Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kindle News: Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire Face-Off - UPDATE-1 re Nook Tablet's reserved internal storage and UPDATE-2 re Kindle Fire adding Hulu Plus and ESPN


Getting right to it, because this will be a very long read:   Out of all the tablet-reader comparisons I saw, geek com's is the most comprehensive while keeping it simple.  I recommend a read of that one, to begin, for the specs involved and clear descriptions of what these two devices can and can't do, though it's not as detailed as some  articles.

 I've included, below, links to other articles that also offer more than the usual pure typing of hardware specs without context.

First, a superficial thought: I own and enjoy (and showed off the other night) my year-old NookColor, the one with the single-core processor, which won't be able to do Netflix as the two new small tablet-readers will be able to, but the older NookColor has color against a black bezel, a favorite combo because it throws the attention on the colored content.  Why did B&N make only a beige bordered tablet?

  And, a caution: I posted on a forum last night that B&N quietly re-partitioned any NookColors sold from May 2011 on, to change the model's internal structure so that instead of having 4-5 gigs available for our personal books downloaded elsewhere, along with Nook books, NookColor owners are now alloted only 1 gig for side-loaded content.  How will that work for movie files we sideload?

UPDATE-1, on NOOK Tablet partitioning
  (Original posting Nov. 8, Updated Nov. 9 to add sourcing info)
The change B&N made in internal partitioning for the NookColor (the need to reserve space for a good number of apps and for BN-purchased material) wouldn't be suddenly set-aside for the Nook Tablet.  The information I mentioned comes from B&N's own Nook-comparison webpage, in Footnote 6 for the Nook Tablet, which is the same as the definitely-applied Footnote 5 info for the Nook Color, except for the amount of available internal storage.

Below is what B&N itself says in VERY light gray text at the bottom of the comparison box on their own Nook model comparison web page (Link: ).

Under "Memory" box, they have a Footnote 6 for the Nook Tablet, and that footnote 6 says:
" 1GB = 1 billion bytes.  Actual formatted capacity may be less.  Approximately 13GB available to store content, of which up to 12GB may be reserved for content purchased from the Barnes & Noble NOOK Store. "
Now, what they did do for the Nook Color tablet-reader models as of May 2011 WAS exactly to reserve 5 of 6 gigabytes of available content-storage space, for B&N-purchased material, leaving the noted 1 gigabyte for personal files not purchased from B&N.  The same wording is used for the Nook Tablet.

Playing side-loaded video off the SD Card
What will video performance be like if played off an SD card instead and what's the best class and compatible, reliable brand of microSD card to get for that?  I was surprised to see the AmazonBasics 16 GB microSDHC Class 10 mem card get so many good reviews with hardly any bad ones, unusual for that type of card.
  Am adding a basic-info page for finding suitable SD cards for a device.

  More perplexing for me, the Nook books are now kept in the same partition as system files and apps and can't be seen by file managers.  I personally prefer to be able to see and work with files I've purchased.  Now they're hidden from us.  Why?  Some think it's because B&N's  digital-rights-management (DRM) method is just the credit card # used (these expire) and that owners merely need to copy a file and give friends the old credit card #.  So, now these files can't be seen.  At least not by normal methods.  B&N's head man stressed their 'Openness' today.  Hmmm.

The hardware specs
  . The new Nook [Color] Tablet has 16 gigs of built-in storage vs Kindle Fire's 8 gigs.  The screen technology and resolution are the same although B&N say their anti-glare protection (w/lamination) is better.  B&N claims the Nook Tablet will have up to 11.5 hours of battery life, compared with 8 hours for the Kindle Fire.  While I'm a paying, card-carrying B&N member, with a NookColor I use daily, I've not had the best experience with some of their claims on their comparison sheets or from staff in the stores.

  . The Nook Tablet has 1 gig of RAM while the Kindle Fire's has 512 megs of RAM (but note what, linked above, and other articles linked below say about what that may mean as well, and the Kindle also uses the Amazon cloud for both storage and streaming.

