One of the hottest items on many a gadget lover's holiday list is a tablet PC, often the iPad. Just in time to muddy the waters, two more budget-friendly tablet e-readers have arrived on the market. I'll review their pros and cons.
The primary draw of Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble's Nook tablet is undoubtedly price. The Kindle Fire starts at $199 and the Nook starts at $249 -- both considerably less than Apple's iPad2, which this week could be found online for $541 and up.
Both e-readers offer ultra-clear, 7-inch, full-color touch screens and weigh about 14 ounces.
Both devices have limitations. They're meant primarily for entertainment: reading e-books, streaming videos or music, and surfing the Internet. Unlike some versions of Apple's iPad, neither can access the Internet over 3G, so users will need an open WiFi network to take advantage of the device's full capabilities.
The Fire and the Nook both offer Netflix, Pandora and Hulu, but neither allows access to all of Android's paid apps. Nor do the two tablets have a camera or GPS.
The Kindle Fire packs some impressive benefits at the lowest price on the market for a tablet alternative. Users can purchase virtually any media content -- music, movies, books -- from Amazon Marketplace, which has a broad selection comparable to the iTunes store. The Amazon Appstore for Android, an established alternative to the Android Market, offers most of the popular apps, including free daily downloads.
The Fire's main drawback is limited onboard storage -- a mere 8GB, of which only 6GB is available to the user. But Amazon-purchased content can be stored for free in the Amazon Cloud.
The Nook, costs $50 more than the Kindle Fire, carries some added benefits for the investment. It boasts twice the RAM (1GB vs. Kindle Fire's 512MB) and twice the onboard storage (16GB). Even better, it has a micro SD card slot, so users can expand the storage capability up to 32GB. Its USB slot lets users upload their own video, music, photo and text files. The device supports PDF and Word, so there's some added work-friendly functionality.
The Nook's main drawback is its lack of access to a large content source other than for e-books. Music and video have to be streamed through Netflix, Hulu or Pandora, or uploaded from your own library.
In choosing among tablets, your decision will come down to what you want to do with the device and whether you already have an established content library with Amazon or Barnes and Noble. To watch videos and hear music you already own, go with the Nook. However, the Kindle Fire makes it far easier to purchase new music and video content, and its app store has a huge selection of games and applications.
I'd put my money on the Kindle Fire, for the simple fact that tablets are entertainment-driven and Amazon offers a great selection at reasonable prices.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states.)Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
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