The Nook Tablet is Barnes & Noble's second generation LCD eBook reader and tablet of sorts. I say "of sorts" because it runs a highly customized version of Android OS 2.3 so it doesn't look all that much like Android, and core apps like the Android Market, Gmail and the YouTube app aren't present. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because B&N has done an excellent job making a visually appealing and efficient user interface that makes reading books, magazines and web browsing easy to jump into. Like the first gen Nook Color (Editor's Choice 2010), the Nook Tablet has a 7" IPS display running at 1024 x 600 resolution, a microSD card slot and B&N's large eBookstore and bricks and mortar stores behind it. Like the Kindle, you don't need to hook the Nook up to a PC to get books, magazines and streaming video.
The Nook Tablet looks identical to the Nook Color; the telltale difference is the Tablet's lighter gray bezel. The Nook Color was a captivating looking device with a complex and attractive industrial design that belied its low $249 price tag. We can understand why B&N was tempted to stick with success, but the challenge is convincing customers that this lookalike is seriously better or different. While the software experience is similar (though evolved), there are indeed significant changes in terms of horsepower. Last year's Nook Color won budget-conscious hackers' hearts because they could root it and turn it into a more full-featured Android tablet. But it was a bit underpowered, even by last year's standards, and things like Adobe Flash and video playback weren't stellar. The Nook Tablet has a much faster 1GHz dual core TI OMAP CPU vs the Color's 800MHz single core CPU, and the new model has a gig of RAM, double last year's model. That translates into smooth streaming video playback and usable Flash playback. B&N's own very demanding magazines now work much more smoothly too. That's a good thing since the Nook Tablet has to compete with Amazon's first LCD eReader/tablet, the Kindle Fire.
Like the Nook Color, the Nook Tablet has hardware volume controls (the Kindle Fire lacks these) so you need not interrupt video playback to change the volume using on-screen controls. The "N" button below the display takes you to the "command central features, so you can quickly go to your library, settings, shop, search, home, apps, web and settings. There's a ubiquitous shortcut on the bottom taskbar that takes you to basic settings for brightness, WiFi, mute and settings. The 3.5mm stereo headphone jack is up top and the decently loud speaker fires out the back. The battery is sealed inside and can be replaced by B&N or adventurous owners, though the battery should last 2-3 years before serious degradation sets in. The Nook Tablet has an internal metal frame and a plastic casing, and it weighs ~1.5 ounces less than the Nook Color.
The Nook Tablet has WiFi 802.11b/g/n for web browsing, email, book and magazine shopping/downloads and streaming video. There is no 3G model. Unlike Amazon, B&N seems to have abandoned 3G eReaders, though we can understand for LCD tablet models where you'll want connectivity for much more than book downloads (B&N and Amazon don't want to foot the bill for free 3G surfing and streaming).
Like the Nook Color, the tablet ships with a charger and a special USB cable that you must use for charging. You can use any micro USB cable for data transfers. It has a gig of RAM and 16 gigs of storage, but 15 gigs is set aside for B&N and partner downloadable content. Whether you'll eventually be able to take it to a Barnes & Noble store and have an associate re-partition it for you as they did with the Nook Color remains to be seen.
Deals and Shopping:
Nook Tablet Video Review
We're impressed with the Tablet's sharp and natural looking IPS display. It's a gloss display but B&N has applied a mild (very mild) anti-glare coating that produces less glare than the Kindle Fire, but it's still quite glossy. To the naked eye, the display looks bright, colorful and evenly lit, though you'll notice its refresh rate matches video cameras recording at 30 and 60fps, so you'll see the display pulsing in our video review. The refresh and pulsing isn't viewable to the human eye. If you own a Nook Color, the Nook Tablet's display looks quite similar to the Color.
Supported eBook Formats and the Reading Experience
Like all Nook readers, the Tablet is an ePUB reader that supports standard Adobe Adept DRM used by several online bookstores including the Sony Reader Store, Google Books and Kobobooks.com. That means you can shop around for your books, just as you would with print books. You can side load books using the included USB cable and your PC. The Nook Tablet also supports Barnes & Noble's version of Adobe DRM that uses your email address and credit card number as the keys that unlock books that you purchase. Only B&N uses this kind of Adobe DRM, and that means that books you buy from B&N are readable only on Nook readers and in the Nook application for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
The reader works with PDFs including Adobe DRM PDFs from the public library. The PDF viewer can handle things like pinch zooming, search, bookmarks and landscape mode when using the B&N Reader app. That's a great improvement over the Nook Color when it first came out. The Nook Color used an MS Office viewer for PDFs and it didn't support basic features like bookmarking and search. But that's all changed, and the Nook Tablet is much richer in features than the Kindle Fire's basic PDF viewer that just supports pinch zooming and landscape mode. In fact, the PDF reader handles dictionary/Google/Wiki lookups, highlighting and annotation too, just as it does for ePUB books.