  . B&N doesn't offer its own streaming but it has the separate SD slot that can hold up to 32 gigs of storage, and any DRM-free MP4 from a DVD transferred to that can be ported to the tablet if it was purchased from B&N (which would allow it to be put into the larger partition).   Otherwise it's not very likely to fit into the 1-gig sideloaded-files area, unless it's just a trailer.

 Kindle users would be able to transfer to the Kindle Fire's internal storage video, files from their computer or from their Cloud storage area on the Amazon server (but they can also just stream one from Amazon).  How much could be kept in the internal storage space depends on the amount of compression used.  Amazon's estimates have seemed a bit overoptimistic.  For more Q&A on the Kindle Fire itself, see one with an Amazon VP.

    A few things to remember here:
    a. Amazon offers free storage, unlimited, on your own Amazon server area (Cloud) for any music or videos that you purchase from Amazon.  These files never count against any storage limits on the (server) Cloud.

    b. Amazon also offers 5 free gigs of Amazon Cloud storage space (globally) for data or media files customers get from anywhere else.  (Tip: If paying $20/yr for 20 gigs, you can also upload ALL your music files, no matter where you got them, w/o their counting against the 20 gigs and stream them also.)

    c. They additionally offer 5 free gigs of Kindle Cloud storage space for your personal docs and non-DRM'd books from elsewhere, which can be read on your Kindle Fire and the e-Ink readers.

      Kindle books are kept in your Kindle Library on the server, ready for no-cost re-download at any time.

      All of the files above can be downloaded to your Kindle Fire at any time but you have to make sure there's room for them by deleting unnecessary files; however, those files -- whether bought from Amazon or elsewhere -- could also always be available on one of your free Cloud spaces described above.

    d. Amazon streams your music or video for you on demand, but of course you have to be connected to the Net for that, which B&N stressed a lot during the announcements.  On the other hand, they stressed customers could stream from partners Netflix and Hulu, which also requires connection to the Net.

      B&N announced they're also giving free storage for purchased media files but can't stream them to the customer..

      They're not giving free storage for Non-B&N-purchased files though.  They termed their offerings "more open" than Amazon's in that B&N doesn't have you stream THEIR files but instead sends you to Netflix or Hulu to get the streams via subscriptions to their partners' offerings.

      This unusual definition of 'openness" would apply to Amazon also, as they've already announced several times (per Peter Kafka) that Netflix, Pandora, Facebook and Twitter should have apps ready for the Kindle Fire by launch.   Amazon doesn't, however, say a thing about Hulu, but then they've been serious bidders there, so that's another matter.

  UPDATE-2: On November 11, Amazon announced they're adding Hulu Plus and ESPN in the following week.  Well, that's pretty huge.

    e. For those who already have Amazon PRIME, it was for some time a program that provides free 2-day shipping on all items sold by Amazon and on many products that are sold by 3rd party sellers.  This had been reason enough for many of us to pay about $6.58/mo. ($79/yr).

       In the past year, though, they've added to the Prime program almost 13,000 (often older) streaming videos at no added cost to the Prime member (up to 2 videos can be streamed at one time) and recently the ability to borrow a Kindle book, including 100 current and former NY Times bestsellers, once a month with no due-date and no waiting -- also at no added charge.
       I've seen that news sites and comment-area posts confuse the Prime Lending feature with the Kindle personal lending feature, which B&N also has and which is publisher-controlled.  Both companies have public library lending now, also, with Amazon's by air-delivery via WiFi,  unusually simple and smooth.

AllThingsD and Peter Kafka
  Allthingsd has an article by analyst Peter Kafka, titled "The Nook Doesn't Need the Cloud.  The Nook Needs the Cloud.  Discuss, which I had heard he was writing, when I watched a video interview at Wall St. Journal, which I've partially transcribed way below.

  In the linked article, Kafka is a bit peeved by B&N's presentation of what will be done or not and explains his reactions.

  Cloudy statements
  In his live blogging of the announcements, he makes sport of B&N's repeated statements that had been jabs at Amazon's offerings, paraphrasing them:

    "But let’s remind you that many Cloud services are unreliable. Except for ours, of course. So: Cloud is not important except we have a Cloud except Clouds are often not great."

