Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook tablet integrate a great user interface, easy access to rich media content at an attractive price
We have finally reached a watershed moment in the world of Android tablets: Amazon with its new Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble (B&N) with its new Nook Tablet are finally giving the Apple iPad a run for the money.
It’s clear that both Amazon and B&N realize that the way 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.
The Kindle 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 1 GHz processors and a 7-inch bright color displays (1024 x 600). Both decode HD video (up to 1080p and 720p Flash) and render it at 1024x600. Both are aggressively priced at $199 for the Kindle Fire and $249 for the Nook Tablet.
The Verge and Geek 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 onscreen tutorial. You just turn it on and start navigating through the options to access content. If you are an existing Amazon customer, the device comes pre-registered 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, the value-added service that sells for $79 per year but that every Kindle Fire customer receives as a free 30-day trial, provides free steaming access through the Kindle Fire of movies, music and TV shows. It also provides access to more than 5,000 books, including The New York Times's 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 they need to add volume buttons on either the left or right side. Google should also change the default lettering on their virtual keyboard from lower case to upper case as that’s the standard on all physical keyboards.
The Nook Tablet has a 1 GHz dual core processor, 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. It also has a SD slot and more internal storage. Also, 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. And, these Web apps are easily down loaded on the Kindle.
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 in 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 thatthose serving in the armed forces can stay connected to their children or for grandparents to connect with grandkids.
Neither the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet have 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 is 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 complete with Amazon and B&N.
Samsung has made some effort in that direction with their new Media Hub offering. Also, these other manufacturers of full-featured Android tablets will have to integrate synchronization services from firms like Funambol, so that all the user’s own rich media content can be easily accessed across all of their mobile devices.
Amazon and B&N have declared it’s “game on” in the Android tablet wars. Early results from these two firms clearly indicate that customers love these full-featured tablet offerings. They are flying off the shelves (and their web sites). 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 of these two is a better choice than 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 consider how to spread limited discretionary funds on gifts for family members. Buy one iPad 2 or three Kindle Fire or Nook Tablets.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D.
Mobile & Wireless