Before the iPad, the Nexus, or the Galaxy Tab there was another type of tablet that broke the mold in the electronic market - the e-book reader, otherwise known as the e-reader. The e-reader has evolved from being a simple tablet with an e-ink display to the full-blown HD color tablets that we see today. These e-reader tablets look similar to tablets aimed at a more general audience like the aforementioned iPad, Nexus, and Galaxy Tab, but generally come at a much lower price due to limitations. The question is, are e-reader tablets worth the lower price?
In many ways, I have to say yes. Although these tablets are aimed at an audience with a passion for reading, these tablets have evolved to include other popular aspects that make tablets so desirable - primarily mainstream applications. The two most popular e-reader tablets, the Kindle Fire and the Nook, both run on a heavily skinned version of Android and therefore support Android applications. The trick was that both of these tablet lines were released with a modified version of the Android Market (now Play Store) that only supported a limited amount of applications. Fortunately, a lot of the ground was covered when it came to mainstream applications like Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, and more. Unfortunately, despite how much was covered there was still a lot that was noticeably missing.
I wrote a review a while back after I first received my Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7", which I initially loved after ditching my sluggish 1st generation iPad. The speakers were great, the display was bright and beautiful, and the kid-friendly applications like Kindle FreeTime were awesome for my nosy toddler. A lot of applications that I wanted in a tablet were there, but I was disappointed to find out that no Google Apps were initially included in it. If you wanted applications like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk, or 'Google' anything you were going to have to learn how to root the device - which coincidentally wasn't that easy of a task. Not only was the Kindle Fire HD difficult to root for a while, but there has also been extremely limited ROMs released for this device. For somebody like me who eventually gets so bored they risk bricking their device for the sake of entertainment, this device quickly turned into an e-babysitter to entertain my tot for quick tasks. As for the e-reader aspect of the device, it does a good job of focusing the device around literature. The Kindle Fire HD's skin made it easy to access e-books from the home screen, and the limited applications always seemed to put a heavy emphasis on the e-books (duh).
Overall, the Kindle Fire HD was a great successor to the Kindle Fire in terms of specifications, but when it came to freedom to turn an e-reader tablet into a full-fledged tablet Amazon pretty much put out the "fire" it had from the original Kindle Fire. That being said, $199 for an HD tablet with great speakers and pretty good battery life isn't really anything to sneeze at.
The Barnes & Noble Nook line has had quite a few variations since the release of its e-reader tablet contender, the Nook Color. Following the Nook Color you have the Nook Tablet, the Nook HD (7"), and the Nook HD+ (9"). On an e-reader level, the Nook is the perfect contender for the Amazon Kindle. Barnes and Noble has actually done very well making a name for itself in the e-reader industry, despite Amazon releasing their Kindle about two years before the Nook was released. By releasing the Nook a couple of years later they were able to introduce their product at a much lower price than the Kindle was ($399 vs $259). Where the Nook really stands out is in present day, where the Nook actually serves as a much greater purpose than just an e-reader tablet. The Nook HD and HD+ have recently received updates for the Nook Store to expand to include almost all of Google Play Store's applications (minus camera applications given that the device has no camera). By expanding to include these applications the Nook HD and HD+ don't require as many reasons to jump through hoops in order to make it a fully functioning Android tablet, except for the whole lack of customization thing. Starting at $199 for an 8GB model (with SD card support, which the Kindle Fire HD does not have) you're probably getting a better bang for your buck, even when compared to full-fledged Android tablets like the Google Nexus 7.
E-reader tablets were created to stay relevant on a market where e-reader popularity is beginning to fade as quickly as it arrived, and in my opinion they've done a pretty good job. The e-reader tablets are a great alternative to pricier alternatives like the iPad or Galaxy Tab/Note line, and as previously mentioned the Nook actually seems comparable to the Nexus 7 in a lot of ways now that they've expanded their app selection (Kindle Fire HD, not so much). I find the e-reader tablets to be a good way to compete with other lower-priced tablets like the Nexus 7, because a little competition never hurt anybody, right? In a lot of ways, I do think that the lower price of the e-reader tablets are worth it. The Nook's ability to offer almost the entire Google Play Store really takes the cake on this one, but the Amazon Kindle Fire does a job on its own by providing top quality audio from the external speakers and giving you access to Amazon exclusives (such as FreeTime, Lending Library) that make them pretty cool alternatives.
Readers, what do you think about e-reader tablets? Do you prefer the features they offer, or would you rather have a pure Google experience from a tablet like the Nexus 7? Is the lower price of an e-tablet reader worth the money you would save over more premium tablets like the iPad? Will I ever stop asking questions? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Images via Slash Gear, Amazon, Barnes & Noble