  The live blogging is irreverent and some didn't appreciate that.
  In the discussion column, Kafka points out:
' In order to move movies and TV shows on the gadget, for instance, you wouldn’t be able to use any digital video you bought from Amazon or Apple.  Instead you’d have to get your hands on unencrypted MP4 video files, or something similar... '
  Also, there's that 1 gig limit for the side-loaded material from non-B&N sources.

Excerpts from the article.
Re the Differences that add up:
  "The wider gaps are on the inside; the Nook Tablet sports 16GB of storage and 1GB of RAM, compared to 8GB of storage compared 512MB of RAM on the Kindle Fire.  And when you compare the two on specs alone, it's no small temptation to think that Amazon is outclassed.  Amazon, though, holds most of your goodies in its cloud for you.  That's potentially inconvenient for long, Wi-Fi-less trips, but the gap should be immaterial around the house, etc.

  "As for RAM, that can be a bit misleading as well; the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S seem to get along just fine with 512MB, while there are 1GB Android phones and tablets that can get burpy...

  "In action today, the Nook Tablet's performance wasn't entirely promising. The custom built UI was noticeably sluggish, as was the web browser.  On the plus side, the media apps ran smoothly.   Our first look at the Kindle Fire, on the other hand, revealed shockingly fast and fluid performance even though it's got weaker specs on paper.
  The Amazon Kindle appears to be built on cheaper hardware but incorporates technologies like Amazon's Silk web browser to help the product run like a much stronger machine."

Nook's claim to better battery life appears to give them the edge on that, Gizmodo says, but most of the gadget sites want to test these soon.  Gizmodo's summary: "But the little differences add up—and maybe not to fifty bucks."

Sidenote: As the AP story at WSJ explains, announcements also included reductions in price on other Nook models:
"The book seller cut the prices on its existing e-readers. The Nook Color is now $199, down from $239, and the Nook Simple Touch black-and-white reader, which has no browser, is now $99, down from $139."

  It's one of the few articles pointing out the lack of web browser for the Nook touch (if comparing it to the Kindle Touch) and it also lacks audio, music, and text-to-speech.  Images in books (such as maps with small text detail or photos) can be zoomed to full screen on the Kindle but can't be zoomed at all on the Nook Touch.

  While many want only to read their books, the $99 is not really for an equivalent feature-set.  B&N mentions they don't subject you to ads, but the bottom 3rd of the Nook Touch Home screen consists of ads for books you might like in the future.  Bookstores often get wrong what I'd like to read and I'd not want to see some of those on my Home screen.  But the Nook, otherwise, has a really clean look.

WSJ video interview with AllThingsDigital's Peter Kafka:
Peter Kafka gets around and is interviewed in the WSJ video here.  He explains that B&N's "Cloud" "won't be anything like" Amazon's Cloud and that the hardware differences probably won't mean that much, based on the exchanges during the Q&A, to general-interest consumers.

  Kafka and colleages say that Amazon's cloud IS important because of the content you can access with it, in that "Amazon has built this cloud service that's meant to sort of take media that you own, move it up to their Internet servers and let you access it when you want" and that's working right now mostly with music but eventually with video as well but that Barnes and Noble doesn't have that."

  He says that "In the end, if you want to use the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet to watch movies or to listen to music, the reality is you're going to actually have to use the cloud're going to have to have access to the Internet."  [I'm not sure why they couldn't play B&N movies locally though, since there'd be room for that in the larger partition.]

B&N's focus will remain on customers buying stuff "that you read" but if you want to watch movies or listen to music, they're "happy to send you to Netflix or Hulu or Pandora..."

 Kafka said he plans to write about B&N's "playing up the fact that they've got more storage capability with the machine so that you can watch five HD movies, but there's no practical way to store five HD movies on this machine.   He thinks "they're going to get beat up a little bit for this because they're saying you can store stuff on this machine and yet real users in real terms -- it's going to be very hard to actually move media on the machine -- it's really a training [?] device."

WSJ again
WSJ's Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and John Kell write that Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner, said [in a now recurring theme], "But this isn't about hardware, it's about content and services."

