Amazon Kindle Fire vs. B&N Nook Tablet: Is there a clear winner? (review)

The Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are likely the hottest tech products for the holiday season and fill both eReader and Android tablet needs for less than $250.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

If you want a device primarily to read ebooks, then get an eInk device like the Kobo eReader Touch, Nook Simple Touch, or Kindle Touch because nothing beats matching the book experience like eInk and these devices minimize unnecessary distractions. However, if you want a low cost tablet for media consumption (music and videos), games, web browsing, and more with the ability to also read books then the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are two solid devices to consider. I have been using both for a couple days and am having a tough time choosing just one.

You can check out several product photos and screenshots of both the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet in my image gallery along with a video walkthrough of them below with my detailed thoughts on how they compare to each other, other 7 inch tablets, and the Apple iPad.

Image Gallery: Check out several photos and screenshots of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet.
Image Gallery: Retail packages
Image Gallery: Kindle Fire home screen

Where do these two 7 inch devices fit in?

The Apple iPad defined and now dominates the tablet market with 68% market share. I have tried other Android tablets and Honeycomb has a long ways to go to match the iPad experience. While the iPad leads the large size tablet market, they don't compete in the smaller 7 inch market where there are some Android devices and the BlackBerry PlayBook. I own an HTC Flyer and as discussed multiple times on the MobileTechRoundup podcast Kevin Tofel and I are huge fans of the smaller 7 inch form factor. With a 7 inch tablet you can put it in your coat pocket and take it on the go and thus the form factor lends itself to being more mobile than the 10 inchers.

Even though the 7 inch tablets are much smaller than the 10 inch tablets, we have seen pricing of them to be about the same as their larger cousin with prices in the past from $499 and up (not counting all the crazy fire sale prices when they realize they are overpriced). We now see the Amazon Kindle Fire coming in at $199 and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet at $249. Keep in mind there is also the B&N Nook Color that can be turned into a full Android tablet too for $199. These companies have now changed the expectation for the smaller tablets in a major way, even though they have customized user interfaces and limitations compared to full Android tablets. For example, there are no cameras, GPS receivers, and Bluetooth or wireless carrier radios. Honestly though, I don't use these advanced features much even on my HTC Flyer so I doubt the "standard" consumer will really care.

Let's take a closer look at each of these two new devices and then see how they shake out in the end.

Amazon Kindle Fire: In the box and first impressions

The Kindle Fire comes in a very cool plain brown box made of recycled materials with a handy zip pull that opens up the sealed box. The shipping box and the retail box are the same thing with the Amazon label on it. After pulling the zip seal off the top opens up to reveal the Kindle Fire with a plastic wrap on it and the microUSB charger adapter placed underneath. The charger is a hardwired one so you will need another microUSB cable to connect to a PC or Mac, but doesn't everyone have 5 or 10 of these lying around like me? There is a small card in the top part of the box that shows you how to charge up your new Kindle Fire. Check out the post that James wrote that details the out-of-box experience (OOBE).

If you have ever seen or held a BlackBerry PlayBook, then you will know what the Kindle Fire feels like since the form factor and design is similar. The Kindle Fire is all black and encased in soft touch material. It is hefty and dense, but feels like a MUCH higher quality device than the $199 you just paid. I loved the design of the PlayBook and am now very happy with the Kindle Fire design as well.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Specifications

There are a few key specifications that may be of interest to you, including:

  • 7 inch IPS display at 1024x600 pixels resolution
  • TI OMAP 4 dual-core 1 GHz processor
  • Android 2.3 with customized UI
  • 512MB RAM
  • 8GB internal storage with no expandability
  • Reported battery life of 8 hours reading and 7.5 hours video
  • 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches and 14.6 ounces

Amazon Kindle Fire: Walk around the hardware

At first glance you could easily mistake the Kindle Fire with the BlackBerry PlayBook. They are both black slabs that are not particularly thin and svelte, but they do have rounded corners and the soft touch material helps considerably. There is a bezel around the display so you can hold the Kindle Fire without touching the display. Interestingly, there is only a SINGLE button on the entire device. Yes, that's right, there are not even volume buttons like you get on the PlayBook. There is a small on/off button on the bottom, to the right of the microUSB port and the 3.5mm headset jack. The power button glows while charging too.

