B&N did what's been predicted the last week or so and announced a $199 NOOK Tablet with the following changes to match more closely the Kindle Fire pricing and specs.
RAM: 1 gig down to 512M (this is what the iPad2 still uses)
Storage: 16 gigs down to 8 gigs
Strange partitionings of storage space by B&N
However, it has kept the microSD expansion card option, which has been crucial for the Nook because B&&N partitioned its storage area so that only 1 gig was available for the user's own files that are not bought from B&N and which are side-loaded via USB connection. That includes videos. The other 15 gigs of storage space was kept for B&N content, and the files (even books you purchased from B&N) were now hidden from the customer so that you couldn't see them even with a USB connection to a computer using a file manager for transfers.
This change was finally noticed (the repartitioning was first done for the older NookColor tablets produced after April-May 2011 and then it was done for the Nook Tablet announced last November) about a week after the release of the Nook Tablet last November. As a NookColor owner, I did see forum notes from customers confused by the sudden disappearance of Nookbook filenames and less space for their own files, earlier.
There was quite a bit of unhappiness over that decision. The Nook tablets were more locked into store content than Amazon's Kindle Fire is (and the Nook B&N content hidden from view, probably so it couldn't be copied by the customer as their rights-protection is done only by credit card numbers, which could have been expired and then passed on to friends etc.).
As a result, not only was the tablet $50 more to start, but now the customer now needed to also buy a microSD card to read or play their non-B&N content (and yes, Amazon customers can have much more non-Amazon content on the Kindle Fire).
So the difference between the Nook and Kindle Fire tablets was more like $70-$90 total difference if you wanted a good 16-32 gig SD card in addition to the basic $50 higher cost.
Now, B&N has seen the light on the only 1-gig storage allowed for a customer's own media from other sources (though space is not allowed for *apps* from other sources) and are offering customers the option to have *repartitioning* done on existing 16-gig Nook Tablets, beginning March 15, if they bring their tablets to any B&N store, where the change will be done for them.
Any NEW $250 Nook Tablets will have the new-partitioning in place when shipped, after this is all put into place (more details will be given by B&N in March).
I've seen no mention yet of this change being offered for the newer NookColors produced after April-May though. Here's one caution in a NookColor tips message-thread, about the repartitioning that was done on the more recent ones last year.
ACCESS to NON-store apps, to ones made for the Google Android Market
What the new and old Nook Tablets will NOT have, though, is B&N's enabling of an option that allows customers to install Android apps from sources OTHER than B&N.
Amazon left this Android option (to allow installs of apps from unknown sources) ENABLED, which makes a huge difference to those of us who want the access to regular Android apps (without needing to 'root' the tablet and therefore void our warranties or have to re-root it -- something not recommended for everyday users -- with every upgrade).
It's quite huge not to have the easy option that the Amazon tablet has, of access to the vast availability of other sources for often excellent apps.
I have an earlier article with mainstream magazine pointers to guides on how to do side-loading of non-Amazon apps, and now one can often just download them from one of several sites (though you should use only the generally trusted ones and choose files that have been online there for awhile without troubles reported). The Amazon Kindle Community Forum is a good place to get advice from other Kindle customers about more-trusted sources and which apps which are not findable in the Amazon Android Appstore are worth getting.
Add that the B&N Android apps store does not have the strength of Amazon's yet -- this week, it was announced that Amazon apps customized and approved for the Kindle Fire from versions originally for Google's Android market have made more in sales for developers than the versions from the Android Market, despite Amazon's app store having so much that is free plus specific pay-apps being made free-for-a-day on a daily basis.
About half of my Kindle Fire apps are from getjar.com, slideme.org, and places like freewarelovers.com, which are distribution sites for Android apps which customized tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablets cannot access directly at Google's Android Market site. I've found good ones in the Amazon app store this week though for avid readers and will do an article on that soon.
That access is very important to me, and I'm glad Amazon doesn't limit us to only what they've approved and what they themselves sell.
They handle this by competing for the customers' business rather than forbidding 'foreign' apps on the Kindle Fire and there is no 'rooting' of the device necessary to get these (again, any rooting must be repeated for each software update -- where it can be done -- and is not supported by the device vendors).
