Barnes & Noble Won't Let Amazon Have All The Tablet Fun

Earlier this month, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) had a ball unveiling a whole gaggle of tablets, including a new 8.9-inch addition to the family. The e-tailer tackled just about every conceivable price point under the sun, from $159 all the way up to $599 for the fully loaded 8.9-inch tablet. We knew Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) would follow suit with some new hardware, and follow suit it has.

The bookseller won't let Amazon have all the tablet fun.

New Nooks
B&N has just unveiled a pair of new Nook tablets just in time for the holidays: the Nook HD and Nook HD+. The company is similarly using the HD branding in naming the devices, and the Nook HD+ is its move up-market into the full-sized tablet arena with a 9-inch display.

The devices were rumored to feature some mysterious "revolutionary screen technology" a few months ago that's never been seen in any other product. Looking at the specs, I don't see anything game-changing here, but B&N boasts a "fully laminated screen" that's intended to reduce glare and have wide viewing angles.

Still, the hardware does look impressive, as do the aggressive price points.

The little guys
In the smaller 7-inch tablet arena, the three top contenders right now are the new Nook HD, Kindle Fire HD, and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Nexus 7. While all three devices technically run Android, only Google's version corrals users into its Google Play content storefront, while Amazon and B&N have both heavily modified, or forked, the OS for their own purposes and content repositories.

Let's see how these three compare.

Nook HD (left) vs. Kindle Fire HD (middle) vs. Nexus 7 (right). Sources: B&N, Amazon and Google.

Like Amazon, B&N also went with Texas Instruments (Nasdaq: TXN  ) for its OMAP processor, while Google selected NVIDIA's Tegra 3 for its device.

Specification

Nook HD

Kindle Fire HD

Nexus 7

Display Size

7-inch

7-inch

7-inch

Resolution

1,440 x 900

1,280 x 800

1,280 x 800

Pixel Density

243 PPI

216 PPI

216 PPI

Processor

TI OMAP 4

TI OMAP 4

NVIDIA Tegra 3

Storage

8 GB / 16 GB

16 GB / 32 GB

8 GB / 16 GB

Price

$199 / $229

$199 / $249

$199 / $249

Sources: B&N, Amazon, and Google. PPI = pixels per inch.

The Nook HD undoubtedly has a display advantage relative to its rivals, at a much sharper resolution approaching Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad Retina territory, which comes in at 264 PPI. It undercuts Google at the 16 GB price point, but Amazon is the most generous with storage.

Speaking of the iPad, this table doesn't factor in the very real possibility that Cupertino is likely preparing to unveil a 7.85-inch iPad Mini in October, which would dramatically alter the competitive landscape for smaller tablets. Competition is heating up and the real question is where Apple might price a smaller iPad.

The big guys
By releasing a larger 9-inch model, B&N will also be challenging Amazon and Apple in the full-size tablet market, where the iPad continues to reign supreme for the time being.

Nook HD+ (left) vs. 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD (middle) vs. New iPad (right). Sources: B&N, Amazon, and Apple.

Let's see how the specs compare with the bigger guys. Since the Nook HD+ is only available with Wi-Fi and no cellular connectivity, I'm leaving out Amazon and Apple's respective LTE-equipped models.

Specification

Nook HD+

8.9-Inch Kindle Fire HD

New iPad (iPad 3)

Display size

9-inch

8.9-inch

9.7-inch

Resolution

1,920 x 1,280

1,920 x 1,200

2,048 x 1,536

Pixel Density

256 PPI

254 PPI

264 PPI

Processor

TI OMAP 4

TI OMAP 4

Apple A5X

Storage

16 GB / 32 GB

16 GB / 32 GB

16 GB / 32 GB / 64 GB

Price

$269 / $299

$299 / $369

$499 / $599 / $699

Sources: B&N, Amazon, and Apple. PPI = pixels per inch.

B&N and Amazon have nearly identical hardware here, while the iPad is slightly larger and retains its lead in the display. The pricing is the biggest difference, and B&N is going for the jugular. It even calls out the iPad specifically (though not by name) in its press release: "This amazing display rivals the 'resolutionary' screen of the leading high-resolution large-format tablet, but is offered in a device that's more than 20 percent less weight and nearly half the price."

The display is certainly competitive, and Apple does deserve to be poked at for its horrendously cheesy "resolutionary" marketing tag line.

Content is king
With competitive hardware and low price points, the biggest challenge for B&N will be content. The company did just announce a new video streaming service, which is a start, but overall its content offerings still lag that of its larger rivals. A cheaper tablet is of less use if there's less content optimized for it.

That's especially true when you consider that the small-sized tablet market is very much turning into a platform game, where the hardware is sold at or near cost in order to capitalize on content down the road. B&N knows this, which is why it continues to invest heavily in the Nook business. One of these days, those investments might just pay off.

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Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Amazon.com, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com, Apple, Google, and NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On September 26, 2012, at 8:41 PM, Colthor wrote:

    Kudos Evan for a balanced, fact based article about Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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