Review: A look at the new Nook HD+ 9″ tablet
With the iPad, iPad Mini, Nexus 7 & 10, Kindle Fire HD 7 & 8.9, Nook Tablet and dozens of more generic Android tablets in the market place things are getting very crowded with good tablets. On September 26th Barnes & Noble crowded it further by announcing the 7″ Nook HD and 9″ Nook HD+ tablets to their stable of Nook devices. Both tablets feature fully laminated (to reduce glare) screens at very attractive high resolutions. Below is a look at the 9″ Nook HD+ which is facing some stiff competition.
The Nook HD+ hardware is very nice. The 1920 x 1280 pixel resolution screen (256ppi) is pretty spectacular whether reading, surfing or watching video and has been fully laminated to reduce glare and give the best viewing angles. The 1.5 GHz OMAP 4470 dual-core processor provides enough horsepower to get you through most tasks without a hitch. B&N claims battery life of up to 10 hours for reading and 9 hours for video. I haven’t had the device long enough to do extensive testing, but I have gotten over the 10 hours stated for reading with the screen brightness turned down. The HD+ is available with 16GB or 32GB of storage onboard and also has a microSD slot for an additional up to 32GB of storage so space shouldn’t be a problem. It also comes with a power adapter and USB cable that uses a 30 pin proprietary connector (the 30 pin port is capable of HDMI out with a $40-ish adapter coming soon). The HD+ features stereo speakers, but B&N made the decision to group them next to each other under a single speaker grill. I’d much prefer they had one speaker on each end when the device is in portrait mode, the way things are now you can often pinpoint exactly where the sound is coming from (the upper right corner) while watching a movie and I found it at times to be a little distracting. The back of the HD+ is rubberized to make it easy and comfortable to hold on to. If you need cameras on your tablet the Nook is not for you, it has neither rear or front facing cameras.
The Nook HD+ runs B&N’s skinned version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The interface has a paper-like look to it graphically and I have a feeling folks will either love it or hate it. The desktop interface is very minimalist by default showing only a small black bar at the top which says whose Nook it is, a clock, WiFi and battery status indicators and an icon you can tap to access the device settings. Below that is an indicator of what profile is logged in (more on profiles below), the date and a small circle that says ‘your nook today’ which you can “break” by tapping to reveal the current outside temp along with the days high and low as reported by accuweather.com along with book recommendations. The other thing at the top of the screen is a ‘carousel’ of recent content (which can be customized a bit) and five small ‘buttons’ at the bottom of the screen for Library, Apps, Web, Email and Shop and below those a search box and an icon to quickly access your most recently opened items. The rest of the desktop looks like blank paper and can be used to pin shortcuts (to books, apps, magazines, videos, etc.) and there are five desktop screens total so there is plenty of room to organize things just how you want them.
The Library page shows you all of your various content including Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, Apps, Catalogs and Newspapers. It also shows your Shelves which you can set up to organize your content into Genres, Authors or any other way you may wish. This is also where you access your Scrapbooks which are clipping you can make from magazines and catalogs.
The Apps page is a straight forward grid layout of all of your apps and like the rest of the user interface uses a lot of white space.
Email works fine, but is very basic (for example it won’t do labels/tags when using with a gmail account).
The store home page has links to the Nook’s various media types (Books, Magazines, Movies & TV, Kids, Apps, Newspapers, and Catalogs) and also presents you with various categories of recommendations with names like ‘Variety of Vampires’, ‘Exploring Nature’, ‘Game Lover Apps’ and ‘Top Lists’. All of the media types can be drilled down to various categories and genres or you can search the store as well. I found the store to be in need of work. When searching for a TV show to download so I could test out the Nook’s video prowess I’d get a page of results including things from across the store. Trying to narrow the results to just TV shows or Movies left me with no results, but scrolling through the full results showed the show I was looking for was available. Once I did find the show the device wouldn’t actually let me buy the video, but told me to check my payment method (which works for other things in the store) and my WiFi connection (which was working or I wouldn’t have been able to browse the store). Another problem with the shows I checked (True Blood & Game of Thrones) was that the episodes for a given season are mislabeled and not in the correct order. The video selection appeared to be somewhat thin (or perhaps just badly presented) and the feature allowing a user to link the Nook to their Ultraviolet account isn’t actually available but ‘coming soon’. B&N doesn’t sell digital music so you won’t find that in the Nook store at all. The app selection in the store isn’t very good (and you can’t sideload easily like you can with the Fire and other devices) totaling around 7,000 if my math is correct compared to over 50,000 at Amazon, over 600,000 in the Google Play store and over 700,000 in the iTunes store. Granted one doesn’t need thousands of apps on their device, but make sure the Nook store has what you need before jumping into the Nook ecosystem or you may be disappointed.
