If spending $499 or more for an Apple (AAPL) iPad isn't in your holiday budget, how does $199 or $249 for a slightly smaller yet still full-featured gadget sound?
Barnes & Noble (BKS) threw its hat into the ring this week, unveiling the Nook Tablet, a $249 device ready to take on Amazon.com's (AMZN) ballyhooed $199 Kindle Fire. It also lowered the prices of its original Nook e-readers.
The Nook Tablet offers the same seven-inch screen as the Kindle Fire, but raises the spec sheet bar by offering twice the RAM and initial storage capacity of its Amazonian counterpart.
Both devices will hit the market next week, and it will be pretty hard to miss them as the holiday shopping season kicks off later this month. Amazon announced on Tuesday that its entire line of Kindle e-readers and tablets -- including the Kindle Fire -- will be available at Best Buy (BBY), Target (TGT), Walmart (WMT) and more top retailers. In other words, you won't necessarily need to log into Amazon.com to buy the gadget.
A Tablet By Any Other Name
If you're shopping for an Apple fanatic, the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet probably won't work. Only the iPad can tap into Apple's iconic App Store with countless free or nearly free downloads. If you're committed to the Apple platform, instead of an iPad 2, consider saving some money by trying to find a used iPad. The major differences between the original and current Apple tablets is that the iPad 2 comes with cameras and has a faster processor.
However, you're going to be seeing plenty of Amazon and Barnes & Noble tablets handed over as Christmas and holiday presents next month. They both read e-books, of course, but their multi-touch screens and high resolution will make them great video streaming devices, too.
As long as you have WiFi connectivity, the Nook Tablet comes with pre-installed apps for Hulu Plus and Netflix (NFLX). Music fans can stream Pandora (P). The Kindle Fire dives into Amazon's rich ecosystem, and that includes access to roughly 13,000 streaming video titles at no additional cost to those that pay $79 a year to be part of the Amazon Prime free shipping program.
Androids at Heart
Both the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are based on the open-source Android operating system, but this doesn't mean that they will play nice with third-party downloads. Both companies want to make their devices as proprietary as possible.
However, future software updates can always change that. The beauty of today's gadgets is that they don't become obsolete just because something shinier comes out.
Besides, now that the appealing tablets can be had at price points typically reserved for handheld gaming systems or wireless phones, there are fewer excuses in not treating yourself to one this season.
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any stocks in this article, except for Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.