Amazon's Kindle Fire HD is only a few weeks old, and now the retail giant's biggest competitor has two new tablets coming out in about a month.
And I think they might be better than what Amazon has to offer.
Barnes & Noble has two new tablets now, the $199 7-inch Nook HD and the $269 (!!!) 9-inch Nook HD+. I got to play around with both models for about an hour this week at a press briefing with Barnes & Noble, and I really liked what I saw.
From the second I held the devices, my snap reaction was Amazon needs to be worried for its new Kindle Fire line, especially since the new Nooks are priced better.
First of all, Barnes & Noble did an incredible job with the displays. The 9-inch model is nearly as sharp as the third-generation iPad's Retina display. I barely noticed a difference between the two devices. B&N also claims the 7-inch model has the sharpest display of any other 7-inch tablet. (Based on the spec sheets, I think that's correct.) I was able to hold the 7-inch Nook next to the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, and I could tell right away that the Nook's display was clearer and brighter. (Yes, the both devices had the brightness turned all the way up.)
The new software looks good too. Like Amazon, B&N took Google's Android operating system and heavily modified it. This does not look like the Android you're used to. Everything is completely custom. B&N's new OS has a much cleaner look than before, a cool gray background that apps, magazines, and other content seem to float on top of. If you share your tablet, you can set up separate profiles with custom home screens for each person. There are also parental controls, so you can limit what your kids can do on the Nook. Bad news: Older Nooks won't get the new operating system.
Both of the new Nooks feel incredible. They're light, but insanely sturdy. No creaks or squeaks. B&N took a page out of Apple's design strategy and customized its hardware and software design at the same time. (Designed in the USA!) The result isn't just another cookie cutter Android tablet, but one meticulously designed with the user in mind. I'm not trying to shove some B&N PR line down your throat. Both tablets look and feel really, really good.
As far as content goes, B&N now has its own iTunes-like video store so you can buy and rent movies. You can also buy a separate dongle that lets you view movies on your HD TV. Unfortunately, there's no way to wirelessly beam content from your tablet to your web-connected TV. B&N is also beefing up its book recommendation engine with curated lists that are a mix of editor recommendations and similar items other customers purchased.
Both new Nooks are incredibly solid products. You'll be able to get them at the end of next month, but there's no solid release date.