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As with the Fire, the Nook Tablet is also shipping early

Not to be outdone by Amazon’s early shipping of its new Kindle Fire tablet, Barnes & Noble has also decided to begin shipping its Nook Tablet a couple of days prior to its originally scheduled release date of November 18.

According to a Cnet report, a Barnes & Noble spokesperson said that anyone who preordered the device will be able to pick it up from stores on Wednesday, with general sales of the new tablet beginning on Thursday. Those who ordered it online should also being receiving it on Wednesday.

But hang on a minute – Engadget has got wind of one customer picking up the tablet even earlier, on Tuesday.

Whatever the case, from Wednesday the much-anticipated battle between Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet will be well and truly underway.

The Kindle Fire, which began shipping at the start of this week, has so far received mixed reviews. Many reviewers criticized the Fire after comparing it with the iPad, which seems unfair considering the $300 price difference. The Fire is aimed at budget-minded consumers, as is the new Nook Tablet. The iPad isn’t.

It’s the Nook Tablet with which the Fire should be compared. Both feature 7-inch touchscreens, while the Nook Tablet has double the amount of internal memory (16GB), double the RAM (1GB), and an SD card slot. Otherwise the two devices are very similar – both run a version of Android, both have the same screen resolution and neither have a camera or 3G capability.

For most consumers, the deciding factors will be things such as price, each device’s ecosystem and the quality of the user experience. And now that consumers can finally begin to actually hold, feel, swipe and touch both devices, it should soon become clear which of the two is going to be the bigger hit this holiday season and beyond.