Since November I've written quite a bit about the Kindle Fire. I've written nothing about the Fire's closest competition, the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet. That's because--until just a couple of weeks ago--I hadn't handled the Nook Tablet but for a few minutes. But after reading review after review about how the Nook Tablet was a superior product, I purchased the cheaper 8 GB Nook Tablet as a tester. And now, after a couple of weeks of playing with it, I want to talk about how they compare from an educational standpoint, particularly as an instructional device that schools might provide to students. And I'd basically like to break this blog entry into three parts: 1) The Few Ways that the Nook Beats the Kindle Fire, 2) The MANY Reasons why the Kindle Fire is Better than the Nook, and 3) Why I Would Purchase the Nook instead of the Kindle Fire Anyway DESPITE All That's In Section Two.
So here goes...
Part One: The Few Ways that the Nook Beats the Kindle Fire
As you can deduce from the paragraph above, I personally prefer the Kindle Fire over the Nook Tablet. Yes, they are very similar creatures, and in regards to functioning as an e-reader, both are VERY good. However, there are a few places where the Nook works as a better device (though sometimes just BARELY).
- Web Browsing. The Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire are very similar from a hardware perspective, and it shows when I started looking at web browsing. They were almost identical in the speed with which they loaded web pages. However, the Nook Tablet was just SLIGHTLY faster than the Kindle Fire. And I'm not talking about a one or two second differential, either. I talking maybe a few hundredths of a second. Nothing that would really sway me to purchase a Nook Tablet over a Kindle Fire. If this were the only difference between the two devices, I would consider them basically identical. Still, as the Nook Tablet ALWAYS loaded the page slightly faster than the Fire, I'll give it the edge here.
- Ergonomics. The Nook Tablet is much lighter than the Kindle Fire, and it's not nearly as thick. It is thus much easier to hold in your hand for a long period of time.
- Microphone. The Nook Tablet has a microphone, though I'm not really sure what it's used for other than the ability for the reader to record him/herself reading certain children's books so that the child reader can have the Nook automatically read the story aloud.
Part Two: The MANY Reasons Why the Kindle Fire is Better than the Nook.
Those are honestly the only ways in which I see the Nook Tablet as a better device (well...other than the ONE thing I'll bring up later). Conversely, there are many ways in which the Kindle Fire is a better device.
- Construction. This may be the inverse property of the "Ergonomics" item above. The Kindle Fire is a heavier, sturdier feeling device. It has a substantial feel to it, and I know that its screen is made of gorilla glass. I get the feeling that it can be dropped without sustaining much damage (My Kindle Fire, in fact, I've dropped hard four or five different times, and it's always been fine aftereward). I don't have that same confidence about the Nook Tablet. One hard drop ought to do this thing in for good.
- Available Apps in the App Store. I read somewhere that the Amazon App store has about 8,000 apps in it while the Barnes & Noble app store has only around 2,000. I'm honestly not sure about the numbers and WAY too lazy to actually go research that, but I can tell you that there are many, many fewer apps in the Barner& Noble store. I've written on this blog about 24 apps that I called "essential" to the Kindle Fire. Of those 24, only FIVE were available in the B&N app store (To be fair, only 15 of them were available in the Amazon store as well--I sideloaded the rest). And some of the missing ones were important. For instance, since the Nook doesn't support the checking out of books from public libraries the way that the Kindle Fire does, I needed my county public library app to "borrow" free books. But that's not in the B&N app store. And I could get the app directly from the Kenton County Library, but...
- The Ability to Sideload Apps. ...the Nook, as of December of last year, no longer allows the sideloading of apps. As far as I'm concerned, this is a HUGE issue. As I mentioned above, only 15 of the 24 apps I've described in previous blog entries can be found on the Amazon app store, but I was able to download the other 9 apps to my Kindle Fire anyway by "sideloading" them. That is, I find the .APK installation files outside of the Amazon app store and then run them on the Fire and the programs are installed. If I do that with the Nook Tablet those files BEGIN to load, but then the installation errors out. This is an intentional behavior on B&N's part. A December update took away the ability to add these external .APK files. That means no YouTube. No Gmail. No Google Docs. And no Kindle Reader software (though I can't say I blame Barnes & Noble for that one and was actually shocked that my Kindle Fire loaded the Nook software).
- The Availability of Free Apps in the App Store. But those aren't the only thing about apps that bother me about the B&N Nook. It also bothers me that there aren't many free apps on the B&N app store. Take calculators, for instance. Sure, there are plenty of paid calculators on the Amazon App store. But there are also plenty of free ones as well, and some of those are pretty darned good. There are traditional calculators, mortgage calculators, percentage calculators, and even graphing calculators...all free on the Amazon App store. The B&N store: There are several calculators as well, but they all cost money. True, many of them are only 99 cents, and that's not going to break anyone. But if a teacher considers the $199 Kindle Fire and the $199 Nook Tablet to be identically priced, that teacher may rethink things when he/she finds that the couple of dozen apps needed add another $12 to the cost of the Nook Tablet. And those aren't the only things that will add to the price of the Nook Tablet.
