New NOOKs: faster, lighter, bigger, and more personalized
“Now batting…from New York City, a 95-year veteran of bookselling who is still swinging for the fences, Barnes & Noble!”
Barnes & Noble announced today
two new tablets, and the introduction is impressive.
They’ve done an excellent job in making these devices sound customer-aligned…territory Amazon tried to claim in its September 5th presser (press event).
Very simply, there aren’t wild innovations that people may not understand (X-Ray for Movies, “Immersion Reading”), but things that people clearly want (no ads, customizable screen savers*).
The specs (hardware specifications) will make the gear heads happy, at least for the features on which Barnes & Noble focuses…except for memory (see below).
This is one of the best product introductions I’ve seen.
Yes, I love my Kindle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate other devices.
These aren’t Kindle Fire killers in my opinion…I do think there is room for both. However, I think this may move Barnes & Noble up in market share through the holiday season.
While Barnes & Noble and Amazon aren’t the only two players here (the market is merging in some ways), let’s take a look at this head to head. I’m going to talk about both reflective screen devices and the tablets. I compared the Kindles in an earlier post and if you are already settled that you want an Amazon device, that one will give you a good idea. In a similar way, I’m going to try to give you a sense of which Kindle or NOOK might best fit how you are going to use it.
Before I do, though, I want to say that Amazon’s Customer Service is a deciding factor for me in comparing the companies. Amazon allows the “return” of a Kindle store book in the first seven days after purchase for a refund: B&N doesn’t allow the return of NOOK Books at any time for any reason. Amazon has great Customer Service, and great involvement with their customers. I’ve never had a bad experience in a Barnes & Noble brick and mortar store, but I have had them online with them.
Note: Amazon gave me a Kindle Fire HD 7″, Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB and a Kindle Paperwhite 3G, 6″ High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Free 3G + Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers. That is not because I’m a blogger: it’s because of work that I do voluntarily on the Kindle forums to help other customers. I’m what they call a “Kindle Forum Pro”. That’s not a job, and I’m not paid by Amazon. They gave the devices to all of the Pros. While I’m grateful, I don’t think it’s particularly influenced my feelings about Amazon, or that it will affect this post…I liked them before.
Reflective Screen Devices (RSDs): an EBR (E-Book Reader) which does not have lighting behind the image. RSDs are particularly good for long form reading, have a long battery life compared to a backlit device. They can be read easily in bright light, because you read them by light reflecting off of them (the same way you read a paperbook). The technology does not “refresh the screen” quickly enough to handle video. While they can play some games, their primary function is reading. The screens on the earlier models used a brand name technology called E Ink. RSDs currently do not do color images.
Tablet: a backlit device, similar in that way to a laptop, desktop, or SmartPhone. You read what is on the screen by a light coming from behind it. In bright light, they can be hard to read, because the light coming from behind the screen is competing with the light hitting the screen from the front (the sun, for example). Tablets can do full animation (meaning you can watch movies and TV shows, and play games that require animation). They can show many colors. They are good for visiting websites. The software is flexible, and you can install many types of “apps” on them. The battery charge life is much shorter than on an RSK: a day of full use will require a recharge.
The entry level RSD
If you just want to get an EBR (E-Book Reader), maybe your first one, or as an extra, or you just aren’t sure about the whole thing, Amazon owns this one with the Kindle (“Mindle”) with Special Offers. At $69 in the USA, it’s $30 cheaper than the cheapest NOOK. If you just want to read, and you don’t mind ads, it’s a good deal. It doesn’t have a touchscreen, and it doesn’t have audio (so no music, no audiobooks, no text-to-speech). You can get it without ads for $89, but that’s only $10 less than the…
Lowest priced touch screen
NOOK Simple Touch
Is it worth $30 more than the Mindle? If you want a touchscreen, yes, just looking at the hardware. It also has a memory expansion slot, which many people want (you can use micro SD cards for more memory). If you don’t consider the companies, this is an easy to use $99 model.
Barnes & Noble established the naming on frontlighting for reflective screen devices, calling it a “GlowLight”. That means that you can turn on a light to read it in low light conditions, and still read it well in bright light. If you are okay with ads and special offers, Amazon gets in the cheapest at $119 with its Kindle Paperwhite wi-fi only. If we eliminate ads, it’s a much more direct comparison at $139 to B&N’s NOOK Simple Touch™ with GlowLight™. The Barnes & Noble device has an expandable memory slot. The Paperwhite has X-Ray, a feature that gives you background about the book you are reading. Neither one has audio, and both have touchscreens. These are comparable devices, with the GlowLight perhaps having the edge on hardware, and the Paperwhite having it on software. There is also a $179 ($199 without special offers) Kindle Paperwhite 3G, which adds the ease of connecting via the cell phone network.