SF Weekly
The SF Weekly's Dan Mitchell quotes B&N:  "The Kindle Fire -- and they do a lot of things well -- is a vending machine for Amazon services"  
  Mitchell adds:
' He presented that as a drawback.  But the sad fact for B&N is that people really, really like Amazon services.  The fact that the Fire is a vending machine for those services is a feature, not a bug.  It's the reason Amazon invented the thing, and it's a reason many people will buy it...

Lynch played up the fact that buyers can take their Nooks to any Barnes & Noble outlet for repairs.  Which is fine, I guess, but who wants to hear about how the product they're being asked to buy is going to need repairs?'

More seriously, my B&N is only 10 blocks from my home, but staff there isn't usually trained in the fine details of the Nook devices. I had one very good experience there when one helper threw up his hands, at a problem I was having but left his shift and the next person was able to go to the server and solve the in-store problem with accessing their network.  It's a nice feature they have of our being able to read an e-book there for an hour before we decide whether we want to buy it. I've been able to compare a few e-books that way, against the hard copies too.

CNet's Donald Bell writes (showing how widespread the take on Amazon's whole-system strength):
"When you add up all the e-books, apps, music, games, and videos, there's no question that Amazon has more of its own content offerings to dive into.  Its cloud technology infrastructure also happens to be one of the most robust systems in the industry, and its tablet reaps the rewards in terms of improved Web browsing performance, media lockers like Cloud Player, and Cloud Drive file backup."

AND LAST magazine cited, ZDNet's Jason Perlow weighs in
The article by ZDNet's Perlow is the least positive about the Nook Tablet.
  He considers the Nook Color "excellent" and lists its many good points but is more focused on how this "never really translated into drastically improved sales."  In fact, I have seen many news articles written as if the NookColor was not the first one out with a 7" tablet priced very nicely.

He feels it'll "have a very difficult time matching the same value proposition Amazon offers" (due to that ecosystem described over and over again).  He doesn't believe that B&N can provide the full range of services and maybe more importantly, he points out that they may not have "the ability to absorb the up front costs of selling tablet devices at [almost] a loss in order to monetize additional services.  Even partnering with Netflix or even Hulu, he says they'll "have tremendous difficulty in being able to match overall value" against Amazon's aggressive competition, "which doesn't have the additional burden of having to maintain a large retail presence that Barnes & Noble does with its 1700+ stores.

His final sentence (pun intended) in the article is stark.  But then I remember he once carried an image on his page of the Kindle tombstone, "Died 2010," so I think he may be too pessimistic about B&N Nook's chances in the same way.

Personal note on this
Although my NookColor has just a single-core processor, it reads ePub books directly and has been fun for me to use (if a bit oversensitive in the keyboard!), I'll probably keep that rather than upgrade, since I'll also be getting the Kindle Fire for the Amazon media bonuses and the Cloud's (Silk) browser speedup plus the 5 free gigs of Amazon cloud (for any type of file, with ALL Amazon-purchased files getting free and unliited storage)) and 5 free gigs of Kindle Cloud (for personal documents), and of course Prime's add-on features of Kindle-book lending described recently.  I think they're right that the combo of what's available for the device is hard to beat.

But I'm pretty sure MOST people will find themselves really happy with either of these tablet-readers, and it's just a matter of which factors are more important to us.

A Rooted Kindle Fire ??
 Here is what was said by an Amazon official, reported by PC Magazine's Sascha Segan on Sept. 28, 2011, during new-Kindles launch day in an article titled "Amazon: The Kindle Fire Will Get Rooted."   As written:
' Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet has a great user interface, but many of our readers already want to get rid of it.  That's OK.  Amazon isn't doing anything special to prevent techies from "rooting" and rewriting the software on its powerful yet inexpensive new tablet, Jon Jenkins, director of Amazon's Silk browser project said.

"It's going to get rooted, and what you do after you root it is up to you," Jenkins said.
... The company won't help hackers root the tablet, it just isn't actively trying to stop them.

[Segan added, in his own words], "The tablet has a USB port and mass storage mode, so you can also sideload Android APK program files, even without rooting it.  That will be one way to get apps not available in Amazon's Appstore onto the Fire." '

I wouldn't count on the mass storage mode, but it gives hope.