The Nook Tablet is not compatible with Amazon Kindle eBooks: only Amazon Kindle devices and the Kindle app work with Kindle books. Likewise it's not compatible with Apple's iBooks format that is exclusive to iOS products.
The reading experience is very good, with options for line spacing (3 options), margins (3 options), font size (8 sizes) and typeface (Century Schoolbook, Dutch, Georgia, Ascender Sans, Trebuchet MS and Gill Sans). There are several themes too: day, night, gray, sepia, mocha and butter. Fonts are sharp and clear, and the Nook is well suited to extended periods of reading (assuming you don't mind reading on an LCD vs. E Ink).
The Reader app has a table of contents listing and separate listings for notes, bookmarks and highlights. Social features include Facebook and Twitter support and sharing with your Nook-owning friends (the tablet can scan your contacts from your Google account and find Nook owners by email address and send them friend invites). You can search for a word or phrase in a book, and go to a desired page number. Since B&N wants to sell you more books there's a "Discover" option in the Reader menu that will show you suggested related books that are available in the Nook online store.
The Nook ships with Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, and you can press and hold a word in a book to look it up in the dictionary, Google or the Wikipedia (WiFi must be turned on and connected for Google and Wiki lookups).
Multimedia and Apps
The Nook Tablet ships with both the Nexflix and Hulu Plus streaming video apps. Both require accounts with their respective providers, and are popular services that require no introduction. The Tablet does a good job with both apps, and Netflix is particularly impressive; it looks sharper than the Kindle Fire's Netflix app and supports up to 720p resolution (higher resolution than the LCD panel).
The Nook has My Media, which is a re-labeled version of the standard Android Gallery application that's both a photo viewer and video player for locally stored JPEG/GIF/PNG images and MPEG4 video (H.264 format recommended). It can handle MPEG4 video playback up to 1080p, though there's no point in using that resolution since it's much higher than the LCD resolution and there's no HDMI or DLNA for streaming to an HD TV. Look to general purpose Android tablets like the Acer Iconia Tab A100, Samung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and HTC Flyer for HDMI and DLNA.
The tablet has a basic music player (non-DRM MP3, AAC, WAV and OGG) that can play in the background while you're reading or browsing the web. You can use stereo headphones or the built-in speaker for audio playback. The speaker is reasonably loud for a tablet this small, and we found it competitive with other 7" tablets, including the Kindle Fire for audio quality and volume. The Nook Tablet also ships with Pandora for streaming music.
Barnes & Noble pre-loads Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Chess, Crossword, Suduku, Media (Gallery), Nook Friends, Quickoffice Lite (MS Office and PDF viewer) and Email (POP3 and IMAP email). Their app store has slim pickings, and you won't currently find a file manager or the missing Google Android apps there like Maps and YouTube. There are Twitter clients like Seesmic, Pulse for news, and Evernote for cloud notes as well as Angry Birds and Words with Friends. But weather apps are scant as are news apps.
Barnes & Noble claims 11.5 hours of reading or 9 hours of video on a full charge. The Nook Tablet uses the same Lithium Ion battery as the Nook Color, but the new model is supposed to be more power efficient, hence the higher claimed runtimes. In our tests, the Nook Tablet lasted for 8 hours of video playback with screen brightness set to 50%. That's good by 7" tablet standards. If you mostly use it to read books and view web pages, it should last 3 days on a charge with two hours of reading per day.
