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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Web and email

None of these three e-readers is designed to be an all-purpose tablet, but they do come with the basics for browsing the Web and reading and composing email.

Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire's Silk browser is the only one of the bunch that uses tabs, which makes handling multiple sites easier than having them each in their own windows. For that reason alone, it's the best browser of the three.

When you visit a website with the Kindle Fire's browser (and with the Nook Tablet's browser) you'll see sites as they are built for full-sized computers, not for smartphones and mobile devices, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you get all the graphics, layout and multimedia elements; on the other, the text on the sites is generally too small to read until you zoom in. In fact, I found the text harder to read than the text on the Nook Tablet.

The Kindle Fire's email reader is adequate, but not outstanding (none of the tablets feature great email software). One nice touch is that it asks what kind of email account you're setting up, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and so on (for POP3 or IMAP, you choose Other), which makes setup easier.

Unfortunately, it won't recognize Gmail labels, which makes using Gmail more difficult than need be. However, it has very good filtering options for viewing mail by sender, subject, date and time, and so on, something that the Nook Tablet email reader lacks. It also features a universal inbox, so that you can see all messages from all your mail accounts in a single location.

Kobo Vox

The Vox's Web browser appears to be essentially the same one as shipped with Android. Perhaps because of that, Web sites automatically display their mobile versions, rather than their normal ones. There's good and bad with that: Good because the text displays larger and is easier to read; bad because you don't get the full experience of graphics, layout and multimedia elements.

I found browsing with the Kobo Vox to be significantly slower than that of the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire, and at times almost painfully sluggish.

The Kobo Vox's email reader is the worst of the three, and lacks very basic navigational tools, such as being able to jump to your inbox when you're reading a piece of mail. I also found that it took longer to check for email than did the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire. In fact, it took so long at times that it was practically unusable.

Nook Tablet

The Nook Tablet's Web browser is fast and displays graphics and text crisply. But it falls short when it comes to handling multiple Web sites, because it doesn't use tabs. Instead, navigation is more like that of a smartphone, opening each new site in its own separate window, like the stock browser built into Android phones.

Don't expect to be blown away by the Nook Tablet's email program (or by those of the Kindle Fire or the Kobo Vox). But given that you'll only be using it occasionally, it's more than up to the task. One big plus of the Nook Tablet's email reader is that it lets you browse to all of your mail from all of your email accounts from the same interface, without having to exit and log into a separate account. And if you're a Gmail user, you'll be pleased to see that it correctly organizes all of your mail by the proper Gmail labels. If you reorient your tablet horizontally the mail client doesn't reorient itself, a surprising shortcoming.

The winner

If Web browsing is important to you, you'll want the Kindle Fire, because it's the only one of the group that features a tabbed browser. If you use Gmail, you'll prefer the Nook Tablet because it recognizes Gmail labels. Other than that, it's a tossup over which of the two tablet's email is superior. As for the Kobo Vox, Web browsing is at times so slow it's a painful experience. Its email client is no great shakes, either.

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