When I covered Barnes & Noble’s impending Fire-clone Android tablet a few days ago, I honestly expected that the device would be in the same range as the $50 Fire, but cost $10 or $20 higher to cover expenses. But as I noticed first on The Digital Reader today, and later in places like TechCrunch (via The Passive Voice), Barnes & Noble has announced that its new Nook Tablet 7″ will ship on Black Friday, November 25, at the same $50 price as Amazon’s most popular Fire.
The tablet is a plain-vanilla Android Marshmallow device that will come pre-loaded with Android Nook software and the usual suite of Google Play apps, including the Play Store. Specs are mostly comparable to the 7″ Fire: a 7″ 171 DPI 1024 x 600 IPS LCD screen, 8 GB internal storage, 128 GB capable SD card slot, and so on. The only major differences in the hardware specs are that it has 2 MP front and 5 MP rear cameras (rather than the Fire’s VGA and 2 MP cameras) and it uses the same 64-bit system-on-a-chip as the one-year-newer Fire HD 8.
So, just as the original Nook was a copycat of the original Kindle, here we have Barnes & Noble trying to hitch its wagon to the same star all over again with a $50 copycat tablet of the Amazon $50 Fire. This poses some immediate questions, obviously.
For starters, how is the build quality going to be? Amazon has scads of money coming in, can afford to cut its hardware margins razor-thin, and is well-placed to capitalize on all the content needs of Fire owners–be they ebooks, audiobooks, streaming video, or apps and games. Barnes & Noble, not to put too fine a point on it, doesn’t, can’t, and isn’t–for one thing, it closed down both its app store and its streaming video store in March of this year. That just leaves ebooks and audiobooks. So if it does slice its hardware margins as thin as Amazon, how does it expect to make that money back? (Especially given that Amazon partly subsidizes its cheap Fires through built-in pay-to-remove advertising, and I’m not seeing any indication Barnes & Noble will do the same.)
One possible answer is that it’s been a year since the original Fire, and hardware prices have presumably fallen–possibly thanks in part to the economies of scale provoked by building millions upon millions of $50 Fires. Amazon sold enough of those $50 tablets to cause a noticeable drop in consumer tablet spending even as the quantity of tablets sold rose, and all those parts had to come from somewhere. So perhaps it doesn’t cost as much to build the Nook Tablet 7″ as it did to build the Fire 7. And perhaps the Nook Tablet 7″ will, like the RCA Voyager II, feel somewhat more cheaply made than the comfortably heavy Fire. Either way, it could be cheaper for B&N (or, rather, the Chinese OEM B&N contracted) to build now than the Fire was for Amazon last year. So, B&N’s margins might not have to be so thin after all.
But when you get right down to it, this is effectively “just another cheap Chinese Android tablet.” You can find $50 Android tablets in any Fry’s or other big-box electronics retailer, after all. What makes this one a better deal? And why is it necessarily any better than the Fire, which at least has Amazon’s genius for consumer electronics behind it?
When you think about it, the answer could come down to two simple words: support and openness.
Unlike most Chinese tablets, made by no-name manufacturers and ordered from anonymous overseas retailers or faceless big-box stores that will take them back but not do much else for you, the Nook Tablet 7″ will be offered by Barnes & Noble–which should mean that every one of Barnes & Noble’s remaining stores should (at least theoretically) be able to provide service and help customers figure out how to use them. (Though, granted, B&N isn’t exactly known for stellar customer service in any case, nor has it managed the Nook brand especially well to date.) This is also an advantage over Amazon, which has considerably fewer physical locations to provide in-person support for its Fire.
And unlike the Fire, or Barnes & Noble’s former non-Samsung Nook tablets, this one runs standard, plain-vanilla Android, with Google’s own Play Store built right in.
I can’t overstate the importance of that. My article on installing Cyanogenmod onto the Nook HD was one of the old site’s most popular articles, frequently appearing in the daily-top-views list even months after its most recent revision–and one of the most commonly-heard complaints about the Fire is that its version of Android is limited to only those apps available from Amazon.
