Medium-sized tablet. You know, for the kid(s).
July 8, 2013 1:11 PM   Subscribe

After spending about two weeks using a relative's Kindle Fire HD 8.9 as a video playing device to distract our young son, my wife and I are interested in getting a mid-sized tablet of our own, to double as a video player and portable computer. The Nook HD+ is comparable, and right now, much cheaper. Is there something I'm missing about the Kindle Fire, or are most mid-sized tablets fairly similar?

My wife is leaning towards the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 because of her time with one, but you can get a new Nook HD+ for about half as much. Based on price alone, the Nook wins for me.

My biggest focus at this time is a decent-sized tablet with a good battery life for playing videos, as there are times when every toy and book you brought along to distract your small person is no longer interesting, and you still have 3 hours to get to your destination. My wife and I have laptops, but our little guy likes to bang on keyboards, so tablets sound like the perfect thing, plus the battery life of tablets looks better than our laptops. With that, can anyone speak on their experience with the Nook HD+ and video playback? Does a fully charged battery really sustain around 9 hours of video playback? And how is the sound?

This review states that "the Nook HD+'s screen is much more susceptible to moisture, so oily fingerprints tend to create a moire effect on the screen." Is that really such an issue? If so, what is a good way to clean screens on the go?

We'll also be looking to use the tablet as a mobile computer, possibly buying a separate keyboard. What are people's experiences with tablets and keyboards?

In summary: is it worth saving around $100 to pick up the Nook HD+ instead of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, and are there other similarly priced tablets that we should be considering? Or does the Kindle Fire experience win out against competitors? Or is it the anti-smudge Kindle screen that makes it worthwhile with a young child (who will be two years old for our next trip)?
posted by filthy light thief to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Kindle Fire has a ridiculously irritating interface and lag. The Nexus 7 is about the same price and gets much better reviews. The price is dropping with speculation of it being updated soon.

If it's really just for games for your son, I'd pick up a used iPad 2. You can get them for about $200 on eBay or Craigslist. There are some great iPad cases for kids too.
posted by barnone at 1:18 PM on July 8, 2013

The Nook will let you download any Android app as of quite recently. To me that's a big advantage too.

Put it inside a big ziplock bag and who cares about fingerprints ( I do this while cooking--works fine)
posted by birdseye at 1:27 PM on July 8, 2013

I got the HD+ at 179 and love it. The fact that it has google play sold me on it. I was able to get rid of the stock launcher and add the kindle app for all my amazon books and a couple magazine subscriptions. Netflix streams great on it and the ability to add external memory cards is nice. Barnes and Noble has said that it is going to stop making their own tablets, this has some people worried but it's not an issue for me, the tablet will still work and if it does lose support there are super easy directions for loading cyanogen mod on it to make it truly open.
posted by dstopps at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2013

In summary: is it worth saving around $100 to pick up the Nook HD+ instead of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9...

Yes, if those are the only two products you are comparing.

...and are there other similarly priced tablets that we should be considering?

The Nexus line of tablets is really great, and not too much more expensive. The Nexus has a genuine "full Android" interface, rather than the branded, dumbed-down interfaces found on either the B&N or Amazon devices.

Or does the Kindle Fire experience win out against competitors? Or is it the anti-smudge Kindle screen that makes it worthwhile with a young child (who will be two years old for our next trip)?

The Kindle fire experience does not, in my opinion, offer any advantages over the other options. But it does try to get you to marry Amazon.
posted by General Tonic at 1:49 PM on July 8, 2013

Forgot to mention, one ding against the kindle is that it has no camera on it, never been an issue for me but it is a spec that might be important. Kindle vs. nexus i really like the size of the hd+ hit the sweet spot between 7 & 10 inches
posted by dstopps at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2013

Barnes and Noble just stopped making color e-readers in lieu of co-branded devices built by 3rd party manufacturers. The competitors continue to make their own color e-readers. Who knows if Barnes and Noble will even sell Nooks in five years given this recent business decision.

I'd look at used Nexus or iPads for a solution. Try the used market.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2013

I've been tossing around the same things as you. I'm leaning towards the Fire because I have a Prime membership. Here's why:

1. B&N is leaving the Nook hardware business. That's why their tablets are so inexpensive - it's an inventory dump. I bought an HP Touchpad during the closeout 2 years ago - it still works, but there's very little developer support for the native webOS, and I've found Android on it to be 75-80% solid. So I can choose between an OS that doesn't get updated apps, or one that will occasionally crash. Given that experience, I'm not super interested in a device being abandoned by its maker. If you're into rooting and all that goes with it, sure, it's a good deal. I've decided it's not the path I'm looking for.

2. iPad mini and regular are too pricy for what you get. And I'm firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem.

3. Kindle has their Free Time which allows a set monthly charge for unlimited access to a selection of kids apps, discounted if you're a Prime member. Streaming videos - again, if you're a Prime member, there's a lot that's free. Book borrowing with the same Prime requirement.

Basically, if you're already an Amazon Prime member, the Kindle Fire is very attractive. If not, then the Nexus is probably pretty close to the same thing without the Amazon cruft.
posted by neilbert at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

neilbert: "Kindle has their Free Time which allows a set monthly charge for unlimited access to a selection of kids apps, discounted if you're a Prime member. Streaming videos - again, if you're a Prime member, there's a lot that's free. Book borrowing with the same Prime requirement. "

I'm ordering my kid a Kindle HD this week for this reason. With Amazon Prime, the unlimited kid stuff plan is $2.99 a month. The parental controls are good, too, so we plan to just block everything we don't want him to be able to access, stock him up on apps and movies and let him go to town.

