Galaxy Tab, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet Smackdown

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Galaxy Tab 7 Plus, Kindle Fire, and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet Compared

Amazon Kindle Fire e-reading tablet
Image courtesy Amazon.com

The iPad is great, but sometimes it's still a bit too large. For some people, the sweet spot is a device that is larger than a phone but smaller than a ten-inch tablet. Something that fits in your pocket or purse. Something about the size of a paperback book with an entire library of books stored inside it. Seven inches is about right for a multitasking e-reader, and this year we've got some great choices. It's an embarrassment of riches, even. The Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, and Galaxy Tab 7 Plus. They're all Android-based tablets, they're being released at about the same time, they have roughly the same processing power, and they advertise themselves as doing the same sorts of things, so how do you choose one?

Kindle Fire

Let's start with the Kindle Fire since it made the most buzz when it was recently introduced. This is Amazon.com's first color e-reader, and they've already seen a huge volume of pre-orders.

The price tag is $199, which is the cheapest price for the three tablets we're comparing. Some experts believe this is actually a loss leader for Amazon, meaning that Amazon loses money when you buy the tablet, but they make up for it when you buy books, movies, and Amazon Prime subscription service. That may be a very smart strategy for Amazon, who has positioned themselves nicely to transition from selling physical books to selling them digitally.

The Kindle runs on Android, but you'd never guess it from using the device. You must use the Amazon App Store to run apps, and you're similarly bound to Amazon for music, movie, and book purchases. The Kindle Fire does have a Web browser, so you may be able to get around some restrictions by using the Web apps for reading books, listening to music, or watching movies. 

There's no camera on the Kindle Fire. It's strictly for product consumption, and although there are many pictures of children reading books or playing apps, there's no indication from Amazon so far that there are additional parental controls on the Kindle Fire. That means children could potentially make accidental purchases from your account, so turn off one-click shopping. Once the Fire ships, I'll have more information on this.

If you own a Kindle Fire and subscribe to Amazon Prime ($79 per year), you can borrow one free e-book per month.

Advantages: Curated app store with apps guaranteed to work on your device, integrated ecosystem, low cost.

Disadvantages: Restricted to Amazon's ecosystem, Wi-Fi only, no camera, shortest battery life (8 hours). 

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Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

Nook Tablet
Image Courtesy Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble released the popular Nook Color last year, and the low cost ($249) made it a favorite for hackers who removed the B&N modified version of Android to install their own version that was compatible with the Android Market. The new Nook Tablet is an enhanced version which sells for just a little more than the Kindle Fire, but it has a few things going for it.

The Nook Tablet isn't on its first trip to the rodeo. Barnes & Noble has already seen what customers like and dislike about the Nook Color, so this will likely be a much better product. You can also play with it in person since it will be available for purchase at Barnes & Noble bookstores and electronic retail outlets. The Nook didn't have the huge movie library Amazon's been building, so that may work out well for customers. The Nook Tablet ships with a Netflix and Hulu Plus app, and the browser should still support Amazon Prime movies. For that matter, it supports the Web-based Amazon book reader, too.

You're still stuck with a private app market. In this case, it's the Nook Market, but you have more variety in movie and music services, and it's easier to sideload books because the Nook supports industry standard formats like ePub and PDF. The Nook Tablet also gives you a limited ability to lend books to friends with Nooks, and you can read a free eBook for up to one hour per day.

The biggest advantage the Nook Tablet has over the other two devices is that it has parental controls right out of the box. The Nook allows parents to turn off browser access, and it keeps separate bookshelves for each family member. The Nook Tablet also has enhanced interactive children's books with a "read to me" feature.

Advantages: Curated apps, ships with popular apps already installed for movies and music, built-in microphone, parental controls and kid-friendly books, supports industry standard book formats, long battery life (11.5 hours), supports micro SD cards.

Disadvantages: More expensive than Kindle Fire, limited to Nook App Store, no camera, Wi-Fi only. 

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus

Galaxy Tab 7 Plus
Image courtesy Samsung

Full disclosure: Samsung has provided me with a review unit to test. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is the updated version of last year's overpriced Samsung Galaxy Tab. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice tablet last year, too, but the previous price tag of $600 was too high in an iPad world. This year the pricing is much better at $399 for the 16GB model, but that's still much higher than the Nook Tablet or the Kindle Fire. Samsung also has a payment plan option for the 4G enabled version with T-Mobile, but you still have to put $300 down. The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus is available for sale right now.

The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus runs an only slightly modified Touchwiz version of Android Honeycomb, the latest version of Android. Although Samsung has an app market, you're not tied to it. You can use the standard Android Market or any alternative Android app market of your choosing, including the Amazon App Market. Unrestricted app access is freeing, but it also means the device is more vulnerable to viruses and malware.

The Galaxy Tab 7 includes both front and rear facing cameras, although they're only 2 and 3 megapixels, so your average phone takes better shots. Samsung has integrated social media, calendar, and email widgets, so your Facebook friends' birthdays show up alongside your Exchange and Google Calendar appointments. Your Galaxy Tab can also play the role of universal remote by using the included Peel app. The Galaxy Tab even includes an IR port, so you really can control your TV.

Advantages: Unrestricted app access, camera, micro SD storage, Bluetooth, IR port, available in Wi-Fi or 4G models

Disadvantages: Expensive, low-resolution camera, Android updates may be delayed by a TouchWiz interface.

 

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The Winner

Nook Tablet
Image Courtesy Barnes & Noble

All three tablets are worthy competitors, and they'll all make their owners very happy. The Kindle has a great ecosystem, and the Galaxy Tab is a full-featured tablet. However, for the features and price, the Nook Tablet is the baby bear with the perfect porridge. At $250, the Nook Tablet is still reasonably priced for an e-reader, and it can multitask. It doesn't take photos, but the Galaxy Tab doesn't exactly have bragging rights with a 3-megapixel camera.

Barnes & Noble did a great job of listening to customer feedback, so they've created a tablet with long battery life, parental controls, and separate bookshelves for family reading. They've also worked hard to bring quality apps to their walled garden, even if it's still a walled garden.

If you're shopping for a tablet, be sure to check out the Nook Tablet to see if you agree.