uppercase, as that’s the standard on all physical keyboards.
TheNook Tablet has a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It also has an SD slot and more internal storage. In addition, B&N is offering users free cloud-based storage to upload, store and stream their content. The Nook Tablet comes preloaded with Netflix, Hulu and Pandora, which are also easily downloaded on the Kindle.
Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet Present Challenge to Android Rivals
The Nook eBook store has millions of books and videos, while the Nook Newsstand has more than 250 magazines and newspapers (comparable to Amazon). One nice feature of the Nook Tablet is an integrated microphone that enables a “record and read” feature. This lets users record themselves reading a book, which can then be played back to a child. This might become one additional way for those serving in the armed forces to stay connected to their children or for grandparents to connect with grandkids.
Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Nook Tablet has integrated 3G wireless broadband, primarily due to what has been a relatively high modem cost. But, with that price heading to under $10 (OEM) in the next year, it will make sense for Amazon and B&N to embed 3G in future models and then work with the carriers to offer flexible pricing, e.g. free when buying something like a book or session-based when doing Internet access or email.
What’s important to realize from these announcements is that these initial full-featured Android tablets from the two biggest book resellers are just the first of an entire series of similar tablets that the two companies will release in the coming months. Each publisher likely already has two or three future Android tablets in development. Future models will provide brighter screens, more internal storage and access to more content.
The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet send a big message to other Android tablet makers, notably to Samsung, HTC and Motorola: They will need to focus more on integrating a custom (but pleasing) user interface and provide better access to rich media at an affordable price (under $250) in their future tablet offerings if they want to successfully compete with Amazon and B&N. Samsung has made some effort in that direction with its new Media Hub offering.
Also, other manufacturers of full-featured Android tablets will have to integrate synchronization services from firms like Funambol so that all the user’s rich media content can be easily accessed across all of his or her mobile devices.
Amazon and B&N have declared it’s “game on” in the Android tablet wars. Early results from the two firms clearly indicate that customers love these full-featured tablet offerings. They are flying off the shelves (and their Websites). If I were buying one of these for myself or for a relative for the holidays, which I likely will do, I’d likely buy the Kindle Fire simply because the offering appears to be a little more mature than the Nook Tablet. But either one is a better choice than the other 7-inch offerings for people who don’t require a tablet like the iPad 2 with iOS apps and a larger 10-inch display.
And, the price difference does matter when you’re trying to figure out how to spread limited discretionary funds on gifts for family members. Buy one iPad 2 or three Kindle Fire or Nook Tablets.