New Nook Tablet from B&N

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Nov 072011

B&N's new Nook Tablet, a 7" tablet for $249

Today Barnes & Noble updated its Nook Color “reader’s tablet” with a new version (which I’m calling the “Nook Color 2”) with a faster processor and the same $249 price. B&N, in keeping the tradition of using overly-descriptive but not very helpful names that eschew numerals (like the “Nook Simple Touch” for the Nook Classic 2), is calling it the “Nook Tablet.”

It comes with the same 7″ LCD screen as its predecessor (the original Nook Color). LCD screens are backlit (like those on your computer or cellphone), and aren’t as easy on the eyes or energy-efficient as the e-Ink displays used on the Kindle or Nook Classic e-readers. On the other hand, they do allow for color and video, and the “VividView” laminated, IPS, LCD display of the Nook Color (and Nook Tablet) is said to be quite good.

The new name shows that B&N is positioning the Nook Tablet as more of a tablet than a reading device, as more of a multi-function device that can play videos, browse the Internet, display magazines, offer interactive children’s books, and run a small selection of specially-curated apps (like Angry Birds and some of the popular ones, but not the thousands of apps on the Apple App Store or Android Market). Being a general-purpose tablet (as opposed to a single-purpose reading device like the Nook Classic or Kindle) means it’s competing against Amazon’s new Kindle Fire ($199), as well as Apple’s larger (and more expensive) iPad 2 ($499+).

The new Nook Tablet looks very similar to the original Nook Color; the changes are mostly under the hood. It comes with a faster processor and more RAM: a dual-core 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 CPU with 1GB of RAM. It sports 16GB of internal storage, plus an SD card slot for expansion.

By contrast, the Kindle Fire comes with a similar dual-core 1GHz processor, but only half the memory: 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Both devices use a 1024 x 600, 7″ LCD touchscreen. Of course, the Kindle Fire’s $199 price undercuts the Nook Tablet by $50. The Nook Tablet weighs 14.1 oz (compare to 14.6 oz for the Kindle Fire and 15.8 for the old Nook Color) and claims a battery life of 11.5 hours of reading or 9 hours of video (compared to a claimed 8 hours of reading and 7.5 hours of video on the Kindle Fire).

To recap, the Nook Tablet’s specs:

  • $249
  • 7″ VividView IPS LCD touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 16 GB of internal storage (plus SD card slot)
  • 14.1 oz
  • battery life: 11.5 hours reading / 9 hours video

Certainly an interesting contender in the 7″ tablet arena. On paper, the specs are a bit better than the Kindle Fire, although Amazon counters with its super-fast Silk browser and by offering to store all your media purchases in the cloud, ameliorating the lesser memory of the Fire. I think Amazon’s $50 price advantage may be the most important difference to many buyers. In any event, both $199 and $249 certainly look good when compared to the iPad 2’s $499 starting price.

Sony PRS-T1 E-Reader Sale: $129

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Nov 072011

The Sony PRS-T1 e-reader is now just $129

Sony announced today that it is dropping the price of its new touch-based PRS-T1 e-reader by $20, from $149 to just $129.

This new Sony e-reader, which boasts wi-fi connectivity in addition to the touchscreen, weighs in at just 5.93 ounces.

While still above the Kindle 4’s starting price of just $79, the price drop brings the Sony reader down into the right price range. Sony had a history of badly overpricing its e-readers, which prevented it from gaining much market share, at least in the U.S. This holiday season is certainly shaping up to be the year of the sub-$100 e-reader, with Kindles, Nooks, and now Sonys all slashing prices in recent weeks.

For more info on the PRS-T1, please see my previous post here.

