Two Lower Cost Tablets

In November, two new tablets were released that have caused a flurry of hype for the holiday shopping season. Everyone is wondering if one of these will be able to challenge the dominant iPad. Meet the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet.

Kindle Fire

Nook Tablet

These represent the first foray into true tablet territory for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both of whom have had popular e-reader devices on the market for some time. The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are similar in many ways. They both run a (heavily customized) version of Android and are primarily geared toward content consumption in the form of books, music, and videos. They also each offer a web browser and the ability to run apps.


Ultimately, these new tablets really can’t compete with the iPad or higher end Android tablets. The iPad offers a polished, flexible user interface and a staggering number of apps. An Android tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab also offers many apps and a lot of flexibility. However, both of those devices are in the $500 price range. In contrast, the Fire and Nook tablets will only set you back $199-$249, but there are trade-offs for that savings. Some of the limitations include:

  • no cameras for video chats
  • no bluetooth for external keyboards
  • no GPS for location aware features/mapping
  • smaller screens
  • less storage (though Nook is expandable via memory card)
  • no microphone, so voice commands and voice memos are not possible (Fire only)
  • limited customization
  • limited apps (no access to the full Android Market)

Some of these things can be good or bad depending on your perspective. Some will welcome the relative simplicity, more “curated” app choices, and more portable size. On the other hand, a user who wants to customize the device, take full advantage of the openness of Android, or load lots of content not bought through Amazon or Barnes & Noble will surely be disappointed. That said, if you have the skill and inclination to bend devices to your will, there are some hacks that can make these lower cost tablets more flexible.

How to Choose?

If you are shopping for a tablet, it really boils down to what features YOU need most. For academic work, the iPad is still the best choice with its wide selection of quality productivity, textbook, and education apps. However, if that is not your priority, and you can live without some of the features listed above, the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire might be the perfect fit for your needs and wallet.


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