Nook Tablet Review 2012

Nook Tablet is together with Kindle Fire one of the most eagerly awaited gadgets of the year. Barnes & Noble’s previous tablet, the Nook Color held an important record – the best selling tablet after Apple’s iPad and that is a not an easy feat considering how crowded the tablet market has become. It is obvious though that pricing correctly sells, and the original Nook Color was priced correctly, the HP Touchpad has been priced correctly ( :D ) during its fire sale and the current Nook Tablet is also priced correctly at $249. However, it is $50 more than Kindle Fire. Is it worth the extra money? How does it stand against its main competitor from Amazon? These are only some questions we’ll try to answer in this Nook Tablet Review.

Nook Tablet Unpacking

If you would look side by side at both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, you would be undoubtedly  attracted by the B&N product. Its box is much more attractive than the bland Kindle Fire packaging. Good thing Amazon’s tablet sells mostly online at this point, otherwise the box itself would almost be the defining factor in a purchase decision.

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In the box you’ll find a quick start guide, the USB cable and the charger. Nothing really to add at this point, the charger is similar with the one for Nook Color apart from a changed revision number.

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Nook Tablet Design and Functionality

Design wise, Barnes and Noble kept what was already working quite well. The Nook Tablet is almost identical to Nook Color, the only obvious difference being a lighter colored  case. I should mention that I really like B&N designs, and side by side, it feels so much more stylish than the Kindle Fire’s bricky and obnoxious design. Everybody’s taste is different but in my opinion you can simplify a device only up to a point, after that it will break the user experience.

Overall Dimensions Thickness Weight
Nook Tablet 8.1  x 5.0 0.48 0.88
Nook Color 8.1  x 5.0 0.48 0.99
Kindle Fire 7.5 x 4.7 0.45 0.91

Speaking about button layout, the micro USB port can be found on the bottom side, the Volume +/- on the right side near the top while the standby/power button is placed symmetrically  on the left side, near the top as well. The Home button is on the bottom, similar to most other tablets on the market. Nook Tablet also includes an accelerometer so you can hold it any way you like and the screen will rotate accordingly.

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Nook Tablet Technical Specifications

Screen:

  • 7-inch VividView™ Color Touchscreen
  • 16 million+ colors, IPS2 display
  • High resolution display—1024 X 600, 169 pixels per inch (PPI)
  • Fully laminated with no air gaps for remarkable clarity and reduced reflection & glare-read indoors or outside
Nook Tablet File types and codecs supported:
  • Load EPUB (including Adobe DRM or DRM free) or PDF file types from your computer or microSD card
  • Other documents: XLS, DOC, PPT, TXT, DOCM, XLSM, PPTM, PPSX, PPSM, DOCX, XLX, PPTX
  • Watch videos in MP4, or Adobe Flash Player format, 3GP, 3G2 MKV, WEBM (Video Codecs: H.264, MPEG-4, H.263, VP8)
  • Supports Netflix video up to 720p and sideloaded video up to 1080p; renders at 1024 x 600
  • Load photos and create personal wallpaper: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Play audio on built-in mono speaker: MP3, MP4, AAC, AMR, WAV, OGG (Audio Codecs MP3, AAC, AMR, LPCM, OGG Vorbis)

Processor: 1 GHz dual-core OMAP 4
Storage: 16 GB internal, Free Cloud Storage for Books and Magazines. MicroSDHC slot provided for an additional 32GB of storage.
Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n
RAM: 1 Gigabyte
Height: 8.1 inches
Width: 5.0 inches
Depth: 0.48 inches
Weight: 14.1 ounces

Battery: 11.5 hours reading or 9 hours video

Hardware

Hardware wise, Nook tablet is an evolution over its older sibling and offers 16GB of storage compared to 8GB for both Nook Color and Kindle Fire. The RAM was also updated to 1GB versus 512MB available to both Nook Color and Kindle Fire while the CPU was upgraded to a 1GHz dual core. The overall dimensions are 8.1″ x 5.0″ x 0.48″, larger than Kindle Fire but a bit thinner. Nook Tablet is also lighter than Fire at only 14.1 Ounces.

The button layout is identical with Nook Color and 10 steps over Kindle Fire. While I understand Amazon’s intentions to create a minimal and simple to use device, the lack of a dedicated home physical button offers a sub-par experience, especially since you’ll have to use some screen real estate for the software buttons. In Hulu Plus app for example, I was able to see more visual details in the Nook version over the Kindle Fire version since some part of the screen was used for software buttons.

A small difference between Nook Tablet and other similar devices – the MicroUSB cable used to rapidly charge the devices is a bit longer than the regular standard and includes extra circuits for additional power.

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Software

Nowadays, what really makes or breaks a platform is the software interface and eco-system. While simple and fast, the user interface found on the Nook Tablet doesn’t break any design barriers and depending on your perspective this can be a good or a bad thing. A good thing since an over stylized UI might annoy certain users and a bad thing because you’ll never have that WOW factor while using the device.

On the top, you will have the context bar displaying the current category’s most used options followed by the category bar. While the Nook Color was primarily  design to consume written content, Nook Tablet is heavily advertised as an audio/video / gaming hub so beside Books, Magazines and Newspapers, the Apps category is also prominently displayed.

The navigation between various categories / options is very fast with no discernible lag and a bit faster than its main competitor, Kindle Fire in my experience.

