B&N heats up the midrange Android tablet market

This week, Barnes & Noble answered Amazon’s Kindle Fire with its comparable Nook Tablet.

Which should you buy?

For $50 more, B&N gives you twice as much RAM (1 GB) and twice as much flash storage (16 GB) and a microSD slot for expanding the storage. If you’re going to use a tablet for media consumption–that is, watching movies and listening to music–you’re going to want that extra capacity. Unless you’re content holding all that data in the cloud, that is, but then you have to rely on the wi-fi connection at all times. I see a lot of tablets in airports, but wi-fi isn’t always free at airports. The more you can do without having to rely on wi-fi, the better off you are.

B&N argues that the hardware enhancements in the Nook Tablet are worth the extra $50. That’s subjective. The retail value of the parts is under $30, seeing as 1 GB of RAM costs $10-$15, 8 GB of flash memory costs around $10, and the hardware for the microSD slot costs another dollar or two.

But I’d say there’s more to it than the retail value of the parts. You can plug a 32 GB card into that slot to expand its storage capability, something you can’t do on a Kindle Fire at any price. A 32 GB card can hold several movies, and hundreds of hours of music, depending on how it’s encoded. Carrying around a library of microSD cards may not be something everyone will want to do, but they don’t take up a lot of space, either.

And if having that storage keeps you from having to pay for airport wi-fi, you can save that $50 pretty quickly. Wi-fi at the airport and on the plane costs around $5 where and how I fly, so you can figure $20 per trip.

The app store is a concern for some. Those wanting to use either tablet as intended will probably find Amazon is able to provide a more unified, smoother user experience. Personally, if I bought either one, I’d root them just as soon as I could. And I’d install alternative firmware the day after the warranty expired. I’m into that sort of thing.

So the software side is largely irrelevant to me. Whatever the devices can do out of the box, the XDA Developers will come up with something better given a little time. The more hardware I have to start with, the longer I’ll be able to load the latest and greatest software on it. With double the RAM, the useful lifespan of the Nook Tablet is guaranteed to be longer. Expanding the memory on a tablet… Well, perhaps it’ll be a feature on Hackaday soon enough. People willing to surface-solder RAM have done stranger things, but that’s not something I expect to ever try. There are some things even I am willing to pay $50 extra for.

The pundits are divided on this one, citing the Kindle Fire’s lower price and better aesthetics. But I’m glad I didn’t order a Kindle Fire yet. I think the Nook Tablet wins this round.

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