If Barnes & Noble’s original Nook Color, which debuted late last year, blurred the line between e-reader and tablet, the freshly unveiled Nook Tablet completely erases it. It’s a tablet, no question (it’s right there in the name), even though the Nook brand began as a dedicated e-reading device.

B&N still has those, of course. The Nook SimpleTouch, the company’s E Ink device, fills the role of simple e-reader quite well. It has a fast-responding touchscreen, a technology called Best-Text that Barnes & Noble claims makes text extremely crisp, and it just got a price reduction to $99. But the differnce between the SimpleTouch and the Nook Tablet is night and day.

Having handled both at this morning’s B&N event, I can say without a doubt that the gravitational pull of the Nook Tablet is extreme in comparison to the SimpleTouch. The richly colored 7-inch screen is just the beginning; when you finally fire up some video and apps on the Tablet, it makes E Ink screens, with their relatively slow page-turns, look like museum pieces, which they soon might be.

But let’s get real. The Nook Tablet isn’t competing with E Ink readers—it’s designed to fight toe to toe with the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. On that score, it’s got a few secret weapons. First of all, it’s nice and light: at just 14.1 ounces, it’s slightly less hefty than the Kindle Fire (14.6 ounces) and a featherweight compared to the iPad 2′s 1.33 pounds. It also has a special kind of display called VividView, which has a fairly wide viewing angle. B&N claims it also reduces glare, but I saw plenty of that in the Barnes & Noble showroom. Color and clarity was similar to most other higher-end tablets, which is to say great.

It’s a speedy little machine, too. Firing up Netflix took less time than on the iPad, and B&N says the Netflix app provides the “deepest” experience of the service on any mobile device, for what that’s worth. Watching scenes from Iron Man 2, the video looked a bit pixilated on the 1,024 x 600 LCD, but it’s difficult to tell if that was due to the machine or the lousy Wi-Fi in the store. The Tablet also boasts a native Hulu Plus app, making it the first Nook product to serve up those video services (the Nook Color will get those apps, too).

Web browsing was very good. Surfing to The New York Times website, it appeared quickly, and the screen responded quickly to a pinch-to-zoom even as the last few images loaded. It’s hard to say how this will compare to the accelerated browsing of Amazon Silk on the Kindle Fire, though you can really feel the Tablet’s 1GHz processor working for you. Since the Nook Tablet runs Android 2.3 “Gingerbread,” Flash video is supported, too.

Should you get the $249 Nook Tablet or $199 Kindle Fire? For that extra $50, you get the Tablet’s supposedly superior display, dedicated apps for Netflix and Hulu Plus, free in-person technical support from any Barnes & Noble store, and a few extra quirks like being able to record your reading of children’s books for your kids to play back later. But really, it probably amounts to how much you use Amazon and its services like its MP3 store or Amazon Prime video. Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch summed up how the Nook Tablet compares to the Kindle Fire by saying it was “more open.” If reading, Web browsing, Netflix, email and Angry Birds are the main things you want a tablet for, the new Nook Tablet is your winner.



Karl Tennant