There is nothing on the sides and on the top we just see a couple of stereo speaker grilles. The front has the lovely 1024x600 pixel resolution display while the back has a classy embedding of the Kindle name and light gray Amazon name printed on it. It is very simple hardware and feels like it can handle just about anything you through at it.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Software and apps

The Kindle Fire is powered by Android, but has a customized Amazon user experience that is fluid and works quite well. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet use a swipe to unlock feature (I'm sure Apple will be suing them for this soon, right?).


From the home screen you can quickly access your most recently used content (apps, books, magazines, etc.) and your favorites that you have placed on the shelf. You can also tap the words towards the top to access the following:

  • Newstand: This is the place where your magazines and newspapers can be found.
  • Books: Takes you to your bookshelf where you can also jump to the store.
  • Music: Takes you to your media library where you can also jump to the Amazon MP3 store.
  • Video: Takes you to your media library where you can also jump to the video store.
  • Docs: Launches file explorer to select documents loaded on your Fire.
  • Apps: Takes you to shelves filled with shortcuts to your apps. Serves as the app launcher, with a quick link to the Amazon AppStore.
  • Web: Launches the Silk web browser and requires an internet connection.

The Amazon AppStore on the Kindle Fire is the same one that you can get on any Android smartphone or tablet and includes thousands of great apps and games. I found and installed about 20 apps on my Fire, including YouVersion Bible, Evernote, Angry Birds, Flixster, and more.

You can move your favorites around on the shelf by tapping, holding, and moving too and can slide the most recently used content cover flow area up to reveal your favorites on the shelf.


The slick thing you will notice when you go to areas where your content lives is that there will be a toggle up top for Cloud or Device so you can stream content stored offline or view/use content stored directly on the device offline.

You will find the way to navigate is by tapping the back arrow or home button that appear dynamically along the bottom of the display. There is also a menu button near the center that gives you different options in different areas. To the right of the back arrow and menu button you will find different buttons appear for things such as search and bookmarks.

The Kindle Fire is an Android-powered device so tapping the top left corner will slide down the shade for you to view your notifications. A small subtle number appears in the upper left as notifications come in too.

Tapping on the upper right gives you a drop down with some very common options, including:

  • Rotation lock toggle
  • Volume: This is how you control the volume since there are no hardware buttons
  • Brightness slider
  • WiFi connection manager
  • Sync: Tapping it forces a sync of your Amazon account
  • More: Tapping it gives you full access to all of the Kindle Fire settings

There is also a device wide search option above the launcher and below the upper status bar that you can use to find things faster than scrolling through all the different areas.

Unlike the Nook Color, the Kindle Fire home screen also works in landscape orientation and actually has a cover flow-like user interface for your most recently used content (shown in my video).

Amazon Silk web browser

Amazon promoted the web browser and it is very good. I didn't notice it being too much different than Android web browsers, but it is attractive and functional. There is a whole display full of settings, the thumbnail bookmarks looks great, and I enjoyed browsing on the Kindle Fire.


The detailed settings on the Kindle Fire include:

  • Help & Feedback
  • My Account: Manage your Amazon Kindle account here
  • Sounds: Control the volume and manage notification sounds.
  • Display: Control the brightness and timeout settings.
  • Security: Choose to toggle a lock screen password, secure your storage, and manage administrators.
  • Applications: View and manage application details for those apps installed on your Fire.
  • Date & time: Toggle automatic time and select your time zone. Unfortunately, there is no 24 hour toggle so I hope they add this in a future update.
  • Wireless network: Toggle WiFi on and off and then manage your network connections.
  • Kindle keyboard: Toggle sound, auto-capitalization, and auto correct functions.
  • Device: View status for storage, battery, and software as well as toggle the ability to install apps from unknown sources and factory reset your Kindle Fire.
  • Legal Notices: Blah, blah, blah...
  • Terms of Use: Blah, blah, blah...

Amazon Kindle Fire: Sideloading apps

This section is for those who are bit more tech savvy, which I imagine are probably the majority of the readers here. I understand that regular consumers won't care too much about this capability, but the fact that it is there makes the Kindle Fire a more compelling device for more people. I understand you can also fully root and likely get the full Android experience on the Kindle Fire, but I have no desire to do this since I find the Amazon-optimized Fire experience to be compelling and something of real value.

