Nook Tablet playing a movie

Taking a page from Apple’s “if ain’t broke don’t fix” iPhone 4S product design school, Barnes & Noble this morning introduced its new Nook Tablet, which is nearly identical to the original Nook Color, and priced at the same $249.

When can get the new Nook Tablet? While you can pre-order it now, B&N representatives would only say the Tablet will be available “on or about November 17,” just two days after the Amazon Kindle Fire goes on sale – for $50 less.

Barnes & Noble also has dropped the price of its original Nook to an insulting $199 (Fire is twice the tablet as this now clunky Color), and will allow current owners to upgrade the Nook OS on all its e-readers, e-ink and LCD, to v1.4, in the coming weeks.

The Nook Simple Touch, whose price also gets cut from $139 to $99 (with no ads), the same price as the new Kindle Touch (with ads), which goes on sale November 21.

What comes in Nook Tablet

Nook Tablet - home screen

Hoping to justify the price premium, B&N has added Netflix and Hulu+ along with streaming music services Pandora, Rhapsody, Grooveshark and MOG.

Spec-wise, the new Nook offers slightly more than the Fire. Both offer a 1024 x 600 pixel IPS 7-inch color LCD touchscreen, but the new Nook Tablet offers a 1 GHz dual-core CPU (Amazon has not cited its processor speed but its likely of Nook Taqbelt’s class), 1 GB of RAM (twice as much as Fire’s 512 MB), 16 GB of storage (twice as much as Fire’s 8 GB) and includes a microSD expansion slot (Fire has no microSD card slot).

Nook Tablet also now has a 11.5 hour reading life; this is a 3.5-hour improvement over both Book Color and Fire.

Judging a Nook by its cover

Externally, Nook Tablet differs from Color only by its slightly grayer charcoal coloring, but without them being side-by-side, it’ll be hard to tell the difference. Otherwise, the two devices are identical from the outside.

Physically, the Tablet is slightly thicker than Fire (.45 vs. Tablet’s .47 of an inch depth), but B&N has carved off 1.7 ounces from the Color, making the Tablet actually lighter than Fire (Tablet 14.1 vs. Fire at 14.6 ounces).

Nook Tablet does feel lighter and reacts much faster than the Color. Page turns are decidedly faster, but anything would have been an improvement. Scrolling also is smoother, although still not approaching iPad.

To aid navigation, B&N has added a new “shortcuts” bar at the bottom of its home screen, similar to the shortcuts arraigned along the top of the Fire’s screen, to quickly access books, newsstand, movies, music and apps.

Like Fire, Nook Tablet does not offer any quick link to an email app, which makes the “Tablet” appelation a bit pretentious.

What do you get for $50 more?

It’s hard to discern the value proposition in the Nook Color when compared to the Kindle Fire.

Nook Tablet’s app store continues to be limited; spokespeople noted there are “thousands” of compatible Nook apps, but that could mean anywhere from 2,000 to 99,000. (The extent of Fire’s Android app compatibility also is still an open question.)

Netflix and Hulu + are nice, but Amazon’s video store includes 13,000 titles from every major studio and TV network.

And while Nook Tablet does include a Web browser, it lacks Fire’s revolutionary Silk browser.

So will mainstream e-book buyers care about more video content and consider these hard-to-see spec improvements in a less attractive and slightly bulkier case enough to shell out an extra $50?

That may be a rhetorical question.

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