Sep 282011

The new Kindle 4: the $79 "Kindle" and $99 "Kindle Touch"

Today Amazon unveiled their newest Kindle versions (what would be considered the Kindle 4), and is calling them simply the “Kindle” and the “Kindle Touch” for the touchscreen version. Both keep the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen of their predecessors, and both lose the physical keyboard (replacing them with on-screen keyboards). The big news is probably the price: the Kindle now starts at just $79. Considering that people have predicted for a while that e-reader sales would explode when they got below $100, $79 (for the Kindle) and $99 (for the Kindle Touch) is pretty big news.

Of note, the new “default” price is the price with “special offers,” which means you get ads as screensavers and at the bottom of your home screen (but not during reading). I discuss it further here, but the ad-supported versions have become Amazon’s most popular, and some of the ads are even legitimately great deals (like a $20 Amazon gift card for $10). The non-ad-supported versions are $30 or $40 more each.

The breakdown:

  • Kindle ($79, or $109 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 5.98 oz., 2 GB
  • Kindle Touch ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 7.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Touch 3G ($149, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, touchscreen, 7.8 ounces, 4 GB

The older (Kindle 3) model has been renamed the “Kindle Keyboard,” and has been discounted: $99 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi ($139 without special offers), and $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G ($189 without special offers).

  • Kindle Keyboard ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Keyboard 3G ($139, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.7 oz., 4 GB

While I am not as convinced of the merits of a touchscreen as most people seem to be, what jumps out at me is the $79 Kindle: you get the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen, access to Amazon’s world-leading e-bookstore, all Kindles now have access to library e-book lending, and it weighs just under 6 ounces. That is a very impressive bang for the buck, and the light weight makes it pretty perfect for a lot of users. The lack of a physical keyboard mainly only comes into play for those who like to take lots of notes or surf the web a lot; for the few times you might need the keyboard during normal use (to create and name a new “collection,” for example), I’d imagine the 5-way controller and on-screen keyboard will be fine. At the bottom of the Kindle (Kindle 4? New Kindle? Kindle Sans Keyboard & Sans Touch?) is the 5-way controller from the previous Kindle, as well as home, back, keyboard, and menu buttons. It also retains the narrow page turn buttons on each side, which I like in my Kindle 3.

Of course, if you like touchscreens, for just $20 more, you can get the Kindle Touch for $99. Like Sony and B&N, the Kindle Touch uses a series of infrared beams to detect your fingers instead of an extra touchscreen layer (which would somewhat muddle the screen beneath). The Kindle Touch (and Kindle Touch 3G, which looks the same on the outside) has no physical buttons on the front or the sides — it seems everything is now accomplished through the touchscreen. Turning pages requires a swipe or tap on the side of the screen you want (left for back, right for forward).

Both models are small and light, with the non-touchscreen Kindle an ounce or two lighter and slightly smaller (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ vs. 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ for the Kindle Touch). The $79 Kindle also has less battery life (listed at 1 month instead of 2) and storage space (2 GB instead of 4 GB); however, both should be more than enough for most users. The $79 Kindle doesn’t include speakers (so no text-to-speech). Both new models incorporate a trick used on the new Nook Touch: it only refreshes the e-Ink screen (which causes a brief black-on-white flash) every 6 page turns instead of each time. E-Ink flash never bothered me, but some people might prefer the new system.

My analysis? Well, I haven’t been able to physically try one yet, but considering they have the same screen as my current Kindle 3 (sorry, I mean “Kindle Keyboard”), I think I can make some good guesses. I think the $79 Kindle 4 is going to be very popular this holiday season, because I think it gives most people everything they really need in an e-book reader, and at under 6 ounces.

On the other hand, I’m not quite as impressed by the Kindle Touch versions. For people who like touchscreens, they will be great, but I’m just not on the touchscreen bandwagon. And, to compare apples to apples, the prices are really about the same as the versions they’re replacing when you compare ad-supported vs. ad-supported models; Amazon is (probably wisely) just focusing more on the ad-supported price instead of what used to be the “regular” non-ad-supported price. On the other hand, getting an e-reader from the industry leader, with library lending, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen for under $100 is still a heck of a deal.

