In depth: Using the Kindle Fire vs. the Kobo Vox vs. the Nook Tablet

After testing the 3 top color e-readers, Preston Gralla explains which he likes best -- and why.

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Hardware and performance

With an expanded list of media types to handle, the hardware that makes up these tablets is an important component of the user experience.

Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

Amazon

Price: $199

You won't buy the Kindle Fire for its hardware design or specs. It's an undistinguished black slab that looks much like the BlackBerry PlayBook. It has half the RAM (512MB) and half the storage (8GB) of the Nook Tablet, although it uses the same TI OMAP 4 dual-core 1GHz processor. There are no physical volume controls, and I found it quite distracting to have to constantly fiddle with software controls when watching a movie or video or when playing music.

Whether it's because of a lack of RAM, or something else in the design, I found the Kindle Fire to be sluggish at times, particularly when switching between apps and displaying icons. This certainly isn't a deal-breaker, but it takes away from the experience.

The Kindle Fire display is adequate, but I found that it shows more glare than the Nook Tablet, which was distracting. It simply didn't seem as crisp or clear.

Kobo Vox

Kobo Vox

Kobo Vox

Kobo

Price: $199.99

The Kobo Vox is the most underpowered tablet of the bunch -- it features a single-core 800MHz processor. Like the Kindle Fire, it comes with 512MB RAM. That adds up to an even more sluggish performance than the Kindle Fire -- at times, the delays when displaying pages or switching apps was quite annoying. On the upside, it has a MicroSD slot that can accommodate cards with up to 32GB of storage.

Like the Kindle Fire, the Kobo Vox is an undistinguished black slab. It does, however, come with volume buttons. Like the Kindle Fire, its display is more reflective than the Nook Tablet's, which makes reading or watching videos somewhat difficult in certain lighting conditions.

Although it lacks a true physical Home button like the Nook Tablet has, below the screen you'll find familiar Android buttons, along with printed icons, for going Back, bringing up menus and returning home. This makes it the only tablet of the three that shows much of its Android heritage -- those buttons are typically available (along with a search button) on Android phones and tablets.

Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble

Price: $249

The Nook Tablet has the best hardware of the bunch, and as a result, offers the best performance as well. With 1GB of RAM, it's got twice the memory of other two, and that extra RAM makes a difference when it comes to performance -- it's simply faster.

It's also got twice the storage of the others: 16GB compared to 8GB for the Kindle Fire and Kobo Vox. There's a catch to that, however: Only 1GB of that 16GB is available for non-Barnes & Noble content. But like the Kobo Vox,the Nook Tablet has a Micro SD slot with a capacity of up to 32GB, and you can store anything you want on it. That means when you're not in range of Wi-Fi, you'll have plenty of room for books, movies and other files.

In my opinion, the Nook Tablet is better looking than the competition as well, with pleasing-looking gray bezel around the edges. The Nook comes two physical buttons: a volume button and a "Nook" button, used as a navigation button.

As for the display, screen quality, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder, but in using all three, I found the Nook Tablet's screen to have the clearest, crispest colors.

When it came to hardware performance, that extra memory packed into the Nook seems to pay off. I found it to be the smoothest-running, most responsive of all three tablets, with no delays when switching between apps or displaying graphics and icons.

The winner

The Nook Tablet features the highest-end hardware with the most RAM and storage space, better performance and the best screen, as well as a MicroSD slot for up to an additional 32GB of storage. It's also a more distinguished-looking design, compared to the plain black slabs of the Kindle Fire and Kobo Vox. The Vox is far behind both the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire, due to underpowered hardware and sluggish performance.

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