Amazon’s Kindle Fire vs. Barnes & Noble’s nook Tablet

Fire vs. nook TabletThe Kindle Fire and nook Tablet are both fine options and more than capable devices when it comes to choosing an e-reader. While features and specs can be debated back and forth, the real difference between purchasing an e-reader from Amazon or instead from Barnes & Noble has always come down to one simple question: As a consumer, which business model do you want to tie yourself to?

If you buy an Amazon Kindle e-reader you’re deciding that all of your e-book purchases will run through Amazon’s closed eco-system and until very recently, you wouldn’t have access to titles being lent by public libraries. As a huge retailer though, Amazon certainly has one of the largest selections of titles available anywhere and if you’re going to tie yourself to a single company, it’s not a bad place to be.

If you buy a Barnes & Noble simple touch nook e-reader you’re deciding that you prefer the flexibility and convenience of being able to buy an ebook from any online retailer except Amazon as the device allows you to manage and sideload your purchased or borrowed content through the Adobe Digital Editions software which is easily installed on your computer. The nook offers a more open solution within which one can shop around for the best price and take advantage of sales, promotions, coupons and deals from multiple sources.

Now they’re both in the tablet game. Admittedly, Barnes & Noble entered the space a year ago when they introduced the nook Color, but this time out they’re aggressively trying to deliver more of a multimedia experience with their device.

So which one is the clear winner? Again it comes back to that one simple question.

For $200, buying a Fire means tying your purchases to the closed Amazon eco-system and for a reoccurring yearly charge of $79 a year you can set yourself up with a Prime account, which gives you access to instantly watch thousands of television shows and movies, the kindle e-book lending library, and free two-day shipping on any physical items you purchase. It’s not a bad deal for the average consumer, especially in this day and age where content is king and we all want everything available to us RIGHT NOW.

The lending library is a nice addition in theory, but not all that much of an added benefit for the hardcore reader. Yes, there are over five-thousand titles currently available, but none of the six major publishing houses have signed on, and you can only borrow one book a month. At my current pace I’m reading two to three books a week. The amount of reading you do on a regular basis will determine how useful this service really is.

Having access to instant video streams are nice, but with wi-fi only what do you do if you’re travelling or you find yourself in a situation where you have no internet service? The device does sport eight gigabits (six usable) of internal storage, but high definition video files are large and it seems like that space could be gobbled up pretty quickly, not to mention the time spent on purchasing and downloading movies to the device.

Finally, there’s Silk. That’s the name of the Fire’s built-in web browser, and honestly, the way it works makes it sound like a bit of a privacy nightmare. Silk uses Amazon’s servers for not only networking and page loading, but also for page rendering and HTML. Every page request you make through the browser gets bounced to Amazon’s servers which means that in theory, Amazon could track every detail of your online life when you’re using their Fire tablet. Ouch.

Things aren’t all happy high-fives and slam dunks on the Barnes & Noble side either though.

Buying a nook Tablet means shelling out an additional $50 bucks. Barnes & Noble is quick to point out that this additional cost gets you a few really great things that the Fire lacks: a dual core processor, double the memory, double the storage space and an SD slot. If you’re not a tech geek though, do you really care? Again it comes down to content being king, and as far as simplicity and ease of use, Amazon clearly has a lock with their tight integration between device and content.

Let’s take a closer look at those additional specs though. A duel core processor and double the memory are going to help provide smooth playback when it comes to watching high definition video. Double the storage space, plus an SD slot means that you’ve got the potential for forty-eight gigabytes of space for your movies, music, and books compared to the six gigabytes (non-expandable) being offered with the Fire. They’re great specs, but Barnes & Noble is leaving it up to you to track down movies, books, and music on your own. They want you to use third-party sites like Netflix and Hulu for your streaming video for example. Again, this comes back to that idea of openness. They’re providing you with the device, you completely control where the content comes from.

The nook Tablet also seems to have added benefits in two surprising areas.  First, the inclusion of a microphone in the device and software which allows you to record yourself reading a book is a wonderful option for parents who travel a lot and have small children at home who will miss them at bedtime.  Second, Barnes and Noble has retail stores throughout the country where you can bring your device if there’s a problem.  It will be interesting to see how Amazon handles support if and when they run into a major snag with the Fire.

Finally, on the nook Tablet side, the inclusion of an SD card slot means that hackers can, and will, turn the device into a full-fledged Android device (they’ve done so already with the nook Color, going so far as to make it dual booting). If you’re someone who doesn’t mind voiding your warranty in order to gain access to additional functionality and features, then this is a huge plus.

So who wins the low-end tablet war, Amazon’s convenience of offering the Fire, a device that is tightly integrated with their content offerings, or Barnes & Noble’s nook Tablet, a device with amazing specs for the price, that supports a more open model of content delivery that favors the consumer that doesn’t like being tied to a single source for all of their content consumption?

Once again both companies have delivered fine devices and it seems to be all about whichever business model you want to tie yourself to as a consumer.

Which do you see yourself preferring and why? Comment below.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.