JP Mangalindan 2011-11-17


    巴诺(Barnes & Noble)眼下境况不妙。其新款Nook平板电脑的发布回避不了亚马逊(Amazon)Kindle Fire的阴影。很多测评者,包括我自己在内,都认为Kindle Fire很可能销量仅次于大热的苹果(Apple)iPad。(事实上,我仅仅花了一天试用新款Nook,因为巴诺在最后一刻提前了计划,压缩了媒体发表相关测评文章的时间。)

    除了发布时机不佳外,Nook平板电脑不大可能受到热捧还有一个原因:它本质上不是一款全新的设备,而只是对去年推出的Nook Color进行了硬件更新。这不是件坏事,因为其采用的是叶维斯•贝哈尔的获奖设计。所有Nook应有的细节都在那儿:同样的柔软触感、外观精巧的塑料、闪亮的7英寸显示屏,底部左侧还有一个一模一样的小挂钩。两者外观上唯一的区别在于,新款的外壳颜色稍浅。与Nook平板电脑相比,全黑的Kindle Fire显得有些逊色。

    内部的变化更大。新款Nook平板电脑轻了10%左右,而且在关闭WiFi的情况下,其电池续航时间号称高达11.5小时。由于时间有限,我们未能测试这一点。此外,它还拥有双核1GHz处理器、1GB内存以及16GB的内置存储。这些配置使得新款Nook较之老款Nook Color速度大大提升。除了Netflix的首次运行外,大多数媒体应用仅需几秒钟就能打开。所有应用程序在打开过一次之后,再次打开的速度会快得多,有些几乎瞬间就能开启。

    巴诺平板电脑运行的是升级版Nook系统(确切地说是1.4版本),该系统是巴诺在谷歌(Google)Android系统基础上自行研发的。(亚马逊平板电脑的操作系统也采用了类似策略。)Nook Color的很多功能得到了保留:用户能在主屏幕上用书签标记最喜爱的书籍和应用程序;在几乎永无止境的虚拟书架上浏览自己的媒体资源;点击最近浏览的项目,就会看到“更多”选项卡。不过到目前为止,这些噱头看起来更像应用程序、音乐、杂志的快捷方式。总体而言,Nook的界面颇为平滑,不过如果桌面图标太多,显得有些拥挤。

    巴诺平板电脑号称全能型多媒体平板。巴诺宣称该设备拥有数千款应用程序(我认为Netflix的运行完美无缺。)但这并不意味着Nook的生态系统能与竞争对手亚马逊相抗衡。Kindle Fire的应用程序毫不逊色,而且还拥有亚马逊的电影、电视、音乐和超级会员服务等资源。亚马逊能提供大量附加资源,在这点上,巴诺难以望其项背。

    另外一个问题是价格。Nook平板电脑的售价为249美元,比苹果公司的iPad要便宜,但比亚马逊的Kindle Fire要贵50美元。50美元不是个大数目,但可能足以动摇一些消费者。巴诺首席执行官威廉•林奇敏锐地指出,只用多掏50美元,就能获得两倍的内存和存储空间。而且Nook的硬件外观似乎也更美观,用户界面也更精致。问题在于,这些足够让买家心甘情愿地多掏50美元吗?

    调研机构Forrester Research估计,在2011年假期销售季,巴诺将卖出150万到200万部Nook平板电脑。但愿如此。这款平板电脑有很多优点,比如设计出众、运行速度快。Nook粉丝不会后悔升级到新款Nook。但是首次购买平板电脑的客户可能难以接受为此额外支出费用。


    Barnes & Noble is not in an enviable position. Its new Nook Tablet is launching in the shadow of Amazon's Kindle Fire, a device many reviewers -- myself included -- think is likely to take second place behind Apple's dominant iPad. (In fact, I spent just a day with it as Barnes & Noble moved up the date press could write about the device at the last moment.)

    Timing aside, the Nook Tablet is also less likely to generate buzz because it is essentially a hardware update to last year's Nook Color, rather than an all-new device. That's not a bad thing, considering it sports Yves Behar's winning design. All the details that make a Nook a Nook are here: the same soft-touch, grippy plastic, a vibrant 7-inch display and an identical tchotchke hook on the bottom left side. The only real aesthetic difference? A slightly lighter case color. Compared to the Nook Tablet, the all-black Kindle Fire is somewhat of a wall flower.

    Changes inside are more substantial. The Nook Tablet is about 10% lighter and has a touted battery life of 11.5 hours with WiFi off, a claim we weren't able to test during our limited time with the device. It also sports a dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in storage. Those tweaks make for a serious speed boost compared to the Nook Color. With the exception of launching Netflix (NFLX) for the first time, most media opened up in a few seconds. After an app has been launched once, opening it up again is much quicker, sometimes nearly instantaneous.

    Barnes & Noble's (BKS) tablet runs on an updated version of Nook software (version 1.4 for those keeping track), which in itself is built atop a version of Google's (GOOG) Android operating system. (Amazon has chosen a similar scheme for its tablet.) A lot of the same features remain: ussers can still bookmark their favorite titles and apps on the home screen, scroll through their media on a nearly endless virtual bookshelf or look at recently-browsed items with a "More" tab. But now, there are yet more shortcuts for items like apps, music, magazines and music. Overall, the interface is slick but can become a little crowded with so many shortcuts.

    The Nook Tablet is being touted as a fully-capable media tablet. Barnes & Noble says it has thousands of apps available for the device. (Netflix worked flawlessly for me.) But that's not to say it enjoys as healthy an ecosystem as its rival from Amazon (AMZN). The Fire has access to the same apps but also plugs into Amazon's film, TV and music offerings as well as its Prime membership service. Amazon brings a lot of extras to the table that Barnes & Noble simply can't.

    The price is another issue. At $249, the Nook Tablet is a bargain compared to Apple's (AAPL) iPad -- but it's $50 more than the Fire. It's not a big difference, but it may be enough to sway some consumers. Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch has been keen to point out that $50 nabs you twice the RAM and storage. That money also seems to buy you better looking hardware and a slightly more polished user interface. The question is, will it be enough?

    Forrester Research estimates Barnes & Noble will sell anywhere between 1.5 million and 2 million of the Nook Tablet during the 2011 holidays. I hope that comes to pass. It's a tablet that has a lot going for it, including great design and fast performance. Nook fans won't regret the upgrade. Customers just buying a tablet for the first time, though, may have trouble justifying the extra cost.