One other thing worth mentioning is that, based on my research, we decided we would definitely want a Kindle Fire HD, not a regular Kindle Fire for our kid. This isn't because of the picture or the storage but because the non-HD Fires have some important functions like volume accessible only through menus and not through external buttons. I couldn't fathom explaining to my four and a half year old how to drill down a settings menu to reduce or increase volume on the fly, so the upgrade to the HD made sense.

FWIW, we also have a Nexus 7 and an iPad 2 in our house and the aforementioned four and a half year old has no problems at all with either. So if you fall in love with a different tablet, odds are, it won't hurt anything. We just opted for the Fire because of the content plan and the parental controls.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:40 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

+1 on several already mentioned items:

*the Nook HD+ prices are so low because they're dumping inventory. The gist is that B&N is getting out of the device-making business starting now and will deliver their content through Nook apps on the next generation of devices in the future. So I wouldn't count on a long term warranty, but the prices are good.
*I own a Nook HD+, and it would be good for a keep-little-one busy in the backseat device; movies can be watched, games can be played, etc. there's only one speaker, but it's loud enough to watch cartoons, etc. I can't speak to how sensitive its touchscreen is to little fingers coated in applesauce or snot, however.
*the HD+ has the ability to use several separate profiles, so it can be set up slightly differently (show these books, enable these apps, etc.) for when Mom uses it vs. when Baby uses it. They know that the family will be passing it around and have planned for that.
*Now that they've given the Nook access to the Google Play Store, it can run basically any Android app (the older ones could only use a special subset of 'Nook' apps). That, and the fact that it has expandable storage (via micro-SD cards) for your own files - which the Kindle family of devices does NOT - means that it doesn't lock you into either the B&N or Amazon ecosystem for apps or media.

The Nexus devices are Google's 'reference' tablet devices for the Android OS, and are quite good. They are basically an Android smartphone with a giant screen and no phone, in much the same way as an iPad is an iPhone with no phone and a big screen. In both cases, I'm not so sure you'd want to refer to either one as a 'computer'. Well maybe; if all you're going to do is Facebook, check your email and tap out some short replies, read your feeds and favorite websites, then sure, they'll be fine. Nook and Kindle devices can do these same things too, but perhaps a little slower to load webpages or switch between apps.

The Nook and Kindle, and to a lesser but similar extent the iPad and Nexus, are really intended to be consumption devices rather than for production. Meaning that you can check your mail and Tweet and watch cat videos, but you wouldn't ant to do your taxes on one. (even with a keyboard accessory, which will be Bluetooth and have its own batteries and fiddly bits to deal with). So be aware of that if planning to use one as a 2nd computer.

Oh, and one last bit - charging cables. The Nook HD+ has a charging connector that looks like the old iPhone/iPad connector, but isn't; it's unique to the Nook HD+. An iPad will use the same connector as an iPhone, and a Nexus will use the same micro-USB connector as most Android phones. So if you tend to lose charging cords a lot or only want to carry the one, it's possible that something like the Nexus 7 might be a better pick. It's a little smaller, and very nice, but it does everything the Nook HD+ does, uses the same charger cord as your Android phone, and is only $50 more.
posted by bartleby at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I think I'll hold on for a short while, to wait what comes of rumors on Nexus 7 2 and various other price cuts.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2013

My kid's Kindle Fire HD came today and it is exactly what our family had hoped it would be. We signed up for the Free Time program, with the unlimited kids stuff thing, and were delighted to see that the program lets you password protect it so that your kid can't get out of it unless you type in a password. As such, I can hand it to my son logged into Free Time, and, outside of the risk of having to overhear some Barney songs, leave him to it with zero supervision.

This is pretty cool.

We can also import other apps and books and movies we have bought him that aren't part of the Free Time program so that they can be opened from inside FT.

This is a happy kid here today.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:28 PM on July 10, 2013

Best answer: Though I'm still interested in the Nook HD+ with its SD slot and optional keyboards that can extend battery life instead of devices that communicate via Bluetooth, we went with a refurbished Kindle Fire 8.9, which cut about $70 off the cost, and it still has the one year Amazon warranty.

Somewhere, I heard about "sideloading" Android apps, and I found this tutorial to work just fine (quick steps: 1. allow device to load apps outside of the Amazon store, 2. download 3rd party marketplace app [1Mobile Market was mentioned in the tutorial, and it has worked for me], 3. install said app and download apps from outside of the Amazon marketplace). 1Mobile Market appears to only offer free apps, and I've only downloaded apps that are available in Google Play with good ratings but aren't available in the Amazon store. I really wanted to load Mobo Player, Dolphin browser and Maxthon browser, and I also got iAnnotate PDF to see what it's like, because the Apple version costs $10 and is well-reviewed.

We also picked up a Poetic case with keyboard from a seller on Amazon, and it has worked pretty well for us now. The ability to detach the keyboard and keep it away from prying fingers (or bring it out as a momentary distraction) is pretty great.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:14 AM on October 1, 2013

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