I’ve been waiting to get my hands on both a NOOK Tablet and Kindle Fire since the news of their release hit the Internet. I’m definitely smitten with my first generation iPad, but the new tablets have been getting a lot of buzz–not just because they come priced well under the cheapest Droid tablet, but because they really are capable machines with lots of cool features.

Of course deciding between the Nook and the Kindle Fire can be a bit of a challenge, so I’ve been playing around with both, to help you pick which one is best for you (or that lucky recipient).

Keep in mind, I don’t think either are true iPad competitors. The iPad size, speed, memory, and apps beat both of these hands down. Something has to be sacrificed if you’re going to sell a tablet for less than $250. However, if you’re more of a casual tablet user and don’t necessarily need to use it for work or a steady stream of social media updates (heh), then you’ll want to take a long hard look at both of these gadgets, both of which offer a fantastic bang for the buck.

Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire

I haven’t seen our Kindle Fire much since the first few days I had it because my husband (the Kindle user in the house) snatched it right up. Even though we own an iPad, he really liked the smaller size and the simple interface, which is one of the first things you will notice; it’s clean and streamlined, at least compared to the Droid tablets I’ve seen.

The Kindle Fire is dramatically smaller than an iPad, but not much bigger than a Kindle e-reader–though you Kindle users will notice the Fire is much thicker and heavier, and it won’t be winning any beauty contests.

It also has a shorter battery life than the basic Kindle — just under 8 hours — which is not surprising because it’s intended to function as more than an e-reader.

A few quick clicks with the neatly organized tabs and you’ll be flipping through the pre-loaded apps which include Facebook and IMDB (huh?), and of course you can add more with a quick connection to the Amazon app store which is fully stocked with loads of Droid apps. Be warned, you’re also connected to the actual Amazon store, which means you’ll want to use caution if you’re thinking of using this as a gift for a tween or teen. Your tablet is connected to your credit card, meaning you could potentially end up with a new electric guitar at your door if you’re not careful.

The “Silk” page flipping is pretty obvious; it’s fast and smooth like the name indicates. The Kindle Fire’s bright screen also offers good picture quality for movies, which you can purchase and rent right from Amazon. Are you surprised?

The biggest issue with the Fire is that you get what you pay for. At $199, there’s no camera and you only get 8G of memory. Sure, you get 5G of Amazon Cloud storage for free, but if you’re looking to keep a bunch of documents handy, along with movies, music, and apps, you’ll whip through that 8G pretty quickly. I also find the power button placement on the bottom side is a bit awkward, but really a minor complaint and something you’ll get used to.

However, if you’re looking to do what you might do with your Droid smart phone, just with a bigger screen, then the Fire is an excellent choice. And take my advice and get the Prime upgrade for $79 which opens up a whole slew of free books and videos with their lending library.

NOOK tablet

The NOOK Tablet

I waited an anxious 12 days for my NOOK Tablet to arrive from Barnes & Noble’s website, and we’ve heard similar from our readers. So if you’re in the market, you might want to pick your NOOK up in person from your local store or from Best Buy.

Once it (finally) arrives, however, you’ll notice that the NOOK Tablet is much more stylized than the Kindle Fire. Even with the same screen size, it’s got a rounded back and just looks prettier. It also has that weird loop thing at the bottom corner which is for…well, I’m not quite sure what it’s for. A carabiner?

The NOOK home button and main screen feel more intuitive than the Kindle, and I’d even go so far as to say that websites just look a little nicer on the NOOK’s screen. The NOOK is styled with more finesse overall, which is definitely noticeable. So if you want to customize your homescreen or are swayed by small design nuances, NOOK definitely has the upper hand.

Because Barnes & Noble is not the media powerhouse that Amazon is, B&N partners with other providers to offer streaming TV and movies: NOOK Netflix and Hulu Plus apps come pre-installed. The lack of a video download service can be an issue, though (especially when you don’t have great WiFi). You have to connect to the internet and use the included apps in order to watch video.

Speaking of apps, the NOOK Tablet requires its own special apps, so while you can connect to the Barnes & Noble app store, you will have nowhere near the Android apps you’ll get on a Fire. For example, I searched for Twitter apps on the NOOK Tablet and found only one: Seesmic. My guess is that they will be rolling out a lot more apps very very soon, so if you can wait, it might be worth it.

One huge plus about the NOOK especially for parents who plan to let their kids use the tablet: the NOOK has always championed kids’ ebooks, even offering a separate site NOOKKids.com.  It’s definitely a big benefit, as is the magazine selection and the reading experience as a whole.

The biggest difference? With the NOOK, you get double the memory (16GB) of the Kindle Fire. You only use 1GB of space for dragged and dropped audio or video files, leaving a whole heckuva lot of space for apps and books. You can also invest in a microSD card and double the memory again — that’s four times more memory than the 8GB you will be stuck with when it comes to the Fire.

The Verdict: As with all tech, it really depends what you’ll be using your tablet for.

What the Kindle Fire lacks in style and memory, it makes up for in access to Amazon’s mecca of digital services, a huge field of apps, and a simple, streamlined interface. It’s an app-aholic video watcher’s tablet for those who doesn’t care too much about looks.

The NOOK Tablet is perfect for someone who wants something more stylish both in construction and capability as an ereader, but isn’t too concerned about apps or accessing videos at the snap of a finger.

You can purchase the NOOK Tablet at BN.com or better, head to your local store or Best Buy. And the Kindle Fire is available at our affiliate Amazon.com

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