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Originally published November 25, 2011 at 1:30 PM | Page modified November 25, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Barnes and Noble's new Nook Tablet doesn't measure up to Kindle Fire

Barnes & Noble's latest digital tablet may be an upgrade to the Nook Color, but is not as strong as Amazon.com's Kindle Fire.

San Jose Mercury News

Nook Tablet

Likes: Relatively low price, close integration with B&N's book and app stores, physical volume and home buttons.

Dislikes: Few applications, no direct connection to videos or music, little storage space for non-B&N content, $50 more expensive than rival Kindle Fire.

Specs: 1 GHz dual-core processor; 7-inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display; 16 gigabytes of storage

Price: $250

Website: www.bn.com

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The simplest way to sum up Barnes & Noble's new Nook Tablet is this: It costs more than Amazon.com's rival Kindle Fire, but you get less.

You'll find many fewer apps in the Nook application store. It's not as easy to get music or videos on the Nook Tablet as it is on the Fire. And while the Barnes & Noble device has more storage space than the Fire, less is available for storing things like movies and songs.

The Nook Tablet is a better-looking device and has a few notable features the Fire lacks, such as a microphone and physical buttons, but it's not worth the $50 premium you'd pay over the $199 Fire.

The Tablet looks a lot like its predecessor, the Nook Color. I really liked that device when I reviewed it in January, calling it the best e-reader available on the market. I liked that it was more than an e-reader because it ran a version of Android and could run applications; it was essentially a low-cost tablet.

Amazon has taken that concept and extended it with the Kindle Fire and, in the process, raised the bar for what a low-cost tablet should include. The Fire's no iPad, but it does offer a lot of bang for the buck, especially if you're an Amazon fan. That's because the device is closely connected to Amazon's Kindle e-book, MP3 and digital video services, allowing you to easily buy songs and books or access those you've stored on Amazon's servers.

While the Nook Tablet is a more satisfying computing device than the Nook Color, it doesn't reach the level of the Fire.

The Tablet and the Fire have a lot in common. Just like Amazon's device, the Tablet has a 7-inch screen. Like the Fire, it runs a heavily customized version of Google's Android operating system. And the Tablet's user interface is much like the Fire's.

Just as on the Fire, the Nook's home screen displays a "shelf" full of recently opened applications, books or magazines that you can browse through by swiping left or right. And like the Fire, the Tablet has text links that direct you to particular types of content, including books, periodicals, movies and music.

One thing I liked about the Tablet was that unlike the Fire, which only has one physical button, it has physical volume control and home buttons that make it easier in some ways to control. The Tablet also has rounded edges and a thinner case than the Fire, giving it a better feel in the hand than the blocky Fire.

When it comes to books and periodicals, the Tablet works similarly to the Fire. Users see thumbnails of recently accessed books along with a link to Barnes & Noble's store, where they can purchase more. From this initial screen, the Tablet even offers something the Fire doesn't on its comparable screen: recommendations based on books or magazines you already own.

But the Tablet lacks similar integration with digital movies and music. Barnes & Noble doesn't sell digital music or movies, so you can't just get such content from the company like Fire users can from Amazon.

That shortcoming wouldn't be as big a deal if Barnes & Noble offered an extensive selection of applications from other vendors. But it doesn't. Instead, it offers only a few thousand apps for the Tablet, which is a small fraction of what you'll find in Amazon's App Store.

So you can get videos from Netflix or Hulu Plus on the Tablet. But both of those services require a subscription. Unlike the Fire (or Apple's iPad), you won't find a service that offers you the option to buy or rent videos a la carte.

Similarly, you can get music from Rhapsody, Pandora or MOG on the Tablet. But Barnes & Noble doesn't offer — or give you access to — a service similar to Amazon's Cloud Player or Apple's iTunes Match that lets you store and access your music library from its servers.

That's too bad, because the Tablet severely limits the amount of space you have available to store your own music or other digital content, should you want to transfer some over from your PC. Although the Tablet comes with 16 gigabytes of space — double what you'll find on the Fire — users get access to only 1 gigabyte of it. The rest is reserved for the Tablet's operating system and for books, magazines and other content or applications you download from Barnes & Noble.

Unlike the Fire, the Tablet does have an SD card slot with which you can augment its storage space. But adding a card boosts its price even higher.

Another shortcoming is that many games and other popular Android programs just aren't available for the Tablet. You can get "Angry Birds," but you won't find "Cut the Rope," "Plants vs. Zombies" or "Tetris," among other popular games that are available for the Fire.

The Tablet's not a bad device. It's a well-built, relatively low-cost device that's much more user-friendly than many other similarly priced Android tablets. And with its color screen, it's a much nicer device than the lower-priced black-and-white e-readers.

But those aren't the Tablet's primary competitors. The Fire is. And the Tablet just doesn't measure up.

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