A couple of final notes for now (I’m sure I will have more soon about these new models): back in January, I advised readers that the next-generation Kindle would not arrive for “at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas).” That was just over 8 months ago. The $79 Kindle is available now, while the Kindle Touch version should start shipping November 21, pretty much just before Xmas. I also predicted that color e-Ink or Mirasol was probably further away than that.

Speaking of color, today Amazon also announced the Kindle Fire, the long-anticipated “Kindle Tablet,” which sports a 7″ color LCD (not e-Ink) screen and is more of a direct competitor to the B&N Nook Color, and a smaller, cheaper alternative to Apple’s iPad. At just $199 and 14.6 ounces, it will read e-books, play movies (from Amazon’s video on demand service), play music (from Amazon’s MP3 service), and run apps and games (from Amazon’s Android App Store). I will have a separate post about the Kindle Fire shortly. (UPDATE: As promised, here it is.)

Sep 252011

Sony recently announced a new e-reader with both a touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity. At just 5.93 ounces, Sony is touting it as the world’s lightest touchscreen e-reader. Compared to the Kindle’s 8.5 ounces (which I find to be pleasantly light), under 6 ounces qualifies as featherlight — easily lighter than most printed books. It is also just 8.9 mm in thickness.

The PRS-T1 should be available in October for $149. Finally, Sony realizes that it can’t charge double what Amazon and B&N charge for the Kindle and Nook! Even better, they finally added Wi-Fi to an e-reader at a reasonable price.

The touchscreen on the PRS-T1 is the infrared-based touchscreen system introduced by Sony that eschews the older touchscreen layer that inhibited readability. The screen is the standard 6″ diagonal, 600 x 800 pixel, 16-level greyscale e-Ink Pearl display that should offer great contrast and readability. It runs on a heavily modified version of the Android operating system. It comes with 2 GB of space (1.3 GB usable), and also includes a MicroSD card slot for memory expansion up to 32 GB. As with earlier Sony e-readers, it reads e-books in the ePub format.

If you’re a fan of Sony products, and like the idea of a featherlight e-reader, it sounds like the new Sony is worth a look.

Jul 162011

The Kindle 3G now starts at just $139!

I’ve posted before about Amazon’s new “Special Offers” Kindles … where Amazon knocks $25 off the price of a Kindle that includes “Special Offers” that include advertisements in screen savers and at the bottom of the home screen (but NOT while reading books). I’ve also talked about how some of the “special offers” are actually quite good deals, like $20 Amazon gift cards for $10.

Now Amazon has really made the deal even more attractive by doubling the discount: they’re now knocking a full $50 off the price of the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G version, dropping the price down to just $139. That’s the same price as the regular Kindle Wi-Fi, which doesn’t include free-for-life 3G wireless connectivity.

I expect these will sell very well, especially considering that the $114 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” was already their best-selling model. Adding just $25 for the free-for-life 3G capability seems like a pretty good deal to me.

You can buy the various Kindle 3 models direct from Amazon (and get free shipping) here:

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May 252011

Just a quick note: following on the success of Amazon’s Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” (ads) for $114 — which quickly became Amazon’s best-selling Kindle model — Amazon today rolled out the 3G version: the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G with “Special Offers” for $164. Similar to the less-expensive model, this is also a $25 price cut from the normal 3G model, which is $189. It appears to be in stock, with free shipping.

For more info on the “Special Offers,” check out my post on the Wi-Fi-only version here.

UPDATE: The Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” is now $50 off, and costs just $139.

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B&N Nook Classic 2 Debuts for $139

 Posted by at 4:18 PM  Tagged with: , ,
May 242011

Nook Classic 2

As expected, B&N today announced their next-generation e-reader, available in Wi-Fi only for $139, and available June 10. I’m calling it the “Nook Classic 2,” to differentiate it from the LCD-based Nook Color. (Update: B&N calls it the “Nook Simple Touch.”)

