American book-selling giant Barnes and Noble has unveiled two new Android tablets as part of its Nook range, aimed at the lower end of the market to take on Amazon’s and Google’s offerings.
The Nook HD is the smaller of the two, sporting a 7-inch display, while it’s bigger brother, the Nook HD+, packs a bumper 9-inch option.
The Nook HD and Nook HD+ release date has been set simultaneously in the US and the UK for November, with pre-orders opening up in early October.
Barnes and Noble have priced the Nook HD keenly, with the 8GB version arriving at £159 ($199), and the 16GB going for £189 ($229) – plus you get the choice of two colours, Snow or Smoke (white and grey in the real world).
Now consider the Google Nexus 7 is priced at £159/£199 ($199/$249) for the 8GB and 16GB versions and the 16GB Kindle Fire HD is £159 ($199), the Nook HD is well positioned in the entry-level tablet market.
The Nook HD offers up a stunning 7-inch HD display – packing a 1440 x 900 resolution, at 243ppi, which blows the 1280 x 800, 216ppi Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD out of the water.
It’s worth noting the Nook HD boasts the highest resolution on any 7-inch tablet, and tipping the scales at 315g, it’s also the lightest 7-inch HD slate – the Nexus 7 weighs 340g, while the Kindle Fire HD is a rather porky 395g.
TechRadar was able to see a video comparison of the Nook HD against the Nexus 7, and there was a marked improvement on the Barnes and Noble tab, with the image brighter, colours more vivid and the whole movie looked sharper.
Under the hood the Nook HD runs a 1.3GHz dual-core processor, which isn’t quite the quad-core offering found in the Nexus 7, but coupled with 1GB of RAM there’s no problem running the heavily modified version of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Barnes and Noble will look to upgrade the new Nook tablets with the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update at the beginning of next year, ensuring the devices stay competitive in the market.
There’s no camera on board, so capturing moments or having a video chat on Skype is out of the question here, but there is a microSD slot and a 4,050mAh battery, which should keep you going for a while.
You’ll also find Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth in the Nook HD, allowing you to get online and hook up to Bluetooth-enabled accessories, however Barnes and Noble currently do not have any plans to launch a 3G version of the tablet.
The Nook HD doesn’t follow the conventional design for 7-inch tablets, steering clear of the flat, black finish we’ve seen on the BlackBerry PlayBook, Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.
The main talking point for this entry level tablet is the bezel – who doesn’t love a good bezel? – and more specifically the raised, rounded nature of it.
As soon as we got the Nook HD in our hands we attempted to peel the bezel off, mistaking it for a cover, as its raised nature means it doesn’t flow particularly well with the dark, square screen it encompasses.
It’s not that we don’t want a bezel at all; we understand that 7-inch tablets are designed to be held one handed, as well as with both, so you need somewhere to rest your thumb so it doesn’t obscure the display – we’re just not fans of the design Barnes and Noble have plumped for.
That said, with the Nook HD measuring 194.4 x 127.1 x 11 mm it sits comfortably in one hand, and we were able to wrap our fingers round the entire width of the tablet for a secure hold.
The soft-touch plastic back of the Nook HD provides additional grip and a pleasing feel in the hand, plus the lightweight body means it doesn’t strain the wrist.
While we held the Nook HD for a couple of minutes, we were unable to really test out the heavily modified Android Ice Cream Sandwich interface.
Barnes and Noble has gone down the same route as Amazon on its Kindle Fire ranges, by totally rebuilding the Android platform to provide a more locked down, but ultimately more intuitive UI, perfect for those who are less tech-savvy or new to the whole tablet game.
You sacrifice the Google Play for Barnes and Noble’s own app store, which is a pared down version of the official Android offering, and there are fewer options to tweak and tinker with.
Gone are the homescreens and widgets and in is a new welcome screen showing up your favourite and recently read/used content in a carousel at the top of the screen – not too dissimilar to the one found in the old Android Market, and then menu options below.
We spent precious little time actually handling the Nook HD, but from what we’ve seen so far this is definitely a tablet to keep an eye on, and one which will give the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD a run for their money.
It remains to be seen if Barnes and Noble’s Nook Store can offer up the same wealth of books, comics, apps and videos as found on the likes of Amazon and Google Play, plus the customer will ultimately decide if the design is winner, but it’s so far so good for this new 7-inch contender.