Kindle Touch 3G   Kindle Touch WiFi   Kindle Basic   (UK: KBasic)   Kindle Fire
Kindle Keybd 3G   (UK: Kindle Keybd 3G)   K3 Special Offers   K3-3G Special Offers   DX

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UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. Andrys, thanks for collecting all the data, a time consuming effort, and sharing with those of us who don't have the time to do it for ourselves. I have enjoyed your blog for a while. Keep it going! John

  2. One (major) reason B&N keeps downloaded ebook content in a hidden partition is that it allows them to avoid paying DRM fees to Adobe every time a book is purchased. Only if you download an ePub with Adobe DRM (i.e. to side load to a different reading system) do those transaction fees kick in.

    I do think Amazon would have done better to have more than 6GB storage, if only so they could sell more apps. You can't stream apps from the cloud, and some of them are quite large (I have got a couple on my iPod that are 500MB). You can 'archive' to free up space, but there's no provision to back up any associated user data and restore it the next time you download the app.

    BTW Nook Color will have Netflix & Hulu as well.

  3. I saw your comment about the new Nook Color Tablet, not to be confused with the Nook Color, in regards to the partitioning of it's ram, i.e. 16GB, but only 1GB for side-loaded or non-BN content. I just got off the phone with a BN Technical person and I asked him point blank it's true that only 1GB is available for personal content and he said absolutely not and that all 16GB are free and open for any content. I can't imagine they would lie about it. I have one on order.

  4. John,
    Thanks much for your comment. Appreciated!

    This one did take a lot of time because the area of differences encompasses so many factors that are hard to explain (especially in the way of Amazon's many bonus programs and also in the way of B&N's fine print, which I will add a paragraph on, as they are putting that in almost unseeable light gray print) and I wanted to give readers some indication of more websites than one or two that would be noting all this.

  5. Tom,
    You are such a great explorer.

    Thanks for the additional reason for the re-partitioning that puts Nook-purchased DRM'd material into the partition that holds enough room for apps and system files. For movies, the DRM would be not Adobe, but they are reserving up to 12 gigs for BN-purchased material.

    I agree with you re wishing Amazon had spent the money for 16G of internal storage even if they worried over a Hosting microSD card. They are very bent on people using the Cloud for the various benefits, to Amazon and to customers.

    I want more room to hold, for one thing, not the normal compressed videos they base calcs on but ONE HD film for the pure pleasure of it if needing to be offline to view one but the 6 available gigs won't quite do that.

    I do have a Sony blu-ray portable that I love for this though, 10" and it does a beautiful job upscaling the better-produced DVD discs too.
    That one needs an ethernet cable to get on the Net, however. I use an LG blue-ray WiFi player (w/250gig hard disk) for regular Netflix and can use an ethernet cable for the times that Comcast is being stingy with faster downloads (they isia;;u give 20mbps here on downloads and 4 up).

    Wow, what apps take up 500M ? on your iPod?

    "BTW Nook Color will have Netflix & Hulu as well."
    I did have that in my article (in the section where they claim they're more "open" than Amazon that way).

    It's one reason the NTab will need to be connected more often than they sometimes say if people buy it for partner-streaming. Mentioned that Amazon is one of the final bidders on Hulu and that may be one reason Hulu is missing from theirs.

    My Entourage Pocket Edge: I'm using that tiny partition they made for apps and have not done the available SDcard swap yet. Even then it holds more than I had expected, but there ARE apps that want more room that don't install.

  6. Anonymous, re Nook Tablet partitioning.
    First, it's highly suspect that they'd partition the Nook Color as they did a few months ago and not do something similar for the Nook Tablet -- and of course they do have two partitions at the least, so in no case would all 16GB ever be "free and open for any content."

    This is what B&N itself says in VERY light gray text, equivalent to 'fine print' on their own Nook model comparison web page at

    Under "Memory", they have Footnote 6 for the Nook Tablet, and that footnote 6 says:

    "1GB = 1 billion bytes. Actual formatted capacity may be less. Approximately 13GB available to store content, of which up to 12GB may be reserved for content purchased from the Barnes & Noble NOOK Store."

