Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire

Well, I’m getting ready to move (again) and you know what that means…cleaning out accumulated unused crap so I don’t have to pay movers to haul it to a new location where it can remain unused.

Last week I gave the Trade In Center a try at my local Best Buy and offloaded some old video games and handheld systems. My motive was mostly just to clear out closet space, but to my delight I built up enough store credit to try out the hottest topics this Holiday Season – the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire.

Sadly, the Fire was in “Demo Mode” so you couldn’t really play with it or access the content on the device. All you could do was watch a nifty little ad espousing its virtues over and over…and over.

While the Nook was accessible, there wasn’t much loaded on it beyond samples of eBooks, so I was hard pressed to make up my mind which I liked better.

I went home and did excruciating web research on the pros and cons of each and went back to the store the following day.

And bought both.

You knew I was going to, you know you did.

At first this review was going to be an exhaustive hands on comparison with lots of photos. Then I realized, there are a TON of those on the web already and although I read (and watched) just about all of them, I still was left wondering which one was actually right for me. So I decided to just tell you which one I kept and why.

Before I do that, though, let’s just get one thing straight. Neither of these things is a Tablet. Their respective manufacturers can call them whatever they want, dress them up in color touch screens and get all excited about being iPad killers…but these devices are eReaders. Feature rich ones, sure, but don’t go listing your iPad on eBay quite yet.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  I kept the Nook Tablet.

Comparing them both side by side, I can tell you hands down that the Nook Tablet’s screen is sharper, clearer and brighter. The specs say they have the very same display, but I’m here to tell you…something is different.

The Nook has what they call a Vivid View display – allegedly designed to minimize reflection and glare. I can vouch for that…you could use your reflection in the Fire to shave.

I streamed an episode of the Walking Dead on both and there was an obvious difference in the video quality.  Apart from watching the episode through a reflection of my own face, the Fire was adequate, but the details were muddy, there was occasional buffering and in one scene in particular, the zombie’s head wound just looked like she’d inadvertently scratched her forehead with spaghetti sauce on her hand, while on the Nook you could definitely see brains.  I’ll just leave it at that.

Had I been able to watch video side by side at the store there would have been no way I’d have brought home both. But I couldn’t.  Perhaps the strategy behind the Fire’s Demo Mode.

The Kindle Fire makes use of a second-rate “Cover Flow” type interface feature that will show you all your content.  Show.  It will SHOW it to you.  Good luck actually selecting any of it.

In every way Apple got Cover Flow right, Amazon got their version of it wrong. The interface is so whacked that it was almost impossible to access whatever it was I was trying to select on the first tap. The screen was either not responsive at all or too sensitive, sending the items whizzing by, long after I had stopped scrolling.

At least you can designate favorites from the ‘stream of frustration’, as I nicknamed it, on an  unorganized system of shelves below it.

The interface alone was enough to make me want to return the Fire, but I stuck with it, giving the device the benefit of the doubt and deciding the failure to actually be able to select an item must be a learning curve issue on my part.  It wasn’t.

Anyway, the home screen interface issues were vexing. Not only was the Cover Flow wannabe wonky, but you only got 4 shelves for favorites. Add stuff to create a 5th shelf and oopsie, the first shelf of favorites vanishes. Yeah, no thanks.

Oh, and there is no customization. If you don’t like the dark grey wood-grain they have chosen for you as a background, you are SOL my friend.

The home screen interface on the Nook functions pretty much the same as an android phone. You can choose the wallpaper, you can drag your apps and reading materials around and put them wherever you want and you can even load your own photos via a Micro SD card so your wallpaper can be your dog or your kid.  Or Daniel Craig in a Speedo.

I organized mine so that my books & magazines are on one home screen and my apps are on a second.

The web experience on the two were like night and day. I know Amazon has been making a big deal out of their Silk browser, but I found it to be…whatever the opposite of silky is. Again, the touch screen was more often than not unresponsive and the browser itself crashed frequently.  And when it didn’t crash, it was really slow. Yuck. The browser allows for tabs, that is about the only good thing I have to say about it.

The Nook browser on the other hand is faster, consistent and a real pleasure to use.  I don’t do a ton of web browsing, but it’s nice to have it available to look stuff up.  Neither web experiences are going to be ideal on this type of device (and nothing like the iPad) but between the two, for my use, Nook won.

Might I also add that, out of the box, the Kindle had issues getting on my Wi-fi. I thought I was crazy (or blond) until I read this article.  The Nook practically connected itself.

As I’ve said, you can Google comparisons between the two until the cows come home, and if you are considering getting either, then definitely do so. Especially if you were going to run right out and get a Fire (like I was going to).