However, you can load up apps without any hacking and as I mentioned quickly yesterday, the Kindle Fire is much more open than I ever thought it would be. I followed Sascha Segan's guide article and installed the following on my Kindle Fire:

  • Words by Post
  • USAA
  • Kobo
  • Nook
  • Spotify (Careful the play/pause/stop controls are not accessible)
  • Slacker
  • Google Maps
  • Dolphin Browser HD
  • Paid version of Documents To Go
  • Already paid versions of Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies

I also tried Google Listen and Google+, but as Sascha pointed out any application or service where you have to login with a Google account does not seem to work after installing in a sideloaded manner.

Reviewers like me need to be able to capture the screen on devices and while there isn't an easy button maneuver on the Amazon Kindle Fire, you can follow the directions on the Amazon Fire developer site and use the free Android SDK and ADB step to capture the display on a PC or Mac.

Usage experiences

There is a decent QWERTY keyboard on the Kindle Fire that works in both portrait and landscape orientations. I like that you can tap and hold on the top row to enter a number and there is some key punctuation above the top row for quick access without having to go to a different screen.

Ebook reading is enjoyable on the Kindle Fire with a ton of customization options (see my screenshots in the gallery) and support for landscape reading too.

Now let's check out the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet: Specifications

There are a few key specifications that may be of interest to you, including:

  • 7 inch IPS display at 1024x600 pixels resolution
  • TI OMAP 4 dual-core 1 GHz processor
  • Android 2.3 with customized UI
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD card slot
  • Reported battery life of 11.5 hours reading and 9 hours video
  • 8.1 x 5 x 0.48 inches and 14.1 ounces

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet: Walk around the hardware

The Nook Tablet has the same design as the Nook Color so if you have seen and held that device then you have seen the Nook Tablet. The Nook Tablet is longer than the Kindle Fire and also a bit wider so it doesn't fit in one hand as well and you may be hard pressed to get it into a jacket pocket. On the front you will find the bezel around the display and the center Nook button that pops up the navigation controls on the screen. The funky corner (modeled after a bent book corner) loop is there in the bottom left.

I found the display to have a yellow tint and prefer the whiter display of the Amazon Kindle Fire. I understand they both have the same size and resolution, but that the Nook Tablet has an anti-glare coating and while it still shows reflexions it does seem to be slightly less pronounced than on the Kindle Fire. While it has a yellow tint, pictures and video look better on the Nook Tablet.

The 3.5mm headset jack is found on the top along with a mic opening. The microUSB port is on the bottom, the power button is on the left, and the volume buttons are on the right.

The mono speaker grille is on the lower part of the back and the microSD card slot is under a cover on the corner loop area. The back has a soft touch material with Nook symbol embedded in it.

While the Kindle Fire has a flat front, the Nook Tablet has a screen that is recessed and other pieces that all fit together. IMHO, the Kindle Fire is a more elegant feeling and looking device, but that is all a personal preference thing.

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet: Navigation and apps

While the Kindle Fire uses an all touchscreen interface for navigation, the Nook Tablet is centralized on the physical Nook button at the bottom of the display. You cannot rotate the home screen on the Nook Tablet into landscape orientation, but there are some areas of the device that do support rotation. I prefer the consistency in the Amazon Kindle Fire here.

Pressing the Nook button pops up the Nook navigation controls for the following:

  • Home: Takes you to the home screen. You can also double press the Nook button to go right to the home screen.
  • Library: Takes you to your library with the last tab selected. These tabs include books, magazines, newspapers, apps, kids, and my stuff.
  • Shop: Takes you to the Barnes & Noble online store and requires a connection.
  • Search: Opens up the search utility.
  • Apps: Takes you to your library with the apps tab selected.
  • Web: Launches the Android-based web browser
  • Settings: Takes you to the device and app settings management area.


The home screen on the Nook Tablet is much like a more typical Android device with three home screen panels (they are not continuous) where the Nook button takes you to the center panel by default. You can add app shortcuts, books, and more to the home screen panels and then move them around by tapping, holding, and moving. There is also a sliding bar along the bottom where you can place apps as well.

Below this area you will find links to the following:

  • Books: Opens a pop-up with the latest book you are reading and links to your library and recommended books.
  • Newstand: Opens a pop-up for different magazines and newspapers.
  • Movies: Opens a pop-up with links to movie and TV apps such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Fandango.
  • Music: Opens a pop-up with links to music apps like Pandora and the default music player on the device.
  • Apps: Opens a pop-up with shortcuts to some of your apps, link to your library, and recommended apps based on the ones you have.