Amazon’s apps don’t include any of Google’s, such as YouTube, or a considerable amount of popular third-party software such as basically any other ebook reader. If you should want to add those programs, you either have to go through the laborious process of downloading and sideloading them, or else use one of the available hacks to finagle the Play Store onto the Fire. But the Nook Tablet 7″ will be wide open from the very beginning.
I’d like to think Barnes & Noble would be fully aware of the importance of that openness, and would make it one of the tablet’s chief selling points. They could do a Miracle on 34th Street-style campaign explicitly mentioning the competition: “Not only will it read your Nook books, but you can install readers for ebooks from any other ebook store: Google, Kobo, Smashwords, even Kindle!” But perhaps that would be a bridge too far.
In any event, as I already mentioned, the $50 Fire sold well enough to skew industry-wide statistics, even with its closed operating system and relatively low-resolution screen. Whether it’s a “Hail Mary play” or not, a $50 Nook Android Marshmallow tablet has the potential to do even better, if only because there will be hundreds of stores a customer could walk into, see the tablet, and walk right out the door with it a few minutes later. But Barnes & Noble needs to make potential customers understand they don’t have to be limited to B&N products with it–they can use it with the Kindle, Kobo, or other ebooks they already have. (Then, once the customers have it, they could rely on the built-in Nook software to sell them on ebooks and audiobooks from Barnes & Noble.)
The $50 Fire isn’t exactly a great tablet, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be good enough to be worth $50. A $50 Barnes & Noble Nook could very well be likewise, with the added benefits of openness and easier availability. But it remains to be seen whether Barnes & Noble will be savvy enough to capitalize on these potential advantages.
I have a B&N tablet, picked up at a flea market for about $10. I’ve yet to get that much value from even such a pittance. Just before I bought it, B&N shut down its never-that-good app store. The only apps on my Nook tablet are the few that ship with it. I bought it to explore Android apps, but I can’t even do that without a unlocking process I see as too much bother.
Amazon and Apple are quite good at updating the systems on their products. My Kindle 3 still gets an occasional update. My iPhone 5 will run the latest iOS. Only my iPad 3, an orphan product almost from Day One, has been left behind and I’ve yet to experience any inconvenience from that. It has what matters most in an iPad, a Retina screen.
B&N may want customers to believe that buying from them is better in the long-term than buying a no name tablet. But if they don’t deliver long-term support, if a B&N tablet two models back but still functional is little more than a door stop, then they’re not giving savvy customers what they want.
From the start, I’ve been skeptical that B&N’s executives really wanted to leave the 1990s, when the good times flowed and their stores dominated book sales. Their efforts with digital books have reflected that. They’ve been just enough into ebooks to draw attention to their subsequent failures.
Back when I climbed mountains for fun, I longed for a chance that sometimes arises on glacial mountains—a yawning crevasse so wide, it can only be leaped across by going for broke and leaping as far as possible. Anything short of giving your all would end in a fall.
That never happened, but there are situations in business when a company’s executives must ‘go for broke.’ Boeing openly admitted it was doing that in the late 1960s when it poured billions of dollars into developing the huge 747, with no certainity that there’d be a market for it. Indeed, it was the 747 that created that market—long distance travel so inexpensive even ordinary people could afford it.
I don’t see B&N doing that. Instead, they copy Amazon, but offer too little too late. Amazon has a $50 Kindle tablet so eventually they offer one. Amazon (sorta) lets users add third-party apps. B&N kills their app store and belatedly adds Google’s app store to their latest tablet. It does in 2016 what it should have done in 2014. And in a rapidly changing tech world, there are often no prizes for being in third place behind Apple and Amazon.
Of course, B&N isn’t the only company not willing to take a bold leap. In addition to a print version, my latest book, Embarrass Less, is available for Kindles and iBooks, but those who buy it will probably think twice about buying the iBookstore version rather than the Kindle one even though the iBookstore version looks better (larger pictures, among other things).
