One wonders if Amazon hadn’t dubbed the Kindle Fire a tablet if Barnes & Noble would have called the device the unveiled today the Nook Color 2. After all, it’s represents a mostly internal update on the hardware side with software updates that are also coming to last year’s Nook Color. Don’t get me wrong, the updates are definitely a good thing, especially the dual-core CPU and 1GB of RAM. But going full hog and calling it the Nook Tablet? Hmm.
In the low-cost tablet space, you’re not going to find many worthy competitors, except perhaps the Kindle Fire. Yes, there are inexpensive 7-inchers around, but most are craplets. (The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 will likely be an exception.) In the Nook Tablet you have speedy performance, a really great display, and the benefit of Netflix and Hulu Plus.
I went hands-on with the tablet at the launch event today and I think that the battle for the low-cost, tweener tablet space is about to get a lot bloodier… and way more interesting.
Starting with design, Barnes & Noble made a good choice in keeping the Nook Tablet the same on the outside as the Nook Color. You still get a stunning 1024 x 600 IPS display with no air gaps for better viewing angles and responsiveness. It still has that nice, comfortable curve to the edges and a soft-touch back; details I appreciate. While I wish there was a Back button, at least, the stylized n button under the display is still a classy touch.
The Nook Tablet is now 14.1 ounces, which is lighter than the Nook Color. A definite improvement, as I found last year’s offering a bit on the heavy side. Those of you who bought a case for the Color and want to upgrade to the Tablet won’t have to spend any extra money, since they both have the same dimensions.
The dual-core TI OMAP processor inside did well in the demos I saw. It opens books, apps, and magazines faster than the Color, flips pages with greater speed and visual flair, and scrolls around in the magazine page wheel with more fluidity. All the games I saw demoed ran smoothly as well. Plus streaming video looked great even though the wireless wasn’t at its best in the store.
Another nice addition to the hardware is the microphone, which sits near the microUSB port on the bottom. It’s mainly there so people can record their own readings of children’s books, but it won’t be long before apps come along to take advantage of it. Skype on the Nook Tablet, anyone?
Given that the Nook Color did pretty well in sales with lesser hardware, the $249 price tag is probably not going to scare away too many consumers from the Nook Tablet, even with the Kindle Fire coming in at $50 less. What may make a difference is the media thing.
As impressed as I was with the performance, speed, hardware, and design of the Nook Tablet, the fact that Barnes & Noble doesn’t yet have a downloadable media partner is a potential stumbling block. A company rep said that they’re in talks with some existing providers to bring downloadable content to the device, but I can’t think of any who have as big a name as Amazon or Apple.
Kudos to the company for getting the streaming partners on board. Having Netflix and Hulu Plus out of the box is a major win. And on the music side there’s Pandora, Rhapsody, Mog, and GrooveShark. (I suggest Spotify jump on this as soon as possible as well.) But the issue with Android tablets of any size, shape, and robustness has always been about the purchasing and downloading of video. Solutions as simple and elegant as iTunes are hard to come by. Amazon’s Video on Demand is the closest we’ve come from a big name, and that’s only available on the Fire.
This only applies to downloaded, owned content. As far as streaming, Netflix and Amazon Prime’s instant streaming have pretty identical catalogs is everything except next day TV episodes, which is easily fulfilled by Hulu Plus, if you care.
I’m betting that this issue, more than anything else, will be the deciding factor for many consumers.
Once you actually get video on the Nook tablet, be it streaming or played from the device, you’re going to get a nice experience. Good for on-the-go viewing, at least. There’s no way to output the video to your HDTV, sadly.
Overall, I’m impressed with the Nook Tablet and can’t wait to get it in for review. We’ll be comparing it to the Kindle Fire, for sure.