Academic Technology @ Palomar College

The Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet

nook tabletThere are three products in the B&N nook line now:  the Nook Simple Touch, for $99 (which David reviewed here); the Nook Color, for $169 (which I reviewed here); and the latest Nook Tablet, which comes in 8GB and 16GB flavors, for $199 and $249.  I am reviewing the 16GB Tablet in this post.  The Tablet is the device intended by B&N to go head to head with the Amazon Fire.

First, a word on that storage:  when B&N says 16GB storage, what they really mean is 12.75GB for B&N purchased storage, 1.07 of “other storage” (your documents and non-B&N purchased content), and the rest for the device operating system.  Not what it appears from the sales literature.  This is mitigated, however, by a slot for micro-SD storage, up to 32GB, neatly tucked into the device’s back cover.

The Physical Device

  • Height: 8.1 inches
  • Width: 5.0 inches
  • Depth: 0.48 inches
  • Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • 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
  • Universal 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack
  • Charging port
  • Expandable microSD slot

B&N claims 11.5 hours of battery life while reading, 9 hours of continuous movie watching.

The speaker is located on the back lower part of the case and is about what you would expect for a device intended to be used with earbuds or headphones: not very good.

The device feels substantial with a rubberized back that fits nicely in the hand for one handed reading and doesn’t feel like it is going to slip away.  The power button is case-flush in the upper left of the case (as opposed to the stupidly located power button on the Kindle Fire) and has volume control buttons, also set flush with the case, on the upper right, looking at the device in portrait mode.  The bottom of the device has a micro-USB connector for charging and sideloading documents via the supplied USB cable, and, as mentioned above, there is a microSD slot set flush into the back of the device.  The AC adapter is also supplied.  In all, it is an elegant, solid-feeling device with a high-gloss 7″ screen with superlative touch sensitivity.

Navigation and the Reading Experience

Nothing much to write home about here.  QuckNav controls are accessed via the Nook button on the face of the device below the screen.  They include icons for Home (the same home screen we are used to from every other reading device containing latest books, magazines read or apps used; your “daily” shelf, with ongoing favorites; and media shortcuts to books, the newstand, movies, music and apps).  The quicknav icons also include links to  your library, the B&N shop, Search, apps, the web browser (and yes, it supports flash), and device settings.

 Nook Navbar

B&N claim 2.5 million book titles available via their infrastructure, “most $9.99 or less,”  “thousands of apps” (their offerings are distinctly slighter than Amazon’s), and millions of songs via services such as Rhapsody, MOG or Grooveshark, or the built-in Pandora.  Or you can side-load your own songs, but you won’t get very far with the storage space allowed.

While reading you tap and hold a word or drag over a passage to get an elegant little tool bar to pop-up which offers the ability to highlight, annotate (with the virtual keyboard) share (why, I’m not so sure–there is entirely too much sharing of entirely too trivial matter, but that’s the new social world for you), look up (using the Merriam-Webster Collegiate 11th ed. with an excellent presentation mode) or find instances of the term in the current work.

Nook In-reading-app toolbar

Here is the dictionary looktup window:

dictionary lookup presentation

Note the Google and Wikipedia links for further lexical exploration.

Tapping the center of a page while reading brings up the bookmark feature (upper right) and an in-book toolbar that allows for jump to contents, find, share, brightness control, find other reading material, and font adjust (8 text sizes, 6 font families, 6 theme colors, 3 line spacing templates, and 3 margin spacingtemplates):

text adjust

Nook text adjust also showing toolbar and status bar

The Nook supports the ePub format with or without DRM,  and non-DRMed PDF formats.  This is the great divide between Amazon, who have their own proprietary format (when DRM is applied) and everyone else, who support the same formats as the Nook.  If you are going to buy one of these devices, and don’t want to spend time converting formats, you have to decide which camp to join.  Either that, or buy one of each.

In summaryt, the Nook tablet provides a really pleasing reading experience with all the annotation tools offered by the Kindle Fire, and better text adjustment features.

Apps

The Nook tablet does not stand up as well to the Kindle Fire when it comes to apps.  Amazon just has way more apps with a better integrated app store simply because Amazon has way more marketing muscle than B&N.  App developers are going to write for the platform that offers the largest volume distribution channel, and that’s the Fire.

For example, in order to get Exchange email (what we use at Palomar) to work on the Nook Tablet you have to purchase the license key for an app called Touchdown for $20.  Touchdown is also available for the Kindle Fire, but so are a couple of other apps, notably one called Enhanced Email that sells for $10 and was even given away free as an introductory offer for new Kindle owners.  Amazon just has more apps available and they are better marketers than B&N.  Finding desirable, free apps for the Nook is not that easy.  It is much easier for the Fire, and Amazon gives a for-pay app away every day even yet.

The Web Browser

The browser built-in to the Nook is fast enough, and compares favorably with the so-called “Silk” browser on the Fire, but suffers from lack of tab support, contra the Fire, and shares with Fire the  drawback:  unless the web site you want to view was designed especially for mobile, most are just too hard to see and read on the 7″ screen.  It works.  It’s fast.  But the experience is disappointing.

Multimedia Content

The Kindle Fire leaves the Nook Tablet in the dust here.  Amazon has an amazing media infrastructure.  Virtually any reasonably popular media title you can think of can be downloaded and played within seconds on the Fire.  Not so the Nook.  the only way to get media onto it is side-load via the USB cable, and then you run up against the measly 1GB of non-B&N storage limitation mentioned above.  Maybe B&N have plans, maybe not, but if media matters to you and you are considering Fire vs. Nook Tablet, go with the Fire.

Summary

The Nook Tablet is a fast, sensitive, and cool looking device.  If your aim is to read books and colorful magazines, you can’t do better.  If you consume a lot of media, go with the Kindle Fire instead.  If apps matter, the Fire has the edge there too.  If you just don’t like Amazon, or have a soft spot for B&N, you have nothing to be ashamed of with the Nook Tablet.  It’s limitations are in part self-imposed by B&N, especially the restrictive personal storage quota, and in part shared with all small footprint devices, but for a very affordable, even elegant, color reading device it deserves consideration.

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