Amazon.com's Kindle Fire has drawn a lot of media and consumer attention as the latest, and perhaps the first legitimate, contender to the iPad.
But Barnes & Noble Inc. argues that Amazon is just following its lead. Nearly a year ago, the bookseller rolled out the Nook Color, a 7-inch device that it asserts is the second bestselling tablet behind Apple Inc.'s iPad.
Now Barnes & Noble is trying to fend off Amazon with the $249 Nook Tablet, which looks the same as the $199 Nook Color but has a horsepower boost that makes it a more polished product worth considering for those who don't want to, or can't, spend $499 on an iPad.
The Nook Tablet picks up where last year's Nook Color left off but adds improved hardware with a 1-gigahertz dual-core processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM and 16 gigabytes of storage. The Nook Color, selling at the same price as the Fire, features an 800-megahertz processor, 512 megabytes of RAM and 8 gigabytes of storage.
The two Nook devices have the same display, which impressively renders Web pages, movies and TV shows from Netflix and Hulu, as well as books, comics and magazines. Both also include a built-in email app.
The Nook Tablet and Nook Color share the same body, though the two are painted in different shades of gray, and both are plenty comfortable to hold in the hand, with a mix of high-quality hard plastics and a softer rubberized back.
Like the Fire, the Barnes & Noble tablets lack cameras, 3G or 4G options, Bluetooth capabilities and other features found in higher-priced tablets such as Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab line. However, unlike the Fire, the Nook Color and Nook Tablet have microSD card slots, which allow for expandable storage.
That's a good thing because the Nook Color and Nook Tablet allow only 1 gigabyte of storage for content purchased outside Barnes & Noble's Nook Store for books and apps. The rest, or 15 gigabytes for the Nook Tablet and 7 gigabytes for the Nook Color, is reserved for items purchased from the bookseller's online store.
The Nook Tablet improves over the Nook Color with small, noticeable differences such as faster load times for apps, smoother page turns for books and a more responsive operating system.
On the hardware side, the Nook Tablet outperforms the Nook Color and the Fire, but neither Nook can match the Fire's impressive library of music, movies and TV shows to stream or download.
Sure, the Nook offers access to Netflix and Hulu for video and MOG and Grooveshark for music, but streaming from those services requires a Wi-Fi connection. And when it comes to buying content to enjoy when Wi-Fi isn't around, Barnes & Noble (unlike Amazon) has no online storefront that sells music, movies and TV shows.