Software - OS and User Interface
When it comes to OS and user interfaces, these tablets may all run on Android, but that is where the similarities end. The Nexus 7 runs on Android 4.1.2 and the latest version of Android's stock user interface for 4.1.2. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD actually runs Android 4.0 while the Nook HD runs 4.0.3. The fact that all these tablets run ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) or higher is good because it means that they benefit from a lot of Google's optimizations for performance and battery life. The one thing one should consider is that the Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD will likely not see any upgrades to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or 4.2 (also Jelly Bean).
Nexus 7 Interface
The Kindle Fire and Nook HD both have their own proprietary interfaces that are overlaid on top of stock Android, which is what the Nexus 7 has. Interestingly enough, both of them feature an application/content carousel that allows one to pick applications based upon when they were last used. The main difference between the two is that the Nook is similar to stock Android in that it has multiple panes for adding books, apps, wallpapers, bookmarks and onboard files. In that sense, the Barnes and Noble Nook HD can be personalized much more than the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. As a result, the Nook HD's user interface is probably the best looking out of the three tablets, but is simultaneously the most locked-down OS/UI combination, which is a major problem.
Nook HD's less customizable version of the stock of the Android interface with locked icons at bottom and carousel at top.
The problem with the Nook HD's locked-down operating system is that it does not enable installations of applications that are not downloaded from Barnes and Noble's marketplace/store. This problem is aggravated by the fact that the B&N Nook HD's marketplace is the least populated of the three tablets, so much so that there is not even a Facebook application available on it. In order to install any off-market applications, ADB must be enabled on the tablet, the one would have to install the Android SDK with Nook add-ons and sideload the applications through command prompt using ADB. On the Kindle Fire HD, an APK can be downloaded via email and executed on the tablet without any issues. The Nook HD also has options for different accounts with parental controls to allow parents to control which apps and content their children can read on the tablet.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD's interface with larger carousel and multiple menu list
Part of the reason why we believe that the Nexus 7 is superior to the Nook HD and Kindle Fire HD in this category is because the Nexus 7 will continue to get the latest Android updates and improve in terms of performance, UI, and functionality. It is highly likely that anything we will write now about Android 4.1.2 will be outdated very soon, since the Nexus 7 would be running a newer version. This ability to constantly update and improve Android is invaluable on any mobile device and the fact basically ANY Android application can be installed on this tablet and the full Android market accessibility is absolutely unbeatable. We continually found ourselves using the Nexus 7 to extract apps from the marketplace to install on the other two tablets for testing/comparison. The fact that the Nexus 7 is running Jelly Bean also means we have access to Google Now and Google's latest Voice Search, both of which are unbelievably well done and useful on a daily basis. This is perhaps the Nexus 7's largest advantage over the other tablets.Browser
Browsers are becoming an increasingly important part of eReaders and tablets. On these tablets, we are seeing more of the same; with Amazon's custom Silk Cloud Browser and Nook's own browser application as well as the Nexus 7's standard Chrome browser. We looked into it further and discovered that the Nook's browser is simply a Chrome browser with a Nook overlay (similar to what they did with the Android OS). The Amazon browser, though, is not a typical browser, as much of the information is cached in the cloud. We will be evaluating the performance of these different browsers in our performance section, but we did want to note that they all had serious issues with supporting Flash, which we consider an issue for some users. So, remember to not treat these tablets as desktop replacements, because they are not.Content
When it comes to tablets, content is king. Heck, it is with almost any device, but especially so with tablets. There is a need for content that is relevant to tablets that makes it worthwhile to get a tablet over, say, a five inch smartphone.
When it comes to content, both Barnes and Noble’s and Google’s abilities to deliver content pale in comparison to what Amazon can deliver. Not to mention the fact that Amazon has their Prime service, which also makes having an Amazon tablet beneficial and affordable while including access to a lot of content. Barnes and Noble's content strategy is heavily focused on books and newspapers while Google's is more magazines and video. The truth is that Amazon basically has everything that both Google and Barnes and Noble have, and then some. One thing to consider, though, is that with the Nexus 7, you can download the Kindle and Nook applications and get access to all of their libraries of books and magazines, which reduces the content advantage of those tablets.
Content is also about applications. When it came to applications, the Nexus 7 obviously had the widest selection of applications, but upon using the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, I realized that almost every App that I got for the Nexus 7 was also available on the Kindle Fire HD. Also, as we mentioned earlier, it is not necessarily difficult to get off-market applications onto the Kindle Fire HD. The problem with Barnes and Noble's Nook HD is that their marketplace is so scarce that it lacks simple applications like Facebook, as we mentioned earlier. We believe that Barnes and Noble should be spending more effort and money to attract application developers to their Nook and not just try to lure people to use it as a simple eReader and web browser.
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