The 7-inch tablet space is getting a little crowded, but that hasn't stopped Barnes & Noble from introducing its new Nook HD tablet.
Though the company is far from dominating the tablet market (and I've been unimpressed with its devices to date), the Nook HD steps up to the plate in a way I haven't seen from its earlier tablets.
It's beautiful. With a resolution of 1440 x 900, it stands head and shoulders above competing tablets and the individual pixels are pretty much impossible to pick out. I use my iPad 2 every day, and the Nook's superior screen quality is jarring. And yes, the screen resolution is noticeably better than Apple's iPad Mini.
Videos look great, pictures pop in comic books and magazines, and the text looks like ink instead of pixels. And displaying beautiful text matters a lot for an e-reader.
Hardware And Design
The physical object itself strikes me as unremarkable, but that's to an e-reader's advantage. I don't want to be aware of the object I'm holding, I'd rather be engrossed in the movie I'm watching or book I'm reading. There are minimal buttons on the device, just a power button and volume button on opposite sites, and a Nook logo-shaped home button on the bottom.
It feels good in your hands and holding it for extended reading periods in bed or on the couch is completely comfortable.
Barnes & Noble took the same approach that Amazon did with its Kindle Fire tablet, baking up its own custom build of Android. It came together really well–the interface is easy to navigate, visually appealing, and intuitive to use.
There's a multi-user option if a family wants to share the Nook HD. Each user can maintain his or her own settings and data, so the experience is unique and tailored to each person.
The "Your Nook Today" feature is pretty handy for people always on the hunt for cool new stuff to read. It's a recommendation engine that suggests new books based on what you've already read or what you're interested in. These are obviously readily available for purchase from Barnes & Noble.
You also have access to a perfectly straightforward web browser and email client to keep you connected when you're on Wi-Fi.
And what would a solid tablet be without third-party apps? The Nook HD has plenty to offer, but the volume is nowhere near that of the iTunes App Store or Google Play. Because the device is running a special homegrown version of Android, developers have to submit their apps separately to Barnes & Noble. This hasn't stopped the big brand-name developers from bringing their more notable apps and utilities to the tablet, such as Angry Birds Space, Hulu, or Evernote.
As for the operating system itself, the device operated just fine for me for several days, then crashed three times as I was writing this review. Take note that Barnes & Noble will push an over-the-air update to its devices soon that will hopefully fix this, but for now, the software is a little buggy.
I have two major bones to pick with the Nook HD.
For a device that so badly wants to be your central media consumption hub, the lack of an integrated music player is extremely surprising.
And a proprietary dock connector/charger? I'm getting increasingly tired of these every day.
Should you buy it?
If you're a reader first, absolutely. The Nook HD is one of very few devices that seems legitimately designed first and foremost to have the best reading experience possible. The ability to watch movies and run apps are a bonus here, not the other way around.
It costs $199 for the 8 GB model and $229 for the 16 GB model and you can buy directly from Barnes & Noble.
If you're a tablet generalist who's in love with apps and web browsing with only an occasional reading habit, this isn't your device. Get a more versatile tablet and we'll all go home happier.
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