Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet review [Video]
If you're looking for a low-priced tablet this year, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet is one you'll want to consider.
At $249, the Nook Tablet is a bit more expensive than the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nook Color and the Kobo Vox, each of which are selling at about $200. But, the Nook Tablet is a better piece of hardware than its $200 rivals and the extra dough wouldn't be spent in vain.
On the outside, the Nook Tablet looks identical to the Nook Color, except that the Tablet comes in a lighter color than the Color's dark charcoal gray.
The 7-inch screen, with a 1024-by-600 resolution, on the Nook Tablet is also the exact same display as the touchscreen used in the Nook Color. And the Nook Tablet is also slightly lighter than the Nook Color, weighing in at 14.1 ounces instead of 15.8, though most may not even notice.
Where the difference between the Nook Tablet and its rivals can be found is on the inside and in using the device day to day. The Nook Tablet features a 1-gigahertz processor (same as the Kindle Fire), 1 gigabyte of RAM (as opposed to the Color and Fire's 512 megabytes of RAM) and 16 gigabytes of built-in storage (the Color and the Fire each have 8 gigabytes built in).
In use -- reading books, streaming movies, launching apps, sending and receiving email -- nearly everything I did on the Nook Tablet was quicker than when I did the same things on the $200 tablets. Simple functions such as rotating the screen from portrait to landscape orientation in an app was faster and turning pages in e-books felt less laggy too.
Both the Barnes & Noble and Amazon devices run highly modified versions of Google's Android Honeycomb operating system and as such, both run Android apps. Barnes & Noble's Nook Store for apps offers fewer apps than the Kindle Fire's Amazon Appstore for Android, but I had a much harder time finding apps that felt like stretched out smartphone apps on the Nook -- that's a plus in my opinion. I'd rather have a smaller selection of apps that work well than a larger selection of apps that may or may not work as the developer intended them to.
There's also something to be said for the Nook Tablet and Nook Color's style. The two share the same external design, but both look noticeably different than what else is out there in lower and higher price points. The plastics used on the Barnes & Noble devices have a slight softness to them that make the device comfortable to hold for long periods of time when reading or watching a movie. The display is one of the nicest I've seen in 7-inch devices. Books, apps, video, websites all looked great on the Nook Tablet (just as they did on the Nook Color) and didn't kick back as much glare as I found on the Kindle Fire.
The one weak point I can point to on the hardware of the Nook Tablet is that the 16 gigabytes of built-in storage reserves 15 gigabytes of that space for content purchased from Barnes & Noble and downloaded to the device. Only 1 gigabyte is made available for content you buy from outside of the bookstore chain and that just isn't enough.
The Nook Color takes the same approach, setting aside 7 gigabytes of the 8 gigabytes included for items purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Unlike the Kindle Fire, the Nooks include a microSD card slot, so you can expand storage if you'd like. But the problem here is that Barnes & Noble has no online storefront for music, movies or TV shows as Amazon does.
The Nook Tablet and Nook Color rely on streaming video and music from apps such as Hulu, Netflix, Pandora and Mog. But streaming requires Wi-Fi. If you want to watch video or listen to music on either Barnes & Noble slate, that 1 gigabyte will go by fast and a microSD card is a purchase you'll surely want to make.
So where does that leave us in the Amazon versus Barnes & Noble tablet battle? In my opinion, there is no clear winner here.
The Nook Tablet has better hardware than the Kindle Fire, but Amazon's online storefronts of music and movies offer something Barnes & Noble has no real answer for at this time. For that reason, I prefer the Fire for music and movies, but the Nook Tablet for apps and book reading -- but who wants to lug two tablets (at a combined cost of about $450) around?
If I could take the Nook Tablet's hardware and add the Fire's online content offerings, then I'd be happy. But that isn't possible. For now, none of these lower-priced tablets are leaving me completely fulfilled.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photos: The Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times