Are eReader tablets worth the asking price anymore?Anna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
When eReaders came out, they were pretty freakin' awesome. In fact, I'd be so inclined as to say that eReaders are still pretty freakin' awesome. I mean, I don't know about anybody else, but eInk displays are definitely something to marvel at. It's electronic, but it has such a unique display that it's both easy on the eyes for extended reading and, depending on the size of the battery, can fit in a handheld device and last for a month or more on a single charge. When it comes to eReaders, I still think they're a great buy and replacement for the book lover who wants to have their library at their fingertips without having to haul around a bunch of heavy books.
But soon after the eReader became popular, another type of eReader came out, and that was the eReader that not only served as an eReader but also as a tablet computer. The Kindle Fire was one of the first eReader-turned-tablet computers to come out back in November of 2011. Although the fact that Amazon was making a tablet spin-off from its eReader was already a hot idea, the most attractive part about the idea was the price - $199 for this 7" tablet with 8GB of storage. At the time of its release, it was probably the best deal you could get for a tablet made by a reputable company. Even compared to the release of the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, which was a similar product released the very same month, the Kindle Fire remained about $50 cheaper (due to its 8GB of memory vs. Nook's 16GB of memory).
Amazon's Kindle Fire was a weird tablet, mostly because while it ran on Android it was running a very heavily skinned version of it - even more so than you would find in version like HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz. The Kindle Fire not only skinned over Android's interface, but it also had a customized version of the Android Market. Instead of having access to hundreds of thousands of applications on the Market, you only had partial access to it. Only the applications that Amazon approved for the Kindle Fire were allowed on the aptly named "Amazon App Store". The Nook Tablet was similar in that it only offered a limited selection of applications as well, but the fact of the matter was that both of these tablets were still cheaper than the reigning iPad, which would raise you a couple hundred dollars more to purchase.
But then everything changed. It was clear that a cheaper, smaller tablet was something that people wanted. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet were majorly successful, making the Kindle Fire the second most popular tablet and the Nook Tablet the third most popular tablet behind the iPad. But just when you think thing couldn't get any better, they do. In July of 2012, a new 7" device was released: the Google Nexus 7. The Google Nexus 7 was the tablet that Android enthusiasts had been waiting for. The Nexus phones at that point had already become one of the most popular line of phones among Android developers and fans, but a tablet was something that Google hadn't released before. Just like the phone line, the Nexus 7 ran on pure (or stock) Android, and was among the first to get new software updates rolled out from Google themselves. No waiting until the manufacturer tweaked the version to work with a skin; just pure Android-y goodness in a convenient 7" size. And not only that, but the price was also comparable to the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet, starting at $199 for the 8GB version. When it came to features and price, the Nexus 7 smashed both e Reader mini tablet computers.
But like all technology, it gets better within just a couple of months' time. Not too long after the Nexus 7 was released, Amazon already had a plan make sure their customers didn't forget about their favorite tablet and released the Kindle Fire HD, which was a (in my opinion) better designed tablet with great speakers and a great looking display. It was certainly a step up from what the original Kindle Fire offered. But it was still lacking in the fact that it was still very limited in what it offered compared to the now released Nexus 7.
Before the Nexus 7 it wouldn't have been a big deal, but now that the Nexus 7 shows us that we can have a full Android experience at a fraction of the cost of what most manufacturers would charge for such a device, sometimes I do wonder what the draw to the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet even is anymore. While Barnes & Noble went ahead and decided to give the Nook Tablet full access to the entire Google Play Store, the Kindle Fire still only has limited access. And now that the new Nexus 7 has been released to compete with the hardware upgrades of the Kindle Fire HD, and with more (fully functioning) Android tablets coming out from popular manufacterers, I have to wonder how long the e Reader tablet computers will last as long as they do at the price that they're at now. They don't have the e Ink display that made e Readers so popular in the first place, and the Play Store has e Reader applications that you can download on any tablet or device. I didn't even keep my own Kindle Fire HD, which I chose over the Nexus 7 for the better display and speakers, mostly because I couldn't use certain applications that I wanted to use without jumping through hoops to get them.
It just seems like the e Reader tablets aren't as much of a value as they used to be. They may have been the first reliable cheap tablets on the market, but better things have come up since then. Why are we paying the same amount for more restrictions?