Monday, November 7, 2011

Nook Tablet vs. Kindle Fire

The tablet wars officially began today as Barnes & Noble fired a warning shot across the bow of Amazon's flagship tablet, the Kindle Fire. Making a number of direct comparisons to their arch-competitor, B&N CEO William Lynch came out with guns blazing, stating that the new Nook Tablet has "seven times more storage capacity" than the Kindle Fire, is "faster", and has the first "no air gap" screen!

Say what? 

You mean my 1024 x 768 9.7" iPad screen really sucks because it has an air gap? Bummer. I guess I better toss that piece of crap out and get a 7" 1024 x 600 Nook Tablet instead. Yeah, it's 169-ppi instead of 132 (as if that really makes a big difference), but what I want to know is how exactly does 1080p HD streaming work on a screen that's only 1024 pixels wide? And wait a minute, isn't the Kindle Fire's screen also 1024 x 600 @ 169-ppi resolution, just like the Nook? But oh, if only it wasn't for that crappy air gap!

And let me get this straight, 16Gb versus 8Gb of onboard storage is ... how much? ... times more capacity? That must make the Nook Tablet's $249 price tag about seven times more expensive than the $199 Kindle Fire. And how exactly is the Nook's 1GHz dual-core processor "faster" than the Fire's exact same specs? Especially when a hands-on review over at Gizmondo showed the new Nook's performance to be sluggish and lagging in both the browser and the interface, while the Kindle Fire was smooth and smoking fast. 

Here's a handy comparison chart for those of you who want a side-by-side lineup of features...

Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet (courtesy of CNET)

The only real advantage I can see to the Nook over the Kindle is the microSD card slot, which will allow for added storage portability and rooting to a full Android OS (with access to the Android app store). But with cloud storage onboard memory is rapidly becoming irrelevant, so that content availability is really of "Prime" importance here, and in that department Amazon wins hands down. Barnes & Noble can only claim to be the "biggest bookstore in the world" because they have brick and mortar stores as well as an online website. But fewer and fewer people are shopping in those physical stores, which is why they've recently jettisoned their entire DVD/Audiobook departments - in favor of ... what? ... toys and games?! How exactly is that helpful in advancing their digital platform?

But here's the real qualm: whereas with Amazon you can get video streaming, free monthly ebook rentals, and free two-day shipping all for $79 per year, Barnes and Noble is somehow touting "access" to their new "content partnerships" with Netflix, Hulu, and Rhapsody as bonus perks of their device. Seriously? So paying $7.99 a month for Netflix streaming ($95 a year for access to a truly lame movie selection), and another $7.99 a month for Hulu Plus so that I can watch television shows that I can DVR already (that's $190 a year now), plus $9.99 a month for Rhapsody (an additional $120/year) so I can listen to music I can listen to for free with Pandora or will likely buy on iTunes anyway if I like it. Where exactly is the advantage for me here? Do they have any kind of book programs on this thing? 

Oh, yeah, they were the first ones to do ebook lending. There's a plus. Except that Amazon now does it better with a variety of lending programs in place (not to mention the handful of third-party sites that mediate the Kindle lending process). If B&N was first then why aren't there a dozen Nook eBook lending sites out there somewhere? The answer: because Barnes & Noble's 27% of the eBook market still pales in comparison to Amazon's 66% - and that's where size really matters. The square footage of your buildings and warehouses matters not a whit if someone else's warehouses are doing more business. Biggest bookstore in the world? I don't think so.

Still, another factor might be important to consider here, and that's the Nook's native ePub support. Whereas Amazon's main format is proprietary, ePubs are open source and quickly becoming universal. In a way it boggles me that Amazon has been able to make its restricted ebooks the dominant format in the market. But that just goes to show you the power of a dominant device. Barnes & Noble has a lot of ground to make up if it plans to overtake the Kindle as an e-reading leader, and I really have to question whether this new Nook line is anywhere near enough to close the gap (unless it's an air gap, that is - honestly, is anybody buying that line? Is anyone really going to look at the Nook and go, "Oh my God, look! There's no air gap!!! How awesome is that?!").

But really when it comes right down to it there's only one comparison that shoppers are going to make, and that's the $249 price tag versus $199. Because when it comes to dollars and cents, there's just no comparison.