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Magazines

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Newspapers

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Books

B&N eBook store is large enough to satisfy even the most voracious reader with a size comparable with Amazon’s own store. The B&N reader apps is extremely easy to use and better than Amazon’s own Kindle. Beside the basic features than we learned to expect like brightness and font control, animated page turns and social sharing, you’ll also get synchronization between various Nook readers and the ability to look-up words in the built-in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Among supported formats, you can find ePUB and PDF, XLS, DOC, PPT, TXT, DOCM, XLSM, PPTM, PPSX, PPSM, DOCX, XLX, PPTX, etc.

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Music

Beside the basic embedded music player that plays music from the internal memory or the user installed microSD card, Pandora is available for free from the Marketplace. If you want more, you’ll have to install either Amazon App Store or Android Market place. Scroll down for instructions.

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Video

Unlike Nook Color, B&N heavily advertised Nook Tablet as a multimedia consumption device. I was happy to see that my two most used video apps (Netflix and Hulu Plus) are present (I am a cable cutter for over a year). The UI for both of them is similar but, interestingly enough, you’ll get more details since Nook Tablet’s physical buttons don’t take any screen real estate.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus UI is exactly the one found in Kindle Fire and many other Android devices so nothing new here. I am just glad it is present.

Netflix

Netflix is probably beside the e-mail, the most intense used app on any device I own and in my opinion what really sets apart Nook Tablet from Nook Color, Kindle Fire and many other devices I tested. The reason? Nook Tablet has access to a high definition Netflix stream and the difference is like night and day compared to Kindle Fire. The playback quality on Nook Tablet is significantly sharper and if I would have to chose between the two tablets, this feature alone would make me choose Nook Tablet. Caption is available as well.

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Apps and B&N Market

No doubt to get a bigger piece of the pie, B&N decided (since Nook Color) to create their own app market. Most big names can be found in there including Angry Birds, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, etc but let’s be honest, the number of apps available in B&N market is nowhere near the Amazon App Store and Amazon’s daily free app helped me build quite a collection. Fortunately there are ways to install both Amazon App Store and Google’s official Android market on your Nook Tablet, that will be described later in the article.

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Browser

Amazon generated a lot of noise with their new Silk Browser, that unloaded some of the heavy work in rendering web pages on Amazon’s own Cloud servers. As a result, I expected Kindle Fire to be head and shoulders above Nook Tablet in terms of browsing performance. Boy, I was wrong. The situation is exactly the opposite with Nook Tablet browser destroying Kindle Fire in loading content rich websites like CNN for example. Not sure exactly what happens under the hood, but I could have an educated guess – Nook Tablet’s 1GB of RAM versus the 512MB for Kindle Fire is more important than thought initially.

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Nook Tablet Battery Performance

Nook Tablet’s battery performance is truly stellar and in my tests, better than Kindle Fire by a large margin. I was able to squeeze around 5 and a half hours of heavy usage from Kindle Fire while Nook Tablet lasted roughly one hour longer. In standby, both tablets lasted for many days as well.

Nook Tablet Benchmark Tests

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Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire

If you have to chose between the two devices, Nook tablet is in my opinion the one to get. It is faster, lighter, has double the storage memory and double the RAM, significantly better Netflix streaming capability and hardware buttons. The overall responsiveness and web rendering speed is also better with B&N’s tablet. While Amazon Market place still has many more applications, you can side load the Amazon App Store in an easy way and get the best of both worlds. Even taking an ordinary screenshot is easy on the Nook Tablet versus hilariously complicated on Kindle Fire (as easy as clicking N (Home) and Volume Down)

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Enhancing Nook Tablet

Rooting

Rooting is a must have process if you want to make the most out of the Kindle tablet. It will enable the official  Android Market installation and full access to the system hardware. I wrote a detailed tutorial for doing so which can be found here.

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Installing Amazon Appstore

You don’t need to root your new Nook Tablet to take advantage of Amazon’s largest collection of apps available. You can side load the Amazon App Store fairly easy by following Step 1 of our tutorial in how to root / side load apps on Nook tablet.

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Installing Android Market

No Android tablet can be considered complete without full access to Google’s official Android Marketplace. For an easy tutorial, check out our article in How to root Nook tablet and install the Android Market. The entire process is very easy to follow.

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Conclusion

With the release of Nook tablet, B&N has an important competitor in today’s crowded market of cheap Android tablets. Its predecessor, Nook Color was the second most sold tablet after iPad and, although Amazon poured significantly more money in promoting their product, I like Nook Tablet so much more than Kindle Fire and I played more than a month with both of them. Nook tablet is faster, lighter and offers a better battery life than its competition, has more storage memory and RAM and in my tests, better GPU which enables better gaming. The addition of a microSDHC memory expansion slot and physical buttons only complete what I believe to be the best tablet for the money on the market right now.

Pros

  • fast
  • excellent battery life
  • physical buttons and memory expansion slot
  • HD Netflix streaming, a first
  • thin and light
  • gorgeous screen

Cons

  • limited number of apps in the B&N Nook Market (can be fixed by installing Amazon App Store or Google Android Market)
  • only 1GB from the 16GB available can be used for side loading apps and user content, the rest of it is dedicated to content purchased from B&N store. This seems that will change soon following consumers protests.

Nook Tablet Photo Gallery

Nook Tablet Screen-shots

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  • http://facebook.com/icecowboy Jim K

    Is this still true: 16GB, but you can only use ONE GB for your own stuff? I was ready to grab one based on the engineering and value equation – but this is like finding their marketing dept is smoking crack.

    What about rooting? Does that do away with the limit? And what about the Nexus 7 – are they sane about this over there??