Why? Because unlike iTunes, the iBooks app ties them to Apple devices. Apple is doing what B&N is doing. It’s getting only halfway into digital books. It’s not going for broke, leaping for that other side. It doesn’t really want to dominate ebook sales like it wanted iTunes to dominate music sales. I am sure Bezos is delighted about that and could prove Apple’s undoing.
–Michael W. Perry, author of Embarrass Less (about easing embarrassment issues in hospitals)
The Amazon fire with 8GB internal, will install apps on the external SD. Will the Nook 7, also with 8GB, allow this? If not, if you like your apps, I would pass on this.
I can’t see why it wouldn’t. It’s a common feature of newer Android devices.
My cheap phone with android 4.4.2 has no option to move anything to the SD. My other tablets have the option in settings to move “some” apps to the SD. I believe the Fire automatically installs apps in the SD. I believe the SD becomes internal memory. So I will have to see what the nook offers. The older Nook HD tablets didn’t have that option, I don’t think.
That’s why I said newer Android devices. There’s a considerable span of time and many, many improvements between Android 4.4.2 and Android 6.0.
Of course, the same day that B&N releases their $50 tablet, Amazon will have theirs on sale for $33.33. I presume so, anyway. Best Buy will have it for that price on Black Friday, and I would expect Amazon to match.
And it’s entirely possible B&N might run a Black Friday sale of its own. I know Amazon did last year when the $50 Fire was new.
A 128 Gb SD will cost almost the same as the tablet
And perhaps you will add a 20$ Ipega game controller
And still a 120 portable gaming computer (and e-reader) is great.
Also if it where as open as Nexus devices allowing multiboot with Ubuntu phone, Tizen, SAilfish, plasma mobile and others would be even greater.
Haven’t checked yet, but maybe B&N is planning on making money on accessories? $30 covers, $50 keyboards, in store SD cards? I’ve rarely seen any Amazon device – Kindle or Fire – not in an official Amazon cover of some kind.
I think the fact that the system is non-crippled makes it worth buying. Being in control of a tablet not having to put up with apps that were chosen for you and that you can’t easily rid yourself of is nice. The fact it takes a 128gb SD card is a great thing too as quality brands are less than $40 dollars on amazon. If the build quality is decent it’s a no lose proposition.
Good article and compelling device, but the camera specs in the article are the exact opposite of those mentioned on the official Barnes & Noble page announcing this tablet. Who’s wrong and who’s right?
Oh, probably I got it wrong. It’s always kind of confusing which side you consider the “front” of a tablet anyway. The part you look at, or the part you point at somewhere else?
OK, so we now know that the camera resolution is significantly better on the Amazon tablet, but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker if the overall built quality is decent. I’m also a fan of standard sized, old-school SD cards, and was excited at this spec as mentioned in this article, but alas, it’s the usual mini (micro?) card.
Still looking forward – and may buy one sight unseen if they’re available for under $40 in the near future.
No, I think the resolution is significantly better on the Nook tablet. Its highest quality camera is 5, whereas the Fire’s best camera is a 2. I am assuming the best camera is in the end you point at someone else, no matter whether they call it the front or rear, because it doesn’t make sense to put the better camera in the side that’s mainly used for selfies and video calls.
And micro SD basically IS the standard now. If you really want something larger sized, adapters are easy enough to come by.
Played with the new Nook today in B&N. (Newport Beach) Ordering a few as we speak. Been dedicated to Nook since their original and 5 purchases of 3 models since. All are Still in use.
can you confirm, that with only 8GB, you can install games and apps on the external SD?
Is this for really 50.00 or is this a scam,Is this a reading mode, free books,and more.
@Elizabeth: I haven’t seen the new Nook tablet, but I doubt this is a scam. That said, I wonder if the screen res is adequate. On the bright side, yes, last I knew, the B&N bookstore included some free titles. More importantly, since this uses standard Android, you can easily install Moon+ Reader Pro or other readers to be able to enjoy many thousands of free books in the public domain from sites such as Project Gutenberg.
It’s precisely the same resolution as Amazon’s $50 Fire, and given how many people have bought those, I suspect someone to whom price is the primary consideration would not complain.