Compared to the Kindle Fire
Compared to the Fire, the Nook Tablet has stronger specs. It has a gig of RAM vs. the Fire's 512 megs and a microSD card slot while the Kindle Fire has none. Both share the same display size and resolution, but the Nook looks a little sharper, especially when playing videos. Both tablets can play Netflix and Hulu Plus streaming video, and the Nook's Netflix looks a bit sharper and more natural in tone and color. We give the Nook Tablet the edge in responsiveness and a more developed user interface, though Amazon may well evolve their tablet to eventually be more competitive in these respects. The Nook Tablet has a mic while the Kindle Fire does not. B&N included the mic so folks could make do-it-yourself narrations for childrens' books, but it could be handy for VoIP apps for voice chat (there are currently no VoIP apps in the B&N store). Note that the Nook Tablet, like the Fire, lacks cameras for video chat. Front and rear cameras are standard on general purpose Android tablets.
Above: the microSD card slot.
Though the Nook Color won over budget hackers who rooted the device and installed the Android Market and other apps, the Tablet, like the Nook Color, isn't easily modified unless you are willing to root it. B&N's app store is fairly limited, and the walled garden keeps you firmly inside B&N's limited view of the device as an eBook reader, Netflix/Hulu Plus consumption device, web browser and basic music player. In contrast, Amazon's Appstore is larger, with a great deal of overlap with the Android Market. That means you'll have access to a solid selection of games, weather and news apps, MS Office compatible suites and file managers out of the box without hacking or rooting. It's also easier to side-load apps on the Fire: just copy them to the device's storage using the USB cable and your computer. With the Nook, you have to download apps via the web browser and trigger the dialog that allows installation of non-Market apps (there is no standard setting for this as there is on the Kindle Fire and regular Android tablets).
The Nook Tablet has very good PDF features while the Kindle Fire's are rudimentary, further evidence of the Nook platform's maturity compared to the new kid on the block from Amazon.
Nook Kids books are richer than Amazon's offerings for children, though that could change if Amazon puts effort behind interactive children's books.
Compared to Android Tablets
The Nook Tablet is a special purpose device that targets folks who want an easy to use eBook reader and video player. It can handle music playback and you can download apps, though the selection is small compared to the Android Market and Amazon Appstore. Barnes & Noble made it difficult for non-techie types to side-load applications and access them from non-B&N sources. For those of you who are technical, you can root the tablet and do whatever you like with it. But the hardware is lacking features found on 7" general purpose Android tablets: there's no GPS, no Bluetooth, no 3G and no cameras. If these are features that you might want, we suggest you consider the HTC Flyer for only $50 more (it can run Nook, Kindle, Kobo and every other eBook app available on the Android Market too). If your budget is bigger, consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus too. The Acer Iconia Tab A100 is a sharp tablet with plenty of speed and hardware features for $329-$349 (sometimes discounted below this), but its screen has weak viewing angles that aren't as good for serious reading.
7" Tablet Smackdown Comparison Video: Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and the HTC Flyer
Walk into one of many Barnes & Noble stores and you can get assistance from generally well-trained and friendly staff. While you're there, you can play with all the Nook models and read for free over B&N's free WiFi network too. Just pick a book from the B&N online store and you're free to read for an hour per day.
The Nook has a "Lend Me" feature where you can lend a book to a Nook-owning friend for 2 weeks. The fine print? You can only lend each book once, and not all books are eligible for lending (that's up to the publisher).
Nook Kids books continue to impress us with their rich illustrations, read to me feature and now the ability to record your own book narrative on the Nook Tablet.
The Nook Tablet is a solid evolution of the very successful Nook Color. It's faster, and that's perfect if you want to watch video or run more apps concurrently. The software is mature and more advanced than the new Kindle Fire--it's simply a pleasure to use if your primary forms of pleasure are reading books and magazines, perusing PDFs, checking basic POP3/IMAP email and browsing the web (complete with Adobe Flash). If you prefer ePUB eBooks, the comfort of local stores for support or have already invested into Barnes & Noble eBooks on a prior Nook, the Nook Tablet makes more sense than the Fire. Obviously, if you're into Amazon's services (books, Amazon Prime video, MP3 store and Appstore), the Kindle Fire makes more sense. The Fire also makes more sense if you want a large app selection and the ability to side-load apps without rooting.
Last year's Nook Color was a hit with budget tablet shoppers because the only alternatives were the $500 Samsung Galaxy Tab (original 7" model) and the iPad. Things have changed a lot in a year, and if you're looking for a more general purpose tablet, we strongly suggest you consider some of the more affordable 7" models like the Acer A100 and HTC Flyer. They have GPS, cameras, Bluetooth and don't require hacking and rooting to access all the apps on the Android Market.