Editors' note (September 27, 2012): Barnes & Noble has cut the price of the Nook Tablet line: the 8GB Nook Tablet is now $179, the 16GB is $199. Prospective buyers should note that Barnes & Noble is planning to launch two new Nook Tablets in early November 2012.
Editors' note 2: Thanks to the release of recent high-quality tablets, the overall score of the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet has been adjusted down from 7.4 to 7.3.
When it comes to tablets, $50 can make a big difference, especially when you're trying to break the $200 price barrier. Which is why Barnes & Noble has come out with a $199 model of its Nook Tablet that matches the specs of the $199 Kindle Fire while retaining one key differentiating hardware feature between the two products: an expansion slot for adding more memory.
To get to $199--down from $249 for the 16GB Nook Tablet--Barnes & Noble trimmed the onboard RAM from 1GB to 512MB (the Kindle Fire has the same amount of RAM) and internal memory from 16GB to 8GB (the Kindle Fire also has 8GB of built-in memory). Everything else, including design and rated battery life, remains unchanged.
I'm not going to go into all the features of the Nook Tablet--you can read the full review of the 16GB version to get the details--but what I will say is that I didn't notice all that much of a performance difference between the two Nook models. Where the extra RAM comes into play is when you have multiple apps open, and I noticed a slight speed edge in the 16GB Nook Tablet when I opened e-books and apps. As you can see from the video below, it's not a major difference--I'm talking a second or even a fraction of second.
If you have a lot of apps open at the same time, the extra RAM does come in handy, but in my tests, I just didn't see a significant difference in how the two tablets operated. Netflix streaming movies and television shows looked and played equally well on both devices (Netflix video looks really good on Nook Tablets) and Web pages loaded equally fast. To reiterate, the performance boost you get from stepping up to the 16GB model is very slight (both models have the same processor).
Nook storage changes
In announcing the $199 8GB Nook, Barnes & Noble also introduced some changes to how much personal content you can store in the internal memory on the device.
One of our biggest disappointments with the original 16GB Nook Tablet was that--while it was ostensibly twice as capacious as the 8GB Kindle Fire--only 1GB of its space was accessible for side-loaded user content. So, unless you invested in a microSD expansion card, you couldn't drag and drop a lot of music and movies for those times where streaming Netflix or Pandora won't cut it, such as when you're on a long flight.
With the 8GB Nook Tablet, 4GB is now user-accessible. That adds a significant amount of space for those aforementioned personal files (videos, music, PDFs, EPUB, whatever). Yes, it's still limited, but unlike the space-challenged Kindle Fire, you can always add that microSD card for up to 32GB more.