Barnes & Noble announced a $249 Nook Tablet Monday that competes with Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet that sports customized version Android OS, runs Android apps, streams video from content partners such as Hulu, and can be used as an e-book reader. The Nook Tablet is $50 more than Amazon's Kindle Fire, but for that, you get more than Amazon offers - or than any other tablet offers.

You can pre-order the Nook Tablet now and it officially goes on sale end of next week, according to Barnes & Noble.

A Closer Look

The 7-inch Nook Tablet is the second-generation of B&N's Nook Color platform, and with the adoption of the simple name "Nook Tablet", the company acknowledges what we've all known for the past year: That the LCD-based device is as much e-reader as tablet. It's $50 more than Amazon's Kindle Fire, but for that, you get more than Amazon offers. Or than any other tablet offers, for that matter.

That said, Nook Tablet's interface looks nothing like that of the Android masses. The software is a wholly customized version of Android 2.3, with optimizations for accessing your reading material. Like Nook Color before it, Nook Tablet lacks access to Google services, including Android Market; in order to download apps, you'll need to go through B&N's own app store, which is growing daily.

The device itself has the same physical design as Nook Color; the only difference is that Nook Tablet is slightly slimmer, and 1.7 ounces lighter (it weighs 14.1 ounces, or 0.88 pounds, same as other upcoming 7-inch Android tablets like the Toshiba 7" Thrive). It also has the same 1024 by 600 pixel LCD display as Nook Color; uniquely, this display uses bonding technology to eliminate the air gap between the glass and the display to minimize glare--a common issue with LCD tablets.

Under the Hood

Inside is where the big changes lie. The specs of Nook Tablet have brought what was an e-reader into the competitive realm with today's crop of tablets: 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of built-in storage. That beats what Amazon's offering with Kindle Fire hands down, with twice the RAM and twice the internal memory of Kindle Fire. On top of that, you still get a MicroSD card slot with Nook Tablet, something Amazon doesn't offer.

B&N makes up for its lack of integrated services with its inclusion of media streaming apps on the device. Most notable is Netflix, which is even integrated into the menu system so you can easily access what you were last viewing directly from the home screen. Also pre-installed: Hulu Plus for video, and Pandora and Grooveshark for music streaming. The device's boosted specs mean it can smoothly stream 1080p video.

Barnes & Noble also adds a microphone, so you can record notes or your own reading of child's book, for example. On the down side the speaker is mono and the Nook Tablet doesn't have Bluetooth support.

B&N says the battery will last 10 hours for reading, 9 hours for high-def video playback--an almost 20 percent improvement over Nook Color.

Nook Color Updates

Speaking of Nook Color, the price drop seen at Best Buy this weekend becomes official and across-the-board. B&N is now selling Nook Color for $199, the same price as Amazon's Kindle Fire.

Existing Nook Color owners will get a software update this month to reflect the company's tablet optimizations. B&N also updates the E Ink-based Nook Simple Touch e-reader with sharper text, better contrast, longer (up to two months) battery life, and faster page turns for 80 percent less flashing--at a lower price, just $99, down from $139. Already have a Nook Simple Touch? No worries--you'll get all the new features via a software update.