It’s a strikingly simple design based around the standard-sized 6″ e-Ink Pearl touchscreen.

It’s also strikingly similar to the Kobo Touch introduced yesterday for $130.

The feature list:

  • 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen
  • Infra-red based touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • 7.5 ounces
  • 2 GB internal memory, plus SD card reader

Yeah, pretty much the same as the Kobo Touch. I can’t help but think that Kobo did a pretty great job of stealing B&N’s thunder (and for a few bucks less, too).

On the plus side, the Nook Classic was badly in need of a refresh, and this release at least allows B&N to tread water, although it doesn’t seem at all groundbreaking to me. B&N also seems to have admitted that the small LCD touchscreen at the bottom of the original Nook Classic was a costly gimmick: it decreased performance and battery life, increased size and weight, and never seemed to be implemented all that well. Interestingly, it also abandoned the 3G model.

B&N is touting 2 month battery life, based on 1/2 hour of reading per day. I think this is about the same as the Kindle 3’s claimed one-month battery life, which probably assumes 1 hour of reading per day. Next maybe someone will claim 4 months based on 15 minutes a day? Come on. Maybe just give us the battery life in hours from now on?

B&N also claims that the Nook Classic 2 is the “simplest” e-reader out there, lambasting Kindle’s “37 extra keys” (the Kindles have full keyboards). However, I consider an actual, tactile keyboard to be a positive (especially for anyone taking notes); touchscreen keyboards are OK but far inferior to real keyboards, in my opinion. And I do prefer page-turn buttons to swiping at (and getting finger oils on) the screen.

B&N also claims impressive page-turn speeds, although the video I saw seemed about on par with the Kindle 3. Honestly, page turn speeds (which were slow enough to be an issue on the Nook Classic 1) are fast enough for my needs on most modern e-readers already. It’s about the time it takes to blink, and already quicker than turning a physical page. B&N also found a way to reduce the amount of “flash” where e-Ink screens black out the screen for a moment when changing pages; it now happens only on every 6th page change. E-Ink flash never bothered me before, and this might actually be more distracting, where it only happens sometimes.

The look of the Nook Color is decidedly simple, with the single button at the bottom (again, like the new Kobo Touch), but in a more squarish configuration with no extra space on the bottom. It’s supposed to be a rubberized, soft-touch material, which also sounds similar to the Kobo to me.

So, how does it stack up? Well, physically, it’s a solid effort, but a bit underwhelming, especially coming on the heels of the very-similar Kobo Touch. After all, it shares the screen, touchscreen technology, Wi-Fi wireless capability, SD card slot, ePub capability, and more with the Kobo Touch. It does boast longer battery life and double the internal memory, but is a tiny bit heavier and more expensive. Basically a wash. (Both trounce the Sony touchscreen e-readers on price.)

Compared to the Kindle, the same comments from my Kobo Touch article apply: the Nook Classic 2 is a little smaller and lighter than the Kindle 3, but lacks in features, including audio (used for audiobooks or listening to music), an Internet browser, text-to-speech, and games & apps. I’d only recommend it over the Kindle 3 if you’re a big fan of touch (I’m not). Of note, if you want 3G connectivity, the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G (with free-for-life 3G) is now the only game in town, with B&N ceding that market completely to Amazon.

As for the e-book store, I think B&N and Kobo both have very good e-book stores (ahead of Sony, Apple, and Google), but Amazon is still the undisputed leader, with the most titles available (ignore B&N’s marketing talk of having the “largest” e-book store: they count public domain titles that Amazon doesn’t, even though they are easily available for the Kindle as well). Amazon has nearly a million e-book titles in the Kindle store so far. However, if you’re already tied into one of those three ecosystems, the e-readers are probably close enough that it wouldn’t be worth it for you to switch.

