Barnes & Noble Nook HD and HD+ review: first look
Amazon’s Kindles have ruled the roost for the past couple of years in the UK ebook reader market. But over the next couple of months, its position looks set to be assailed as never before. One of the new challengers is Barnes & Noble, which announced yesterday it would be launching two Nook HD tablets in the UK in November, to rival Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD models. We’ve had some hands-on time with them.
The most appealing of the new models is the smaller 7in Nook HD. It’s a direct rival to the Kindle Fire HD 7in, and on paper looks a little less appealing. The £159 device has 8GB of storage to the Kindle’s 16GB at the same price, and it lacks the clout of the more established Kindle brand. At launch you’ll be able to buy books, newspapers, magazines and apps on the device, with a new movie service arriving by Christmas, but it’s impossible to gauge the breadth of content fully at this stage.
That’s on paper though. Holding it in our hands we were quietly impressed with Nook HD. Barnes & Noble had Amazon’s devices at the launch event for comparison, and we found the Nook more pleasant to hold. It’s lighter, at 315g to the Fire’s lumpen 394g, and when we picked each one up that difference was obvious. Weight is an important factor in devices designed to be held in one hand for long periods of time and on this front the Barnes & Noble device looks to have a winner on its hands.
Another plus is the design of the case: the Nook HD has gently rounded corners, a soft plastic finish and a scooped out rear panel that means the device also feels more secure and comfortable in the hand than the Kindle Fire.
And we were impressed by the screen, which looked every bit as bright and crisp as the Fire HD. In fact, the 1,440 x 900 resolution is higher than all its rivals at this price – the Fire HD 7in, the Nexus 7 and the forthcoming Kobo Arc. It’s an IPS display so viewing angles are excellent, and the spokesman was keen to point out the top glass layer is laminated to the LCD below, so there’s no air gap between the two. The goal is to reduce glare and improve the reading experience, although that’s something we can’t comment on extensively until we have a review unit in our hands.
From our brief demonstration the Nook HD looks to be a strong challenger, at least from a hardware perspective. From a software and user interface perspective, it’s a little less clear cut at this stage. The spokesman said the software — a completely redesigned Android 4 — hadn’t been finalised yet, and it looked it. Some of the interface animation was ragged, which is a little worrying with so little time to go before the launch. We were shown a movie clip on the device, though, and that played smoothly.
Aside from that, the Nook HD’s front-end did look appealing, with scrollable content displayed coffee-table style on the homescreen and, in another one-up on Amazon’s tablet, with not an advertisement in sight. One feature particularly worthy of note is the ability to set up profiles for different users. This allows you to happily share the tablet around the family, without the risk of your kids picking it up and reading 50 Shades of Grey.
The second of the new Nook tablets is a 9in device with an even more impressive list of specifications. The resolution is a slightly odd 1,920 x 1,280 (giving a pixel density of 256ppi), and quality looks comparable to the smaller Nook HD, with great viewing angles and a crisp, detailed look to text and graphics.
We flicked through a magazine on the Nook HD+ and the big, bright screen, combined with realistic page-turn animations, really gave it a glossy print feel. No-one’s going to be fooled into thinking this is a serious iPad rival, but at nearly half the price and with a screen this good it’s sure to appeal.
Elsewhere, the front-end is very similar to the Nook HD’s, with the same appealing features and (currently) slightly ragged feel.
Physically, though, we were less than bowled over. It’s light again at a mere 515g but felt a little cheaper in the hand, and its squarer profile and broad, rounded bezel look far from attractive. It’s quite chunky at 11.5mm thick and there’s a rather odd-looking hole in one corner. This looks like it’s intended for attaching a neck or wrist strap, but this doesn’t seem entirely appropriate for a device so large.
That aside, both the new tablet-based Nook ebook readers have some appeal to them, not least for their high-quality displays and reasonable prices. Their success, though, is likely to hinge on the range of content. From an apps perspective, it doesn’t look good, with no access to Google Play — Barnes & Noble will supply apps through its own store — and with the UK store yet to open its doors, we’ve no way of telling yet how competitive with Amazon the range of reading material is likely to be.
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