Update: on September 30, B&N dropped the price of the NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight to $119…the same price as the ad-supported Paperwhite. There are people who reject ads on principle, and when these two are the same price, that will push some of those to the NOOK.
RSD with a physical keyboard
Barnes & Noble isn’t even choosing to compete on this. No touchscreen, no built-in light…but audio and free 3G. The Kindle Keyboard 3G at $139 is a solid option. That free 3G gives you another way to connect to the internet…and one that does not require you to be near a wi-fi network, so it’s great for people who aren’t as comfortable with technology. The audio gives it text-to-speech (where software reads you the words out loud), and audible menus…this is the most accessible device. If you want the “cool gift”, this isn’t it, but if you want a practical reading machine for someone who isn’t as high tech or has a print disability, this is the one.
The entry level tablet
Just as they do with the ad-supported Mindle, Barnes & Noble cedes this one to Amazon. The Kindle Fire 7″ SD does have some of the features of more expensive tables (no Bluetooth ((so no way to use a physical keyboard or wireless headphones)), no HDMI out ((so you can’t connect it physically to a TV)), no camera), but at $159, it’s a great first or extra device. It has text-to-speech, which is a big selling point for me…I listen to TTS typically hours a week. It’s not as friendly for the print disabled as the Kindle Keyboard above (how do you work a touchscreen without audible feedback?), but for people who just like TTS, that’s a big difference. I think this is going to be a hit in the holiday season.
The $199 tablets
This is the big hand(held) to hand(held) combat. In this corner, it’s the Kindle Fire HD 7″. In that corner, and a newcomer, is the NOOK HD.
Let’s break this one down:
- The Kindle HD has ads, although you can buy out of them for $15 (making it $214 without ads)
- The NOOK has only 8GB of memory, unless you move up to the 16GB at $229. Does that matter? When you start downloading movies (which B&N has just announced, yes, absolutely
- The NOOK comes in two different color cases (Snow and Smoke…is it just me, or do those sound like two minor league superheroes?)
- Wall charger is included with the NOOK, about $10 with the Kindle Fire HD…without that, you charge by USB
- Screen quality goes to the NOOK: 1440 by 900, versus 1280 x 800. What does that mean? What you see on a computer or similar screen is made up of dots called pixels. More dots per inch makes for a better picture…imagine a dot to dot without the lines connects, versus a pencil sketch: the dot to dot might have twenty “pixels”, the pencil sketch could have the equivalent of thousands. With these two, it works out to 243 pixels per inch versus 216. Will you notice it? That’s harder to say
- The NOOK is about two ounces lighter…hold it for an hour, you might feel the difference
- The NOOK’s processor is a bit faster: 1.3 versus 1.3GHZ
- The NOOK has an expandable memory slot: the Kindle Fire would use a wi-drive (wireless external drive)
- They both have some kind of individual profiles, but we won’t be able to compare that well until we see how Amazon’s FreeTime works in October
- The Kindle Fire HD has a front-facing camera for video calls…no camera on the NOOK HD
- The Kindle Fire HD has X-Ray for books and movies and syncing between audio and sight-reading
I’d sum it up this way: the NOOK does beat the Fire on hardware, but the memory size difference will matter to people. I don’t think the camera is a dealbreaker for a lot of folks. I do think Bluetooth** matters, especially if Amazon can work out a current glitchiness with Bluetooth keyboards. People who just look at the “cutting edge” nature of the hardware will lean towards the NOOK (ignoring the lower onboard memory, perhaps being okay with the expansion slot). People who want cutting edge features may lean towards the Kindle Fire HD. The latter is especially true when taking Amazon Prime into account (which is normally $79 a year). That has the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and I do take advantage of that…and free Prime streaming.
The big screen tablet
The NOOK HD+ is bigger (9″ versus 8.9″) and cheaper ($269 versus $299) than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″. Regardless of anything else, that’s going to sell a lot of people on it. On the other hand, there is no camera and no Bluetooth.
Those both come with 16GB…if you go to 32GB, the NOOK+ is significantly cheaper: $369 for the Kindle, $299 for the NOOK.
The Kindle also comes with ads…$15 to buy out.
The Kindle has text-to-speech…and the NOOKs work with UltraViolet, which lets you effectively get a digital file with a DVD. That’s not free for all your old DVDs, and not available on everything, but it’s a good deal.
The NOOK includes a wall charger at no additional cost.
Unless Amazon makes some changes (matching UltraViolet, for example), I think this is going to tend to go to the NOOK, for people who haven’t already committed to Amazon.
The 4G tablet
This one is Amazon’s alone, with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE 32GB at $499 and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE 64 GB at $599.