    Unfortunately tech support, first level, on phone support doesn't always have the finer data, and this is true of both B&N and Amazon. Others have phoned them and gotten technical reps who, when asked to check the info, come back with that footnote'd information.

    Could you let me know you did read this response?

    Thanks. I'd also like to know what you find out in a follow-up phone call if you ask them about this specific footnote? It's exactly the same structural type of partitioning that was done for models of the Nook Color, a change made in May 2011.

    I'll include the reference in the main body of the post in an update.

  7. BIg apps on iOS (for example):
    FIFA 11 (soccer) 1.14GB
    GarageBand 690.5MB
    Myst 562.3MB
    Madden NFL 11 340.8MB
    French Impressionism at the Art Institute of Chicago 197.8MB

    Personally, Hulu would be one too many video subscriptions for me to consider. Free content is only available via a computer browser (not including mobile platforms, even if Flash enabled). So if it is missing from the Amazon Appstore, now and forever, I will not miss it.

    'HD video' is a meaningless concept with these devices, which don't even display the lowest HD resolution, 720p (1280x720), and have no HDMI output capability. Streaming or playback of 'HD' would be a waste of bandwidth or storage. So Amazon's claim about storage for '10 movies' is probably reasonable, provided you are talking about video that's of appropriate resolution. Of course that doesn't stop B&N from claiming it is 'HD' content.

    It's really unclear to me how NT functions offline for music and video, when the only music and video they mention is of the streaming variety. How do you exploit the 'internal' storage for this purpose? Or does it all have to be side-loaded? Is the NOOK Cloud equivalent to Amazon Cloud or is that just marketing speak for 'anything you purchase from us can be downloaded again if this thing breaks'. It's all very nebulous if you'll pardon the expression. We should know soon enough however.

  8. Wow! Some of those apps are huge!
    I do like the free current-tv Hulu that's available on computers. Haven't hooked up my Roku.

    Here's an interesting page on SD cards that I should probably leave a link for:

    Did you notice that NT could stand for Nook Touch or Nook Tablet? I was using it both ways last night and now see why they named it Nook Simple Touch (to make a feature out of no-normal-xfeatures and to give a different abbreviation, NST "-) ).

    Kafka was perturbed by BN's focus on the SD card while stressing streaming services by partners. I would image BN-purchased videos should work since they can go on the larger partition. Whether these stream from SD card well, or at all, is a question. But, as you say, we'll know quite soon!

  9. The reason most of the memory is reserved for B&N content, is that this partition is used by Android to install the apps (and especially also those large app-like books, some of those are 100MB in size or more). These cannot be installed on a micro SD-card. If they would make this partition smaller that would limit the amount of app space. And this would mean that you would run out of space to install apps. A big problem with the original NC partitioning model, that had only 1 GB of app space. As $10 will get you a 8 GB micro SD-card and $20 a 16 GB one, the new partitioning model is a good compromise for most users.

    As for video support up to 1080P. The big advantage is that you do not have to convert existing video to play it on the Nook Tablet. It will accept any resolution, and just play it.
    The current Nook Color is limited to a resolution of 854x480. This means that a lot of existing video will not play without converting it first

  10. Geert,
    Yes. As a NookColor owner, I did know this and thought I'd explained it in a couple of my posts. Nevertheless, using all but 1 gig for BN-purchased material is really quite extreme. And people would look askance if it were Amazon doing that.

    Amazon with its 8 gigs is leaving more room for personal files in that internal storage. I could see leaving 1 gig for the older NookColor's internal storage space of 8 gigs, but to leave the same amount for personal files when they have 16 gigs?

    + an SD slot where the main data can go?

    Interestingly, on my Entourage Pocket Edge (rooted) with a very, very small partition for apps, I've been able to see Youtube HD video fill the screen and run pretty well, so they were doing something similar. Woot was selling those for $79 (discontinued) and it has an e-paper screen also with material that can go back and forth across screens as need and the ability to hand-write on the e-Ink one while viewing material on the other. Or, if the LCD screen is showing dense, long text articles, I can send that to the e-Ink screen. Sad that the product had to be discontinued.

    Thanks for the added feedback.


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