Of note, B&N also announced that they own 25% of the e-book market, and that their Nook Color is the #1 Android tablet, #2 overall behind the iPad.

My overall impression is that the Nook Classic is at least back in the game (the Nook Classic 1 had fallen behind) and worth considering again. But there’s nothing groundbreaking here; B&N was aiming to hit a single, not a home run. At best, this offering (and the Kobo Touch) match Amazon’s Kindle 3, they don’t leap ahead of it. And considering that the Kindle 3 has been out for about 9 months now, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a Kindle 4 before Xmas that raises the bar still further.

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May 232011

The new Kobo Touch e-reader is $129.99

Kobo today announced their third generation e-reader device: the Kobo Touch. The Kobo Touch will retail for $129.99, and sports some impressive features:

  • 6″ Pearl e-Ink screen
  • Infra-red touchscreen
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Faster processor
  • 7.03-ounce weight
  • 1 GB internal memory; SD card slot
  • 10-day battery life

This is an impressive upgrade over the original Kobo E-Reader and 2nd-generation Kobo Wireless. In addition to adding the Pearl e-Ink screen (with 50% better contrast than earlier versions), it also adds the IR touchscreen used in the newer Sony e-readers; this is important, as older touchscreen technology added a layer above the e-Ink screen and decreased readability. They’ve kept the weight low (it’s smaller and lighter than the already-light Kindle 3, which is 8.5 ounces), but used a faster processor, which allows for nice PDF panning and zooming and should negate some of the negatives I found in my Kobo Wireless review.

Speaking of the Kobo Wireless, Kobo today lowered the list price of that 2nd-generation device to $99.99, allowing them to provide the first e-Ink-based e-reader to officially retail for under $100 (actually, the Kobo Wireless has been going for that price or lower for a while, but it was listed at $129). You can also find e-reader deals at that magic sub-$100 price point, such as today’s one-day-only refurbished Kindle 2 with 3G for $90 at Woot, or some recent $99 deals on the Nook Classic.

But back to the Kobo Touch: Kobo managed to come in with a touch-based, Wi-Fi enabled, 6″ Pearl e-Ink screen for $130, slightly undercutting the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. Impressive. So how does it stack up?

First of all, B&N better have a great announcement up its sleeve (which is rumored to come tomorrow) regarding the Nook Classic, which is now thoroughly outclassed by both the Kindle 3 and Kobo Touch.

Sony’s e-readers probably take the biggest hit here. Until today, they had held the distinction of being the only mainstream e-readers with a touchscreen, but they were hindered by high prices. The Kobo now pretty much eats their lunch. Comparing the Kobo Touch ($130) to the Sony Touch PRS-650 ($229) with the same 6″ e-Ink screen and IR touchscreen, the Sony gets slaughtered: not only is it about $100 more expensive, but it doesn’t even include Wi-Fi. The Kobo is smaller and lighter, too. The only thing the Sonys have going for them are that they are available in 5″ and 7″ sizes, but the 5″ PRS-350 still costs $20-50 more than the Kobo Touch and the 7″ PRS-950 does provide Wi-Fi but costs a whopping $299.

Even Amazon will have to take notice of the Kobo Touch. While the Kindle 3 probably keeps the title as the best all-around e-reader, the Kobo Touch does have some nice things going for it. First, it’s $9 cheaper. Second, it has a touchscreen, which I don’t personally prefer in an e-reader, but some people like. Third, it is smaller and lighter than the Kindle, and I do like the rubberized, quilted back they’ve kept from previous Kobo models. Kobo even managed to steal a bit of Amazon’s thunder from the $114 ad-supported Kindle 3 with Special Offers by offering the Kobo Wireless for $100.