STORAGE SPACE and a Sharing Option
So, the main advantage for the Nook (besides its having physical Volume and Home buttons) is the external microSD capability which can give you another 16 to 32 gigs on any card you use with it.
For the $250 Nook Tablet model, that advantage has been watered down by the availability of Kingston's Wi-Drive shared-streaming storage device which lets you use a *wireless* external drive smaller than the size of an iPhone 4s to not only store 16 to 32 gigs of files but to have up to three people access the same or different media on the drive at the same time, from the Kindle Fire and other devices WHILE also using the Internet (the latter is something similar products can't do).
The 16-gig version is $50 and the 32-gig version is $90. I've been able to run media from it, smoothly, (which is the only way on this device) from the Kindle Fire, my Samsung phone and larger Samsung tablet. Since it's smaller than my cell phone it's always in my purse now when not being used. I asked for a review copy, something I almost never do because I don't like to take time to review products, and found the 16-gig device very smooth to use. Streaming of nicely-converted mp4's (as from DVD Catalyst 4) from it didn't stutter or have artifacts). I was told I could keep it, and my reaction was to buy the 32-gig version from them (via Amazon) so I could have even more stored to stream whenever I wanted. One thing you can't do with an SD card is have 3 people running video from it at the same time on their individual devices.
Then there is the free Amazon server storage for any music you've bought from Amazon which you can stream instantly from any computer you're at and from the Kindle Fire. You can also stream non-Amazon music that you upload to your free 5 gigs of "Amazon Cloud" storage.
I do prefer the Amazon ecosystem of instantly streamable media that doesn't require subscriptions to other vendors' content although I also like to use Netflix and HuluPlus. Much of what I want lately is from PBS, ABC, and Amazon has added these and 50% more in the last month in the way of PRIME-member-program (free 2-day shipping of products for $6.58/mo) extra benefits of movie/tv streaming -- about 15,000 videos now.
OTHER ASPECTS OF NOOK TABLETS AND KINDLE FIRE
The screen of the Nook Tablet is more matte-like and that's an advantage for B&N, less glare. I do have the older NookColor and enjoyed it daily before I got the Kindle Fire, which has a faster processor.
There are certain things that, as a card-carrying Barnes and Noble member ($25/yr), I don't like though. The vaunted in-store customer service is, in reality, very weak.
The customer service policies, in general (return with refund periods, call-back times) are also not that attractive. .
You can google the general feedback on B&N's Nook customer service and on Amazon's Kindle customer service at any time.
If you use the tablets to read color versions of your e-books, you should know that Amazon gives refunds on Kindle books you didn't mean to download (and haven't finished) or which have layout problems that you find too problematical, within 7 days of purchase.
Barnes & Noble's policies are strong that there is no refund, and they've applied that policy in the past to even books with missing pages and always to even really bad layout discovered once you have the book. The free samples you download from B&N tend to be smaller.
The Nook's strength, relative to Amazon
Where I prefer the Nook Tablet is its programming for magazines. They have far less in the way of newspapers and magazines available, but the National Geographic magazine and an electronics one I subscribe to are better designed than what I've seen with Amazon's magazines, so far, which often do not allow zooming into the photos (a big minus when it doesn't) and this goes for the text also, which makes some pages not very readable to me then.
With the Nook, I can read the content in context of the page as seen in print format because of the effective zoom-in. I like the quality of the lettering better too. Amazon, I'm sorry, but some work is needed in this area.
The Nook's "Article View" is easier for me to read and access than Amazon's. To be fair, there are many who like Amazon's implementation.
If you already have a Kindle Fire and want to try, though, a 90-day free trial, Amazon still has (until March 1) the special offer they've had for Kindle Fire customers since November -- an "exclusive free three-month trial of 17 Condé Nast magazines, including Vanity Fair, GQ, WIRED and Glamour. Ironically, you can only try these if you already have a Kindle Fire.
For those who would get a tablet primarily for magazines: if the Nook's much smaller collection includes what you want and you need to be able to enlarge the text of a page as it is seen in the print version, then I recommend the Nook Tablet for that. Me? I'd pay the extra $50 (plus cost of good SD card) if I wanted a Nook Tablet, to get the faster, larger storage one. (It's currently $244 at Amazon for some reason at the link above.)