Reading on the Nook HD+ whether it be books or magazines is a very nice experience and one can tell that this tablet is geared with reading as its primary use. I read a couple of books on the HD+ and have no real complaints. A book page shows the title at the top, then the text of the book and a page xx of xxx counter at the bottom. Tapping the middle of a page pops up your bookmark at the top and at the bottom you get menu options where you can change font size and other settings, access the table of contents and any highlights, notes or bookmarks. It’s also where you access the in book search feature and get a slider where you can quickly move through a book. Page turning can be dome by swiping or tapping and is very smooth. Tapping a word on a book’s page will bring up a menu so you can highlight, add a note, find in book or look up the word in the devices Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition).
Magazines are wonderful on the high-resolution 9″ screen and I found myself enjoying reading them on the HD+. Another type of reading media B&N has added (although the selection is still small) are free Catalogs. You can download and browse catalogs from places like Plow & Hearth, Pottery Barn, L.L. Bean and more. Reading catalogs is much like reading magazines with the added feature of being able to click on the items and shop online. This is a feature that isn’t really for me, but it is interesting. I downloaded a copy of my local Newspaper and found the experience to be lackluster. For the same cost as the print edition you get about half of the paper’s content and I found the content to be lacking in formatting, I can get more info with better formatting by using the web browser to go to the paper’s website.
It would be nice if there were more customization options like third-party reading apps such as Moon+, Coolreader and Mantano offer, but at the same time I was able to comfortably read just fine with the settings that are provided. You get eight font sizes and six fonts to choose from. There are three margin settings, three line spacing settings and six color themes and also a switch to toggle publisher defaults on and off. Another setting that’s available is to have page flip animations if you’d like. Graphically they are kind of neat and you even see text showing through as you ‘flip’ the page. The animations are smooth and don’t appear to slow down page turning at all, but I find I prefer the default which is to have them turned off. The last setting is in beta and is called ‘accessibility’ and is mainly Text to Speech (TTS). When turned on it will tell you what page you’re on when opening a book and it gives you page flip noises when turning a page, but the biggest thing is the TTS which uses the Pico TTS engine. TTS can easily be turned on/off by tapping the page. I’ve never been a fan of TTS for my reading, but think it’s great that B&N is including this feature (it would be great if it extened beyond the reader app). The page flip and TTS settings are accessed from the main menu instead of the reader’s menu, but it’s easy to access that from within the book. With accessibility turned on tapping and holding on the page will bring up a menu and swiping up and down will move you through the menu selections. While that part works for the most part, I found it very laggy. Since this part is still beta software hopefully B&N will keep working on it and it will only get better.
One other nice thing with B&N reading devices is that they support not just B&N’s Adobe DRM scheme, but also ‘regular’ Adobe DRM as used by stores like Kobo, All Romance, Sony, Books on Board and Diesel, so you can sideload books from those sources and they’ll work just fine. This also means that you can use library books from the Overdrive system as well, in fact B&N has now allowed the Overdrive app into their app store so you don’t even have to sideload library books anymore if you don’t wish to. There is also a 3M app in the app store for their library program although I don’t know how wide-spread that program is yet. There are also no problems sideloading your DRM free ePub’s and reading them on the HD+.
Overall I’d give this device an A for reading and would have no problem using it as my primary reading device.
As I mentioned above I tried to purchase an HD video from the Nook store many times in order to give the HD+ a nice video workout, but was unsuccessful. Instead I made do with two video sources, Flixster and Youtube. I downloaded the Flixster app from the Nook app store and logged in and downloaded my Ultraviolet copy of The Hunger Games. Unfortunately Flixster only gives you SD video even if what you own is the HD version, this means that the video on the HD+’s nice high def screen looked pretty bad, although things did play just fine and it wasn’t unwatchable. On Youtube I was able to find a few HD demo videos which showed the HD+’s stellar screen to full advantage. Provided you have the right sources for your video, which B&N is hoping will be them (and a really good internet connection if streaming), the viewing experience on this screen is spectacular although the sound could be a bit better.