I haven’t used the new Kobo Touch yet (it’s scheduled to ship in “early June”), but it appears the new speed will negate one of the Kobo Touch’s biggest weaknesses: its sluggish operation and delays in opening books. The touchscreen seems to be implemented well: you can now highlight, look up words in the dictionary, and even drag a slider to quickly move through books, which is an impressive feature I’ve requested for the Kindle before. It works with library e-books, which won’t be available on the Kindle until later this year. And it has the new e-Ink Pearl screen; now that I’ve seen it on my Kindle 3, I wouldn’t recommend a non-Pearl screen.

On the other hand, the Kindle still has the most features (audio, text-to-speech, Internet functionality, games & apps), better battery life, a better dictionary (the dictionary on the Kobo Wireless only works on Kobo-purchased e-books), and the best e-book store.

So what’s the verdict? Without actually having one to review, I’d say that the Kobo Touch is a very credible contender, and worthy of serious consideration if you’re shopping for an e-reader. If you prefer a touchscreen, it looks like the Kobo Touch is currently your best bet. If you’re neutral on touch (or dislike it — I prefer page turn buttons), the Kindle 3 does have some features you may miss on the Kobo, and I think it maintains a slight edge. If you’re looking for a sub-$100 e-reader, the Kobo Wireless is worth a look, but quite honestly there are better deals out there (like finding the Kobo Wireless for well under that price, the $114 Kindle with Special Offers, or the older model Kindle 2 or Nook Classic).

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May 072011

Last month, I wrote about Amazon’s new $114 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers,” which is available and shipping now from Amazon. My gut reaction was that I like my Kindle (and the serene reading experience it provides) enough that I would prefer to pay the extra $25 (for the regular price $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) to avoid seeing advertisements on my Kindle.

Since then, I’ve heard a little more about the “special offers” that Amazon is providing. A few of the ads are just ads, but a couple of legitimately good deals are being reported so far:

  • A $20 Amazon gift card for $10
  • A $10 Amazon credit when you buy one of a list of e-books, some of which are under $5

Assuming you take advantage of both deals (and buy one of the less expensive e-books that qualifies for the second deal), you’d save an extra $15 (plus get a free e-book), knocking the effective price of the “Special Offers” Kindle to just $99. As I said in my earlier post, $99 seems like a more tempting price point.

Presumably, Amazon will continue to offer deals like that (they mention a potential $6 deal for 6 Audible audiobooks that normally cost $68, for example), which would drive the effective price down further. If you keep it long enough and take advantage of enough of the legitimately good deals, could the Kindle’s “special offers” end up paying for itself?

Personally, I feel so overloaded and bombarded with advertisements in my life, I am loathe to open up another avenue for advertisers to annoy me. (Side rant: how about watching an NBA game, on paid cable TV, and not only getting 1.5 hours of ads for a 60-minute game, but seeing the Company X game summary brought to you by Company Y at the Company Z Arena, and then listening to the announcers plug products and upcoming shows during free throws? Enough already! End side rant.) That being said, if you’re the type who can safely ignore ads (tip: most people are not, which is why advertisers pay so much money forcing you to see them), this is one way to get a brand-new Kindle 3 (that is, in every mechanical respect, identical to the regular Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) for just $114, and maybe significantly less than that when some of Amazon’s special offers are factored in.

On the other hand, it’s always possible that the two special offers listed above are all you’re gonna get, and the rest will just be obnoxious car dealership ads. Don’t blame me if that’s the case! =)

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May 072011

Kobo announced today that Best Buy will carry their Kobo Wireless e-reader (which is their second-generation model), both in stores and online. From now until May 14, the price is discounted to $99.99 (retail price is $139).

My hands-on review of the Kobo Wireless is here. Quick summary: it’s a decent enough e-reader, but I prefer my Kindle 3. The sale price makes the Kobo somewhat competitive, and I do like the very light weight and ability to read library e-books on the Kobo.

Between this, some sales of refurbished Nooks for $99, clearance sales on Kobo e-readers at closing Borders stores, and the new ad-supported Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $114, it looks like 2011 is shaping up to be the year of the $99 e-reader.

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