The $249 (about £155) Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet may look like its predecessor, Nook Color, but that's where the comparisons stop. When I picked it up the Nook Tablet it was clear that this tablet was leaps ahead of B&N's first-gen effort. That said, the Nook Tablet is not a full-featured tablet and lacks built-in Bluetooth, stereo speakers, GPS, and front- and rear-facing cameras.
Still, the Nook Tablet's low price will make it appealing to both e-reader and tablet shoppers. In fact, it is priced low enough to potentially sway consumers who might have been considering an iPad 2, which has a larger display, but also costs twice the price. With its competitive price and beefy specs, other so-called "value" tablet makers (that includes Amazon and it's Kindle Fire) should be running for the hills right about now.
For starters the beefed up horsepower in this tablet, compared to the Nook Color, really counts. The dual-core 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 CPU and 1GB of RAM made switching apps a breeze with no lag or stuttering. Movies played smoothly and stutter-free in Netflix, and the images looked gorgeous and crisp, with terrific contrast.
The display looked dazzling overall, as expected since it's the same as it was in Nook Color. Glare was minimal - a clear credit to Barnes & Noble's VividView laminated and bonded IPS display. It was a pleasure to not have a visible, annoying gap between the glass screen and the LCD beneath, as I've seen with literally the dozens of tablets I've tested before this one. I can't say glare is gone completely, but the difference is very clear when you have two devices side-by-side.
The tablet felt noticeably lighter than Nook Color, even though the difference on paper - 1.7 ounces - doesn't seem like so much. Still, I could feel the difference when holding the tablet in one hand, which is how I often end up holding a tablet at some point or another.
Navigating the Nook Tablet
With Nook tablet, I liked how the Nook software evolved in keeping with the Nook Tablet's alignment into the more broad tablet universe. You can now access apps and Netflix viewing history and recommendations from the home screen, a move that's both convenient and a logical, given how Nook Tablet aims to embrace its full potential from the get-go this time. Nook Tablet is optimized around reading, something that's clear from the display, and clear from how you access your books and the visual presentation of periodicals.
The new Read and Record feature in children's books was especially compelling, and worked very well when I tried it. I could create my own audio track to accompany a book, a feature I could see as being appealing for families - especially those with a loved one who travels or is far away. I hope we'll see the mic incorporated into other applications. Sadly, one of those applications will not be video chat, since B&N didn't include a front-facing camera.
(Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch at the Nook Tablet launch in New York)
Where are the Apps?
While Nook Tablet calls itself a tablet, it still lacks many tablet features and access to the wide swath of apps on Android Market. Apps need to come from B&N's own, growing app store. But there is some good in B&N's curated approach, though. Through B&N's store, you'll get apps that are specifically tailored for use on a 7-inch tablet without a camera or GPS or phone, for example. In practice, this is actually a pleasant switch-up from the messy Android Market experience (hint, Google: Please fix the Market), from which I've downloaded plenty of apps on to 7-inch tablets only to have them crash and force-close on me or not stretch properly to fit the tablet's screen.
Add in the basic features. Nook Tablet is missing Bluetooth, stereo speakers, a GPS, and front- and rear-facing cameras. Beyond the basic processing specs, those are the features that Nook Color omitted, and that Nook Tablet - now that it's actually crossing into the territory of calling itself a tablet and trying to compete with tablets - should have added.
They're basic specs of dedicated competing tablets. Granted, some of the "value" competition lacks Google services and cameras, too, but Nook Tablet shouldn't be trying to compete with those tablets - it's core specs are good enough for it to play in the big kids' sandbox, alongside Honeycomb 7-inch tablets from the likes of Samsung and Toshiba. If Nook Tablet had added the competitive feature set.
I would have liked to see Barnes & Noble step up the display's resolution. I'm totally sold on Barnes & Noble's bonded and laminated VividView display's qualities, and I know Barnes & Noble says it has done optimisations on top of Android to improve text rendering, but in some fonts I could still see pixelation in the text. I prefer the smooth text rendering of higher-resolution displays, such as those offered by Toshiba's 7" Thrive and T-Mobile's SpringBoard, both of which have stepped the resolution up to 1280 by 800 pixels.
While Barnes & Noble clearly missed a few opportunities to forge ahead of the pack, these omissions were trade-offs that were likely made in the name of achieving the Nook Tablet's attractive price. And attractive it is: At $249, Nook Tablet is a veritable bargain compared with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus (shipping now) and the Thrive 7" (shipping in December), both $399. (T-Mobile hasn't announced pricing for the SpringBoard yet).