- The Nook Tablet Need for an External micro SD card with some apps. One app that IS in the B&N app store and that I do think is absolutely an essential instructional tool is the program Evernote. I downloaded it onto my Nook Tablet anxious to see how it compared to the Kindle Fire's app. Would it be identical? Customized to the Nook? I never found out. I installed the app and tried to start it, and instantly a message popped up: "Requires external micro SD card." The same thing happened when I tried to start Skitch, another app I recommend. Again, micro SD cards aren't all that expensive anymore. I just checked and I can get an 8 GB card--effectively doubling the Nook's memory--for $6.99 plus shipping from Tiger Direct. But there's another $8 I wasn't expecting to spend. Add that to the $12 for apps that would have been free on the Kindle Fire, and the Nook Tablet is now $20 more expensive than the Kindle Fire. That's 10% higher in price. Plus, it can't load all of the apps I need! And I'm not finished yet...
- The Price of Books in the Device Bookstore. For the most part, the price of ebooks are set by the publishers, and they're exactly the same at both Barnes and Noble and at Amazon. However, Amazon has a HUGE selection of free books, which the Barnes and Noble website is missing. True, none of these are bestsellers, and some are even suspect in regards to quality. But when I'm an English teacher looking for ways to get kids to read, I care that they're reading SOMETHING. It doesn't have to be the latest Tom Clancy novel or the newest biography about a big name star. And Amazon supplies me with a LOT of free reading material. In addition, Amazon has a large number of books for sale for $.99 or $1.99, and every day discounts at least one book (and sometimes a whole collection of books) to that price. I firmly believe that if I gave a classroom set of Kindle Fires to a teacher and a classroom set of Nook Tablets to a teacher and gave them a bucket of money to spend on ebooks, by the end of the year the teacher with the Nook Tablets would have spent significantly more money and gotten fewer books.
(NOTE: See important update by CLICKING HERE!)
Looking at Parts One and Two above, then, it would seem that the Kindle Fire is a pretty clear winner over the Nook Tablet. The three things that I mentioned were in the Nook's favor weren't awe inspiring by any stretch of the imagination (The web browsing speed difference is almost unnoticeable, the ergonomics probably affect build quality, and I don't even really know what the microphone is good for), and there are some real ways that the Kindle Fire is a better device than the Nook Tablet. But I've left out ONE problem with the Kindle Fire, and it's a big enough problem that it trumps everything else:
There's no way to turn off One Click Purchasing.
With that one problem, there is NO WAY I would give a school-owned Kindle Fire to a student to use. There's no way to keep the student from going in and purchasing music, or movies, or ebooks, or apps through the Amazon service. Well, that's not entirely true. I COULD password protect the WiFi and turn off the WiFi, but that would block a lot of the useability of the device. If I'm going to use it for anything other than a text reader, I'm probably going to want the WiFi on.
Yes, I detailed in an earlier blog entry how you can use the program Mobicip to block access to the various Amazon stores on the device, but this is an imperfect solution for three reasons:
- Mobicip is currently in Beta. It's free now, but when it moves out of Beta, will it still be free? When the developer of the program moved the iOS version out of Beta, it started charging $5 per device for the app.
- Because it's currently in Beta, it's an imperfect program. The program frequently crashes, and once it does, access to all of the stores becomes available until the next time the Kindle Fire is restarted.
- As far as I can tell, you can block access to the Amazon app store and the user can still open the apps locally installed. And you can block access the Amazon music store and the user can still play the music files locally installed. And you can block access to the Amazon video store and still play the local videos. But if you block access to the Amazon book store, you also block access to the Kindle program that reads the books locally. I've played around with the Mobicip program for a while, but I can't figure a way around that. And though I may be wrong, I would IMAGINE that a teacher with a classroom set of Kindle Fires would want to use the devices as an ebook.
Yes, a teacher can supposedly "return" any unapproved purchases within seven days, but I can imagine what a pain that would be. It's for this reason, and this reason only, that if a teacher were to come to me and say he/she had money to purchase a tablet reader for his/her class, that I'd point that person in the direction of the Nook Tablet rather than the Kindle Fire.
And that's a shame because it seems like it would be such an easy fix on Amazon's part, but I'm not the first person to complain about it, and they haven't fixed it yet, and I guess they won't any time soon.
(NOTE: See important update by CLICKING HERE!)