If you want to check e-mail or go on the web at the beach, this is the option. That does mean you would pay for a data plan: Amazon is advertising an AT&T one starting at about $50 a year. At this point, though, you are clearly competing with the iPad, and that opens another discussion.
Amazon and Barnes and Noble also have their own special software features:
- Whispersync for voice (synchronize your place between an audiobook and sight-reading)
- X-Ray for movies (pause, and find out about the actors on the screen0
- X-Ray for books
- X-Ray for textbooks (even linked to relevant videos)
- Whispersync for games (sync game progress on different devices)
- Prime (annual fee) for free streaming video and a borrowing a book a month from a specific Kindle Owners’ Lending Library)
- Immersion reading (hear a voice and read the words at the same time)
Barnes & Noble
- NOOK IQ recommendations
- NOOK Catalogs (yep, like paper catalogs for stores, but on your device)
- NOOK Scrapbook (save magazine and catalog pages in one place)
- Customizable screen savers
- NOOK Channels…I think these are sort of like the playlists on Songza…expert groupings of similar topics
Quite simply…game on! Amazon wins on entry level devices, and the super high end. In terms of tablets, Barnes & Noble may gain some serious ground in the middle. I think the Kindle Keyboard is still it’s own market slice, and I didn’t mention the Kindle DX (but that’s not really in the hot mix).
More information will come out in the next couple of months, but that should help you get started comparing them.
What do you think? Does the 8GB versus 16GB difference matter, if there’s an expansion slot? Does Amazon’s reputation just make it impossible for the NOOK tablets to move into first place? How much of a liability is it that Amazon defaults to having ads? Do the “enhanced reading features” at Amazon matter? Will Amazon respond in some way…if so, how? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
* When I first saw that there were customizable screen savers on the new NOOK tablets, I thought that would mean your own pictures. B&N has a chat feature for help, so I got a clarification:
You are now connected with Richard Green from BN.com
Bufo Calvin: I’m interested in information about the customizable screen savers
Richard Green: Thank you for contacting Barnes & Noble Digital Support. I’m Richard.
Bufo Calvin: Hi!
Richard Green: I understand that you want to know customizable screen savers on new devices that are going release. Is that correct?
Bufo Calvin: Yes.
Bufo Calvin: Which devices, and what sorts of pictures can be used?
Richard Green: Sure, please give me a moment while I check the device details.
Bufo Calvin: Thanks.
Richard Green: Thank you for your time.
Richard Green: Yes, these new devices come with pre-loaded screen savers. You can select or change screen saver from the pre-loaded gallary.
Bufo Calvin: All of the new tablets? That also means you can’t use your own pictures as a screen saver?
Richard Green: Yes, you cannot use personal pictures for screen savers.
Bufo Calvin: Thank you, that clarifies it.
Richard Green: You are welcome.
Richard Green: \AE
Richard Green: Is there anything else I can help you with?
Richard Green: Sorry for the typo*
Bufo Calvin: That’s okay. I think I’m good for now…all of the NOOK tablets allow you to select from a pre-loaded “gallery” of screen savers, but not to use your own pictures.
** Update: thanks to reader Jackie who pointed out that the B&N press release says their tablets will have Bluetooth. That doesn’t appear anywhere on the site that I could find. I’ll get a clarification from B&N, but that does even things out more if true
Update: Barnes & Noble has now confirmed for me that the new tablets do not have Bluetooth. Unfortunately, that means their initial press release was incorrect. That does happen…Amazon had to clarify the amount of memory on the KFSD, for example. I applaud B&N for having the chat option…although I did have a few issues with it. I tried to get on it this morning after 9:00 AM Eastern…and it was telling me I was outside the hours. Then, I tried to do it later…and it was unavailable because they were too busy. When I did get someone, as you see below, it was a little while before somebody actually connected with me; I would guess it might have been a couple of minutes.
You are now connected with Chanakya from BN.com
Bufo Calvin: Do the new tablets have Bluetooth so you can use an external keyboard?
Chanakya: Good day Bufo, thanks for joining Barnes and Noble Digital Chat Support.
Chanakya: I’m sorry to inform you that the new NOOK hd and NOOK hd+ devices do not have the option of bluetooth.
Chanakya: Are we connected?
Bufo Calvin: Yes, thanks!
Chanakya: Is there anything else I can help you with?
Bufo Calvin: Sorry, I stepped away while I was waiting. I appreciate that clarification…the initial press release indicated that it would be available, but I didn’t see it on the spec pages.
Bufo Calvin: No, that’s it…thanks so much!
Chanakya: You’re welcome.
Chanakya: Thanks for contacting Barnes and Noble Chat support.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.