Although Kindle’s have been around for a while, the Fire itself is a 1.0 device. With any first run gadget, there are going to be quirks. The Fire is no exception. The Nook Tablet is 2nd generation (to the Nook Color) and you can definitely tell.

Some intangibles you won’t find in the reviews that cover tech specs:

The Nook is more comfortable to hold. The rubbery, grippy sides are very easy to hang onto, and they are tapered as well, so they fit really nicely in the hand.  Having the beveled sides makes the Nook slightly larger, but I also don’t have to worry about turning the page when I didn’t want to because there is nowhere to really hold the Fire without touching screen.

The power button is up near the top on the left hand side on the Nook…almost impossible to accidentally put the thing into sleep mode with it there. Unlike the Kindle, which located it on the bottom. I put the thing to sleep almost constantly by the way I was naturally holding it.

The Nook has physical volume buttons. I didn’t think I’d give a rat’s tookus about this until I tried to stream a movie on it.  It is completely inconvenient to have to go a couple of screens into the Fire in order to access the volume control from a drop down menu.

Neither of these eReaders are going to win any design awards, but I must say that the Fire is so….black.  Black and square. And kind of blah. The Nook has a better aesthetic (in my opinion) and say what you will about that crazy carabiner thingie with the sole purpose of protecting the Micro SD slot, at least it’s  SOMETHING to set it apart.

I actually like it. It makes me think I’m rugged and might even go rock climbing one day.

Call me crazy, and I know you will, but the Fire (both the black hardware and the dark, grey, dreary color scheme for the interface) feels gloomy to me. I do not feel excited or upbeat when I turn the thing on.

The Nook on the other than feels perkier. Brighter. Friendlier even.  Subjective, I know, but that’s what you’ll get out of this review that you won’t get from the techies.

Reading on both devices is about the same. I will say, that the crisp display of the Nook was a lot easier on my eyes after long periods of time.  And the Barnes & Noble store had all of the books I wanted to download…the Amazon store traditionally has not, so I have had to mix it up between the Kindle app and the iBooks app on my iPad 2. Which is heavy and expensive, so I don’t carry it around with me for the purpose of eReading.

The Nook also has more font, layout and page options for reading preferences. Another cool feature is that by tapping and holding down on a phrase or section of text, a menu appears asking if you would like to share it on various social media sites. Handy for those of us who love posting quotes we discover.

I also like that I can go into a Barnes & Noble store if I need help. True, I could take the Fire back to Best Buy and pay to have the Geek Squad help me out should I need it, but although brick & mortar book stores are going the way of the Dodo, and that makes me nervous, for now they do exist and I like them. I like browsing around in them. For books and for potentially single men who I at least know can read.

I like that I can go into a B&N with my Nook, and even if I don’t need any help with it, I can sit down and read any book in the store on their free Wi-fi.

Yes, the Amazon store & ecosystem crush the B&N store into oblivion.  I’m  a Prime member, so as you can imagine I was very invested in liking the Kindle better, but for me it’s not as simple as “more content”…for me it’s about the overall quality of the experience.

Sure, I can stream free movies from the Amazon store on the Fire, but what good is that to me if the video quality is low and I want to throw the thing across the room on a regular basis trying to select something on the twitchy touch screen?

It is essentially the same content as a streaming only membership on Netflix (which I happen to have anyway) so I prefer paying the $7.99 a month and getting sharp, clear, higher-def looking video than streaming free stuff that looks like crap.  But that’s just me. And we all know I’m a weirdo.

Plus, I like that I have expansion options on the Nook. I bought a 16 gig Micro SD card and loaded up a few of my favorite high-def movies from my personal library (that I can WATCH…not just stream when I happen to have a Wi-fi connection), my photos in case I forget what my dog looks like while I’m at the office, and some classical music for the background while I read.

If so inclined, I can replace that eventually with a 32 gig card and load so much junk I forget what’s on the damn thing.

The bottom line is that the Nook Tablet ended up being the right choice for me.  I had both in my grubby little paws and at the end of the day, the Fire went back.

Do with this information as you will, and as always, this is only my skewed and ever-flawed personal opinion, so Kindle Fire lovers…please don’t send me hate mail.

This just in:  one of my co-workers had pre-ordered the Fire and we were both eReading one day on break.  She played around with my Nook a bit (wow, which is totally not as dirty as that sentence sounded) and really liked it.  Just today told me she was packing up the Fire and sending it back to Amazon in favor of a Nook of her own : )

It will be very interesting to see how this battle shakes out once the holiday buying frenzy has passed.