Definitely I'd not pay the $30 less to get the older single-core processor NookColor ($169 now but that price has not been adjusted on the Amazon B&N product-page yet), but I will keep the NookColor I already have, for my magazine subscriptions. I give B&N Kudos for upgrading the old NookColor to do Netflix and HuluPlus though. (I read that there's a slowdown due to the single-core processor of the NookColor relative to the later tablets but haven't tried it yet.)
If only Amazon treated its Kindle DX customers as well with a software update for the simple PDF enhancements given the same "Pearl" e-Ink screen of the Kindle 3. A software update is long past due on the expensive Kindle DX's and it's the one area in which Kindle Customer Service has fallen down.
Update - Because we can add Google Android apps not available to the Kindle Fire at the Amazon apps store, I added the Nook reader app. This does allow me to see my Nook-downloaded magazines with the zoom-in feature and the Nook design. That IS a plus, but I still prefer reading these on the NookColor because it's smoother and the font clarity on the basic version is better.
For everything else, I really love the access, with the Kindle Fire, to all types of non-Amazon apps in addition to Amazon's collection (and I find some of the Amazon store apps improved for the Kindle Fire, from Android Market ones that were focused on the smaller phones).
The streaming media is beautiful, but I have Comcast which gives much faster streaming (than DSL setups --the default lower-tier plans) that is necessary for higher-resolution video from Netflix and Hulu and of course Amazon's instant video, which is beautiful. The growing collection great for families that would appreciate the many excellent documentaries available in addition to some fine older movies. They've also just made new video arrangements with Viacom. They have current material from PBS as well and some BBC tv programs not findable on Netflix.
Prime Amazon can be accessed via the Nook Tablets too, the streaming is optimized for the Kindle Fire and there are bonuses only Kindle Fire owners can get.
SERVER ('Cloud') BACKUP of your media
B&N also gives free storage of course for media purchased from them.
What they don't do is give you 5 gigs of free space for any media files you want to store on their servers for easy retrieval when needed but which you acquired elsewhere or made yourself (videoclips). Amazon does (against misinformation about their not allowing non-Amazon products).
Nor does B&N give 5 gigs of free storage to Kindle owners who want to keep personal docs stored on Amazon servers and which are readable and *sync-able* between your various devices as with the Kindle books.
Amazon, to Penguin Group's displeasure over "friction-less" borrowing, makes public library borrowing easier in that you can choose the library book and Amazon will deliver it over the air via WiFi when you're near a WiFi network rather than make you use the computer and a USB connection to transfer it and without your needing to sync Adobe's approval process for rights-management with it. B&N was going to be doing this eventually too, but I haven't heard that they've been able to yet.
Again, for avid readers, only Kindle owners who are Prime members are able to borrow, from 50,000+ titles, a Kindle book (including 100+ current and former NY Times Bestsellers) once per calendar month, with no waiting period and no due-dates. You can share the borrowed book with other Kindles on your account.
Gizmodo headlined this program: "Game Over: Amazon Prime is Officially the Greatest Deal in Tech"
Here's Amazon's description of Prime Lending Library
You can browse, at Amazon's website, the 50,000+ Kindle books that are borrowable this way. The actual borrowing must take place on your Kindle though, something that hasn't been made clear on the product pages for the books.
In the meantime, the news is filled with the possibility of Amazon coming out with a larger Kindle Fire, some say 8.9" and some say 10" sometime in the 2nd quarter, which has always tended to mean at the end of the quarter if we're lucky. And this 2nd, larger tablet has always been expected. The rumors have not been that strong as no one was pinning down even what size screen would be involved or anything else about what they might be planning, although Digitimes, which was called "often reliable" (love what that means), said a couple of days ago that Foxconn has received an order for 10" Kindle Fires. Judging from what has gone on before, the estimates are always too optimistic.
In the meantime, the 7" one has proved very popular, even with people who already own iPads or other large tablets. It's just easier to take with you anywhere and the 16:9 ratio is great for the widescreen movies that are popular today.
Today's NY Times carries an article by Associated Press on B&N's announced quarterly income falling 14 percent, due to rising costs. Both Amazon and B&N are seeing large development and warehousing + delivery costs on their devices while keeping the price as low as possible.
Photo credit: BusinessInsider.com
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