Books & Review | Cole Garner Hill
Updated: Nov 08, 2012 12:05 PM EST

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In a crowded tablet market, where does the new 7-inch Barnes & Noble Nook HD fit? Many questioned the viability of the bookseller's smaller tablet to succeed against Google's Nexus 7, and Amazon's Kindle Fire, but if early reviews are any indication, the Nook HD may be the best combination of an e-reader and tablet the market has seen yet.

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The Nook HD looks to compete against the best of the big seven-inch tablets on the market today: Apple's iPad Mini, starting at $329, Google's Nexus 7, starting at $199, and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, starting at $199.

Barnes & Noble is already trying to create hype for the device, officially lowering the prices on its original Nook Tablet and Nook Color Nov. 4 The Nook Tablet is dropping to $179 for the 16-gigabyte version and $159 for the eight-gigabyte version, and the Nook Color is dropping down to $139.

Reviews

Most generally loved the tablet, calling its screen quality the best available in the 7-inch market, and touted the device's performance as an e-reader. On the down side, reviewers criticized the device's overall performance as "buggy," and noted the Nook HD's lack of tablet-optimized apps when compared to Apple or Amazon.

Although, the performance issues could be solved sooner rather than later: "Barnes & Noble is promising that a software update is coming this Thursday, and will solve a number of my performance issues with the Nook HD - from the anemic audio to the missing video resume functions, the company promises all will be well on Thursday," according to The Verge.

The Verge

The Verge sees the Nook HD as a tremendous improvement over past versions of the tablet and thinks it's the first offering form Barnes & Noble that truly coalesces the qualities of great e-readers with media consumption devices.

"Not only has the company improved the hardware, it's plugged the holes in its content universe. The tablet connects to the new Nook Video store, and integrates with Ultraviolet so you get digital copies of movies you purchase in Walmart and elsewhere. It also has a new version of the Nook OS, a bunch of new features, and plenty of magazines, books, and catalogs to read."

"Amazon's tablets are increasingly less about reading, and more about watching movies, browsing the web, and generally being like the iPad. The Nook HD, on the other hand, is still a reading device through and through. It's a minimalist, simple device, but it still manages to be unique in a way few other tablets are. Other tablets like, say, the Kindle Fire HD."

"When Barnes & Noble first introduced the Nook HD, company reps spent a long time extolling the virtues of its 7-inch, 1440 x 900 display. All the boasting was merited: this is the best screen I've seen on a 7-inch tablet, and it's not even close. The 243ppi pixel density means you won't see any individual pixels (unless you look REALLY hard), and since it's laminated to the glass it almost feels like things on the screen are popping out at you. What impresses me most, though, is the color reproduction."

"But as good as the screen is, that's how bad the Nook HD's speakers are...A good set of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker is a must-have companion to this device."

"There's a laundry list of smart ideas and cool features baked into the latest version of Barnes & Noble's Nook operating system. It's based on Android 4.0, but it's totally unrecognizable as Android."

"I'd much rather have access to the whole Google Play store than Barnes & Noble's curated ecosystem, but nine times out of ten the app I was looking for was available in the Nook's shop."

"On paper, based on features and specs alone, this is one of the best tablets out there. But the Nook HD just doesn't work well. At all. Almost every time you touch anything, the response is riddled with lags, stutters, and crashes. Apps take a few seconds to load, each and every time. Whether you're scrolling in the browser or just in your library, it's stuttery and lags behind your finger."

"Fortunately, there are a few things that do feel optimized and polished. Turning a page in a book is fluid and smooth, and the reading experience is actually pretty great."

"For right now it's not on the same level as the other good 7-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7. I want all of the features the Nook HD offers, but I'd rather just have a tablet that works."

USA Today

USA Today similarly touted the device's capabilities as an e-reader, and lauded its screen quality as easily better than Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, and Google's Nexus 7.

"Boasts a superb display compared with its main smaller-screen competition."

"I enjoyed watching video on it and reading magazines, books and catalogs from leading retailers. Nice feature: You can virtually 'tear out' or clip pages from a magazine or catalog and add them to a scrapbook app."

Compared to the Kindle Fire HD, "The device weighs slightly more than 11 ounces, making it almost 3 ounces lighter than the Kindle Fire HD. There are no ads, as on the Kindle. Nook HD comes with a power adapter, which Amazon leaves out. At the entry $199 price, Kindle Fire HD gives you 16GB of storage compared with 8GB on the Nook HD. But the latter includes microSD expansion that the Kindle does not have."

"It does not have an offering to rival Amazon Prime, however, or anything close to the iTunes experience of Apple. There's no feature such as the appealing X-Ray for movies feature that Amazon has on Kindle Fire HD for revealing details on the fly about actors in a given scene...Apps are another area in which Barnes & Noble has to play from behind."

"The software interface on Nook HD is simple and inviting. Among the family-friendly features is the ability to set up unique profiles for different members of your clan. Barnes & Noble boasts a compelling lineup of children's content, with 35,000 chapter books and approximately 4,000 interactive kids picture books. A read-and-record feature lets parents or grandparents record themselves reading to Junior."

BusinessInsider

BusinessInsider thought the device was an exquisite e-reader with a screen unparalleled in the 7-inch tablet market, and loved its custom-built version of the Android operating system.

"The Nook HD steps up to the plate in a way I haven't seen from its earlier tablets. [The display is] 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."

"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."

"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."

Overall though, "If you're a reader first, absolutely [buy it]. 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. 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."

Barnes & Noble Nook HD specs

Network

Wi-Fi

OS

Custom software over Android 4.0

CPU

1.3-GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor

Screen

7-inch 1440×900 (243ppi) IPS LCD

RAM

1GB

Storage

8GB or 16GB + up to 64GB microSD

Camera

None

Battery

4,050 mAh

Price

$199/8GB or $229/16GB

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