You would think by now that Barnes & Noble had thrown enough money at the Nook brand and might want to consider cutting its losses, but no. The Verge, Liliputing, and Tablet Monkeys, among others, are reporting that a new Nook-branded tablet, the Nook Tablet 7, just cleared the FCC.

The FCC documentation is vague as usual. Liliputing lists the following specs:

  • MediaTek MT8163 quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor with Mali-T720 MP2 graphics
  • 3000, 11.1 Wh mAh battery
  • 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Front and rear cameras
  • Mono speaker and 3.5mm headset jack
  • Micro USB prot
  • microSD card slot

It also notes that the tablet is being manufactured for Barnes & Noble by a Chinese OEM named Shenzhen Jingwah Information Technology Co., Ltd. Tablet Monkeys notes that the tablet will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

The sparseness of information hasn’t stopped the blogs from speculating that the device might be intended as a direct competitor to Amazon’s $50 Fire tablet, which is far and away Amazon’s best-selling tablet yet. As for why it’s not being made by Samsung, it could be that Barnes & Noble has gotten tired of having to commit to buying huge amounts of Nook tablets and eating the cost of any it doesn’t sell. Or it could just be that Samsung doesn’t have a line of tablets quite that low-end.

The pictures do tend to bear more than a slight resemblance to the 7″ Fire tablet, right down to the way the plastic rear shell tapers toward the edges. Having a mono speaker rather than stereo is another strong similarity. And Barnes & Noble has shown a willingness to follow in Amazon’s footsteps before, coming out with the first Nook just a year or so after Amazon launched the original Kindle.

If this tablet actually does run Marshmallow, rather than the heavily-customized version of Android that prior B&N-branded tablets have run, that could be a significant advantage over the more locked-down Amazon Fire. You have to use a sneaky workaround to install third-party applications on the Fire, but a Marshmallow Nook tablet could support them right out of the box. (And given that Barnes & Noble dumped its own Android app store, it seems reasonable to assume it will leverage the one Google offers instead.)

If Barnes & Noble is able to offer a plain-vanilla Android tablet in the same price range as, but less restricted than, the Amazon Fire, it could be a better choice for people on a budget who want to use Android’s full capabilities rather than put up with what Amazon grants them. As far as I know, few reliable name brands have come out with a tablet in that range yet, so the space for competition is pretty small. Even if Barnes & Noble stopped selling ebooks, a $50 plain-vanilla Android tablet that could run any Android e-reader app could be worthwhile all by itself–especially if it didn’t require complex procedures like the jailbreaking process for the Nook HD.