Below this is a status bar where you can tap the left and jump right back into the book you were reading and a top on the right pops up quick settings for the following:

  • Battery status
  • WiFi manager
  • Mute toggle
  • Auto-rotate toggle
  • Brightness manager
  • Link to full settings page

You can also tap on the top bar to go back to reading your book. Tapping the far right corner, where the word More is found, brings you to a task manager where you can quickly switch between running apps.

Apps and media

Barnes & Noble includes the Nook Apps store, but I found it lacking some apps that I have on Android devices and now even on the Kindle Fire. I also found you have to purchase apps from B&N that you already purchased on the Android Market since there is no connection here. At least on the Kindle Fire you can reload apps you bought on the Amazon AppStore on your other Android devices. However, as you can read below you can very easily side load apps and even put the AppStore on the device, but you have to search for them to find and open them back up.

Hulu Plus and Netflix both require subscriptions and movies and TV shows stream. There is no option to take this content offline so you cannot use your Nook Tablet for watching movies on the airplane unless you rip your DVDs. Barnes & Noble did tell me that they will add video rental/download services through leading providers early next year so stay tuned for that.

The web browser is a fairly standard Android browser and does a good job for couch browsing.


There are a ton of settings on the Nook Tablet, broken down into a Device Settings area and App Settings area:

Device Settings

  • Device Info: Includes battery status, storage capacity, and reset utility.
  • Wireless: WiFi connection manager and toggle for radio.
  • Screen: Adjust the display rotation, brightness, and timeout.
  • Sounds: Toggle the sound, set volumes for media, and notifications.
  • Time: Toggle 24 hour clock and select time zone.
  • Security: Set device lock passcode and view/manage restrictions (parental controls).
  • Power Save: Toggle on/off power save mode.
  • Keyboard: Toggle keyboard sounds, auto-capitalization, and auto correction.

App Settings

  • Home: Manage and customize a ton of home screen settings.
  • Shop: Toggle password for purchases, manage credit cards, add gift cards and clear searches.
  • Social: Manage you Facebook and Twitter social networking accounts.
  • Reader: Toggle page turn animations.
  • Search: Select types of items to search.

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet: Sideloading apps and rooting

The Nook Color was able to be fully rooted and loaded with Android and developers were quick to be able to do the same here. As I mentioned in the Kindle Fire section, I don't want another Android tablet with these devices, but I do want an optimized device with slick UI and the Kindle greatly beats out the Nook Tablet in this regard.

You can also easily side load apps and install the Amazon AppStore on the Nook Tablet. However, the only way to access apps installed this way is to search for them since there is no way to make them appear in your app library or get them onto the home screen. There was mention that you are limited to just 1 GB of storage space for side loaded apps, but that is just on the device internal memory and you always have the option of moving apps to the microSD card that can get up to 32GB in capacity.

It is easy to capture screenshots on the Nook Tablet, thanks to physical buttons. Simply press the Nook home button and the volume down (-) button at the same time to capture what is on your screen.

Usage experiences

The Nook Tablet was familiar to me due to the original Nook user interface. The ebook reading functions are excellent with lots of font and formatting options.

The keyboard has more spacing between letters than on the Kindle Fire, but there are not quick keys to enter numbers of common punctuation.

I found that the Nook Tablet beats the Kindle Fire when watching streaming video content. For some reason, the Kindle Fire kept stuttering and speeding up while watching Netflix and Amazon Prime video. The Nook Tablet never skipped a beat and is the better video player so keep that in mind if you plan to stream lots of video content. Keep in mind though that you cannot download content for offline consumption on the Nook Tablet.

One thing that really bothers me is that the Nook Tablet doesn't seem to be able to be charged from just any microUSB cable/charger like the Kindle Fire. The Nook Tablet connector is slightly longer, supporting a second set of pins dedicated for charging at a higher rate for the higher capacity battery. As a result the connector provided in the packaging will not work in other typical microUSB ports. However you can use a microUSB connector on the devices to sync data from a PC/MAC but not the fast charging provide by your dedicated device cable.

How do the two compare with each other and more?

Pricing and availability

These devices only come in a single memory configuration so the Amazon Kindle Fire is $199 at Amazon while the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet is $249 at B&N. You can also find both at local and online retailers. The Nook Tablet starts shipping today, but they were available in stores a couple of days ago while the Amazon Kindle Fire started shipping at the beginning of the week.

How do they compare with the PlayBook, other Android tablets and the iPad?

