Tablet Considerations: iPad vs. Nook & Kindle Fire

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

source: Alpha

Tablet computing is nothing new, but early attempts at tablet computing were clunky and tended to be business rather than consumer oriented. It took the Apple iPad in 2010 to really bring the idea of touchscreen tablet to its current mainstream popularity.

And mainstream popularity it has achieved. Sales estimates for 2011 report that 60 million tablets with a whopping 40 million of those Apple iPads. What’s more is that industry analysts predict that by 2014, tablet sales will outstrip desktop PC sales.

Wow.

While I don’t think I’ll ever truly be able to give up my laptop computer, there’s no denying the versatility of a good tablet. If you’ve been wanting to get a tablet, but aren’t sure where to start, I drew up a quick list of overviews on the most various tablets on the market to help you sort through what’s what.

NOTE: Despite the crazy amount of tech we have in our home and my gadgetry obsession, the single most important aspect when evaluating touch screen technology is whether it can pass my four year old daughter’s test: Does it have Angry Birds? (And of course, the answer is yes to all of the devices mentioned here. Because I know where my priorities are.)

Apple iPad (starts at $499)

Whether you love Apple or loathe them, you can’t deny that Apple is a technology trend setter. Apple proved it again last week, announcing the new iPad which has improved hardware and a gorgeous Retina display that puts competitors to shame. It also should be mentioned that the new iPad is going on sale at the end this week (March 16, 2012). So, you may be able to snag some deals on the iPad 2 in preparation.

PROS

“There’s an app for that.” More than just a slogan, it’s the truth. From home organization to parenting to Angry Birds (yes, this deserves its own mention), there really is an app for everything. All easily available from the Apple iTunes Store.

Most popular. In 2011, an estimated 60 million tablet computers were sold. Of those, 40 million were iPads. Being the most popular tablet on the block also means that there’s a bunch of accessories available for it. From apps to cases and other accessories, you’re far more likely to find something cool made for the iPad than any other tablet.

CONS

The price. The 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad is $499; the Wi-Fi + 4G equivalent is $629. (4G mobile access requires monthly mobile service with either AT&T or Verizon in the US.) More robust versions of the Apple products almost never go on sale. The exception is when Apple is clearing out an old device for a new one. (HINT: The iPad 2 is now available for $399!)

VERDICT

As far as tablets go, Apple continually puts itself out there as the gold standard for usability and app variety but the price on even the lowest-end iPad is enough to make most budget minded folks cringe.

Nook Tablet & Kindle Fire ($199)

Technically speaking, you can argue that the Barnes and Noble Nook or Amazon’s Kindle Fire aren’t really tablets, though they are based on Google Android operating system. Still, these devices have really transcended their e-reader predecessors to become popular entry level tablets their own right.

PROS

Affordability. Both Nook and Kindle are $199 making them much more budget friendly than the entry level iPad.

Ease of use. The Nook and Kindle Fire are easy to use and run heavily customized versions of the Android operating system (Android 2.3, Gingerbread). The Nook uses a Home Screen with shortcuts to various Nook applications while the Kindle Fire uses a Carousel feature to navigate through the tablet.

CONS

Limited tablet functionality. Both the Nook and Kindle are Android-based devices but are both heavily modified to run their proprietary software. They’re both built on lower, less powered processors than some of the higher-end Android tablets. You will not get the same standard Android experience from either the Nook or the Kindle Fire as you would on a true Android tablet.

Limited apps availability. Both the Nook and Kindle Fire have proprietary app stores available from the device. While many popular Android apps are available for both e-readers, the selection is still far more limited than the standard Android Market.

Workaround: Rooting the Readers

“Rooting” is the Android equivalent of iOS jailbreaking. It grants the user administrator level (called “root” on *nix based operating systems, like Android) to the user, which is generally disabled. For the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, this means being able to access and install apps from the Android marketplace. It is also worth noting that because the Nook and Amazon Fire hardware doesn’t include features like GPS capability, cameras or audio input devices, there are going to be some Android applications that simply won’t run on the devices, even with root access.

Is it worth the risk?

It really depends. If everything goes according to plan, you can hack a nice Android-based tablet out of an e-reader. Serious tech hobbyists love this sort of stuff but I honestly think it’s not necessary for most people.

Rooting is not approved by either Barnes & Noble or Amazon and can void your warranty. Firmware updates will break your root. Fixes are usually available within a few days, during which time you won’t have access to any applications you may have loaded as root. Not deal breaking for a casual user, but if you have any apps that you use on a daily basis that aren’t normally available on the Nook or Kindle Fire, you’re out of luck.

There’s always the possibility that rooting your device may damage it and void your warranty, if something should go wrong. This is rare but it does happen and if/when it does, you’ll have a $200 paperweight sitting on your desk.

VERDICT

Both the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire are awesome out of the box for most casual use but lack the versatility of native Android-based tablets. Both are great affordable small tablets if you do not care much for apps.

My Choice

In the interest of full disclosure (and after MONTHS of agonizing debate) I decided to buy a Kindle Fire despite drooling over the iPad since its launch in 2010. My main priority has always been affordability, and I have never been able to justify the cost of the iPad. (Believe me, I tried.) On the other hand, the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet were within my budget.

What tipped the scales for me towards the Kindle Fire was the fact that I’m a heavy Amazon user and after testing both devices, I found the Kindle Fire to my liking more so than the Nook.

I honestly could not be happier with my purchase. Though my Kindle Fire isn’t the most cutting edge piece of hardware out there (far from it, honestly), it suits my needs in a way that I’m totally happy with. While I did plan on rooting it, I chose not to. While I recognize that the Amazon app store is pretty limited, having a large number of apps isn’t very important to me because I use the Kindle mostly as a multimedia and casual Internet device and, of course, to play Angry Birds. (Because, really, isn’t that what it’s all about?)

Are you in the market for a tablet? What were your deciding factors?

Michelle Mista is an IT professional, freelance writer and blogger. A lifelong geek, she blogs the latest in tech news, tips & tutorials at Tech Geek Girl and muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. She is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.
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