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B&N Nook Tablet Review

As Apple continues its domination of the tablet computing market, competing technology and media companies have realized that in the current economy, the best way to go after a niche in the tablet market is to go affordable, not flashy.  With that in mind, Barnes and Noble presents the Nook tablet, a hybrid device that takes their popular Nook Color and makes it even more tablet-ey (tablettier?).  This announcement comes soon on the heels of Amazon’s unveiling of their Kindle Fire, which was announced at a release price of $199 and touts the same kind of e-reader-meets-tablet design that the Nook tablet appears to have itself.  The Nook tablet’s expanded features and higher-performing hardware make it stand up well in comparison to the Kindle Fire, which is sure to be its closest competitor in the value-tablet arena, and the device is flashy enough and powerful enough to offer a viable option to tablet-desiring shoppers not willing to pony up the five hundred bucks necessary for a low-end iPad.  Let’s take a closer look at some of what we know about the Nook tablet, and what things to consider when you compare the Nook tablet to some of the other options available (or soon-to-be-available) in the tablet computing world.

What We Like

  • The price: $249 for new models, half the price of a low-end iPad
  • Double the RAM of the comparable Kindle Fire: 1GB vs. 500MB
  • 16GB of storage space, with support for up to 48GB
  • Faster graphics-processing than the Kindle Fire

What We Don’t Like

  • Wi-Fi connectivity only; No 3G/4G support
  • No GPS
  • No cameras or speakers

Hardware
The Nook tablet adopts the prevailing trend of new Android-powered tablets and comes equipped with a 7-inch, 1024x600 resolution display- making it comparable to most tablets, but slightly less clear and polished as some of the new 1280x800 screen-touting rivals (like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and the Toshiba Thrive).  The Nook is powered by an impressive 1GHz dual-core processor from Texas Instruments, coupled with 1GB of RAM (double the 500MB of the Kindle Fire) allows for easy and quick navigation between apps and content, which comes in handy for usage-heavy apps and mobile sites like Netflix and Pandora.  The Nook also comes equipped with 16GB of built-in storage space for media and content storage, again double the size of the Kindle Fire and given the Nook’s focus as a media content device, a significant advantage for users to keep more content on board without facing the memory management difficulties that Kindle Fire users will face more frequently.  If those 16GB aren’t enough for your needs, the Nook tablet also features a microSD port that supports up to a 32GB microSD card, allowing the Nook to be expanded to 48GB of total storage space, which places it on an even playing field with the lower-end iPads (all dwarfing the Kindle Fire’s 8GB).

As far as battery life, the Nook tablet is touted at 8 hours of constant video playback, essentially the same as the Kindle Fire and still dwarfed by the iPad and iPad 2, which have set the market standard at 10+ hours of constant video playback.  Also noteworthy on the Nook tablet in terms of hardware (well, in terms of missing hardware) is the lack of front- and rear-facing cameras (pretty much standard on most tablets but also notably absent from the Kindle Fire), as well as built-in stereo speakers (although in most tablets these leave much to be desired).  As such, while the Nook tablet supports web browsing and email capabilities that give it built-in advantages over dedicated e-reading devices, voice chat and video/photo capture and storage capabilities are all understandably absent from the Nook tablet.

Software
The Nook tablet (like the Kindle Fire) is powered by a heavily-modified version of the Android Gingerbread OS, which while retaining the basic design of the OS looks very little like the standard Android interface you would be used to.  The Nook does offer Flash support (which will soon become irrelevant given the recent switch to HTML5 as standard), which as was mentioned before allows for integration of both YouTube and Netflix into your tablet experience (in fact, both Netflix and Pandora come pre-loaded on the tablet).  Naturally, one of the other advantages to the Nook touted by Barnes and Noble is the enormous amount of e-books, periodicals, and magazines available through the Barnes and Noble online storefront, as well as the ability to “lend” or “rent” books from other Nook users through the Nook tablet’s social media-like lending interface (which was first introduced on the Nook Color).

For customization options, Barnes and Noble integrated its own in-house app and media content store into the Nook’s interface, which while convenient does not offer nearly the breadth and selection of apps and functionalities that are available through either the Apple App Store or the Android store.  One piece of good news is through the microSD support, media and content files can be uploaded or removed from the Nook tablet, giving it more freedom of use than the iPad, which features no USB or microSD support.  Another notable missing feature besides the lack of video chat, however, is the absence of stereo speakers, which while not really a central feature on most tablets, does add the requirement of headphones or external speakers for viewing videos and movies.  Also absent is Bluetooth support, and the subsequent ability to tether the device to any other mobile devices.

Summary
The Nook tablet, like the earlier Nook Color, is another formidable entry by bookseller-turned-tech marvel Barnes and Noble into the emerging tablet market, and by releasing a device with admirable power and storage for an affordable (in the tablet market anyway) tablet computer, the company has turned heads again.  With the slew of advantages it presents over the Kindle Fire for just $50 more for a new model, as well as the drastic savings it offers in comparison to a new low-end iPad, the Nook tablet is worth serious consideration by any prospective tablet-buyer looking for the most bang for their buck.  As always, we will keep you updated as we learn more about the device and continue testing it ourselves, so make sure to check out our comparison pages and see how the Nook tablet stacks up against all of its market competitors.

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