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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These new color e-readers aren't just for reading -- they're for watching videos and listening to music as well.

Kindle Fire

When it comes to multimedia, the Kindle Fire shines, and clearly outclasses the other two tablets.

To begin with, it's the only tablet with stereo speakers. Unfortunately, as with the other two tablets, those speakers are underpowered, and can be hard to hear at times when watching movies, although they were fine when listening to music. In addition, the Kindle Fire has no physical volume controls, so you'll spend more time than you want fiddling with software controls. But at least its speakers offer stereo sound.

As with the Nook Tablet, the Kindle Fire comes with Netflix and Hulu Plus. But unlike the Nook Tablet, that's the beginning of multimedia on the Kindle Fire, not the end. You can rent movies from Amazon beginning at $2.99 per movie and TV shows starting at $1.99 per show. And if you subscribe to Amazon Prime ($79 per year; one month free trial when you buy the Kindle Fire), you get unlimited streaming from a massive collection of videos. Neither of the other tablets offers anything like it.

As for music, you also get built-in access to the Amazon cloud music player, which lets you upload music to the Amazon cloud from your PC or Mac, and then listen to the music on your Kindle Fire or other mobile device. Again, neither other tablet has anything like it.

Kobo Vox

It's this simple: If you're interested in multimedia, don't buy a Kobo Vox. The single speaker is tinny and even more underpowered than the Nook Tablet's, and the Vox doesn't come with Netflix or Hulu Plus, much less have access to for-pay videos or a music player like the Kindle Fire.

Nook Tablet

When it comes to multimedia, the Nook Tablet falls short of the Kindle Fire, although it easily outclasses the Kobo Vox. One big plus is its screen, which is the best of the bunch and shows off videos to their best effect.

The speaker is monaural rather than stereo, so if you've listening to music, you'll want to plug in a headphone or an external set of speakers to its headphone jack. But the problems with the speaker go beyond mono sound -- it's underpowered. The single speaker is at the bottom, on the back, and I found at times that the sound was so weak that I could barely hear it when watching a movie. To properly enjoy some movies, I found that I had to use a headphone or speaker. Strangely (as with the Kindle Fire), I didn't experience the same problem when listening to music or read-aloud books.

The Nook Tablet ships with both Netflix and Hulu Plus, and apart from the sound problem when watching videos and movies, it's a pleasurable experience, with no delays or hiccups.

But aside from Netflix or Hulu Plus, you'll be hard-pressed to get more multimedia content. Unlike with the Kindle Fire, there's no other built-in way to rent movies, TV shows or video. And it also doesn't have a music playing service like the one Amazon offers.

The winner

The Kindle Fire is the clear winner here. It's the only tablet that lets you rent movies and TV shows, and the only one with a cloud-based music service -- and it's a very good one. The Nook Tablet gets points for a better screen. The Kobo Vox is a flat-out poor choice for multimedia.

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