The BlackBerry PlayBook is a good tablet with an excellent user interface. However, it still doesn't have a stand alone email client, has limited apps, has limited ecosystem, and is not targeted as a media device. RIM hasn't done a very good job of updating and supporting the device and I don't see a long future for the PlayBook.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 inch devices are popular and appeared to have sold fairly well. Some models come with integrated 3G radios that let you connect everywhere. They are solid choices for portable Android tablets and work best with Gingerbread loaded on them. The HTC Flyer was priced high at launch, but has dropped to a more realistic $299.99 (was $499 at launch). It has a slick pen interface that I enjoy using for note taking on the go, but isn't something a lot of people seem to like. I would choose an HTC Flyer over a B&N Nook Tablet, but the $100 difference from the Kindle Fire may not be compelling enough for many.

I just received a Kobo Vox eReader and after just a couple of hours of usage I would have to agree with most everything already written in reviews like this. Kobo makes one of the best eInk devices with the Kobo eReader Touch and should stick with that market.

The Apple iPad is the best in the 10 inch form factor and I love using mine for media consumption and connectivity on the go. As a result of testing out the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, I looked a bit more closely at what I do on my iPad and found the following are my primary uses:

  • Watching movies and TV shows with Netflix, ABC Player, and rentals through iTunes
  • Reading ebooks using the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo apps
  • Using Twitter
  • Using Facebook
  • Browing the web on the couch and on the train

As mentioned in my coverage of these two 7 inch tablets, I can do all of these same things quite easily with the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. I know people have been posting all over that the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet cannot beat the iPad and is not a good alternative, but I think most of those people writing and stating this already own an Apple iPad. For the consumer shopping for a good media consumption device that also serves as an ebook reader, gaming machine, and web browser the these are very compelling devices and at MUCH less than the cheapest iPad they certainly can stand up to and compete again the iPad for a number of consumers.

The iPad doesn't have all the greatest specs that we see in Android tablets, but as has been proven time and again specifications don't mean much to most people and the experience and ecosystem are what make products successful. Guess what? The Amazon Kindle Fire has a good user interface and a vast ecosystem so at $199 I think this thing will sell like hotcakes this holiday season and I know I will be recommending it to family and friends and may even buy one or two for people as gifts. The Nook Tablet is also an excellent choice, but it lacks a media ecosystem and is priced $50 higher.

Which device am I keeping?

I have purchased every B&N Nook made (I returned the Nook Color after getting a PlayBook) and for just reading I think the eInk devices are awesome. However, the lack of a real media ecosystem (video is reported to be coming early next year), the less compelling form factor (personal choice, obviously), and the $50 additional price have me leaning towards returning the Nook Tablet soon. You can easily get the same apps on both devices and streaming video is much better on the Nook Tablet.

As an existing Amazon Prime member and a fan of Amazon Video on Demand and the Amazon MP3 store, the ecosystem is a compelling feature. A reason I take my iPad on business trips is that I can easily rent movies and TV shows and enjoy them offline. This same experience can happen on the Amazon Kindle Fire and yesterday on the train I enjoyed the first episode of Grimm. Barnes & Noble has no real support for offline media content from a simple service (yes, you can manually get your ripped DVDs and music on it) and that is what is needed to make a compelling media consumption device. As I stated though, they reportedly have a video deal coming in early 2012. The Nook Tablet has more storage capability, but limited ways to fill that storage up.

I also find the user interface and navigation experience to be better on the Kindle Fire than on the Nook Tablet. When you side load apps on the Kindle Fire you can still add shortcuts to these apps on the home screen where you have to search for the app name on the Nook Tablet to see them.

Neither device has GPS, cameras, 3G radios, and full and complete openness to do what you want. Then again, they are priced at half of what other Android tablets cost and less than half of an iPad so they are in a category all by themselves.

Honestly, if I did not already have an Apple iPad, I could easily go with one of these and do about 90% of what I do on my iPad. I also own an HTC Flyer which again can do everything these do and more, but it too was priced at $499 when I bought it. I should rationally return both of these new tablets and stick with my HTC Flyer and iPad. I am not the type of person who these two new tablets are targeted at and for first time tablet owners I think either one of these two will satisfy people just fine.

Other reviews

As always, make sure to check out some other reviews online too, including these:

Amazon Kindle Fire

B&N Nook Tablet

More ZDNet coverage of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet

Back to the beginning

Editorial standards