The web browser is pretty basic, featuring tabs and bookmarks as well as ‘article view’ which didn’t always work for me, but gives you a more mobile view of the page you’re viewing. The browser worked just fine for any surfing I did while using the device, but you do have the option of adding Dolphin Browser (free) from the app store if you want. Note that there is no Flash with the Nook HD+ in case that’s important to you.
One thing that B&N has added so that the HD+ can be a true family tablet are profiles. Profiles are user accounts that can be setup for adults and kids which help control what is accessible to the individual profile. You can have up to six profiles and for kids profiles B&N will ask their age on setup to help them determine age appropriate content. The next page while setting up a kids account is the parental controls where you can select what the child is allowed to do with the device by deciding if they can shop, web browse, have videos, have apps and more. The system isn’t perfect though since although kids can’t access any adult profiles without a passcode being entered (provided you set one up) a seven-year-old can go from her profile to an eighteen-year-old’s profile (or any other 18 & under child profile) without having to enter anything. Obviously a 17 or 18-year-old is likely to have content you may not want a younger child to have access to. I’m not sure if this is how things were intended or if it’s a bug as the device seems to indicate when setting things up that kids can’t go to other profiles without the passcode. Also the passcode is universal so you can’t have separate codes/passwords for each adult, all adult accounts can access any account on the device. I think that Nook Profiles are a nice idea that will be very useful to many people making it a great family device, but I think a few more options would make them better.
The Nook HD
I don’t have a Nook HD here to review however I was able to spend some time with one when I had to take the HD+ into a local store to exchange (it was purchased online) due to a particle trapped under the screen glass. The software is the same as on the HD+ so the info above can also apply to the HD, the difference being that the HD sports a smaller 7″ 1440 x 900 pixel (243 ppi) screen and a slightly slower processor and goes head to head against the Nexus 7 and Fire 7 HD. The Nook HD is a very nice reading device and much more portable than the larger 9″ HD+. On a side note it was also nice to be able to quickly exchange an item bought online in a local store and not have to ship the defective unit back. The local B&N staff made the entire process quick and painless.
Barnes & Noble has a pair of excellent devices on their hands with the Nook HD and HD+, hardware wise they’re right there in the top-tier. My only hesitation with them is the limited Nook ‘eco system’ combined with the devices’ extremely locked down nature (since you can’t sideload apps like other devices & B&N has so few). If you’re looking for a tablet strictly for reading I don’t think you’ll have any complaints however the lack of music store (you can sideload MP3’s), limited video store and small number of apps available are something to be aware of before making your decision if you’re doing more than reading. If those limitations don’t bother you these devices’ are definitely worth a look. If those limitations are something that concern you I’d look at one of the iPads, a Nexus device or the various Kindle Fire models and see if one of those is a better fit.
The HD+ comes in at an attractive $269 for 16GB or $299 for 32GB while its smaller sister is $199 for 8GB or $229 for 16GB which are very nice prices for the quality of the hardware. They are available (or will be soon) from barnesandnoble.com, in B&N stores, Best Buy and at Target stores throughout the US and are coming soon to the UK.
Weight: 18.2 oz (515g)
Dimensions: 9.46″ x 6.41″ x 0.45″ (240.3mm x 162.8mm x 11.4 mm)
Screen: 1920 x 1280 (256 ppi) fully laminated display
CPU: 1.5 GHz OMAP 4470 Dual-Core processor
Storage: 16 or 32 GB on board, microSD slot for up to 32GB additional storage
Weight: 11.1 oz (315 g)
Dimensions: 7.65″ x 5.00″ x 0.43″ (194.4mm x 127.1 mm x 11 mm)
Screen: 1440 x 900 (243 ppi) fully laminated display
CPU: 1.3 GHz OMAP 4470 Dual-Core processor
Storage: 8 or 16 GB on board, microSD slot for up to 32GB additional storage