Barnes & Noble Nook HD hands on review

B&N takes a shot over the parapet in the direction of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. But is it a hit or a miss? We go hands on to find out

In October 2010 Barnes & Noble, the US’s biggest bookseller, announced a departure from its line of greyscale e-readers: a colour tablet with a 7in screen. The Nook Colour was designed for reading magazines as well as books, along with light web browsing, video and apps, but its main selling point was that it cost around half as much as an iPad.

The following year Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s biggest competitor, launched its own affordable 7-incher, the Fire, and the year after that, Google weighed in the Nexus 7. With Apple rumoured to be readying an iPad Mini and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD out of the gate, 7in tablets are officially huge. Although, yes, technically they’re also still the same size.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD – display

The most noticeable and impressive difference between the Nook HD and other 7in tablets is the 1440x900 IPS display, which has a pixel density of 243ppi (the Fire HD and Nexus 7 both have 1280x800 displays). Having watched the same clip on a Nexus 7 and a Nook HD, side by side, we’re tempted to say this is the best display we’ve seen on a 7-inch tablet; it’s bright, but the colours seem natural and not over-saturated. B&N says the displays on both the HD and HD+ are manufactured with no air gap, which is supposed to reduce glare and improve clarity. We’d say it’s worked.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD – design

At 127mm across, the Nook HD is 7mm wider than the Nexus 7, but a centimetre thinner than the mega-bezeled Fire HD, and lighter than either – worth considering if you have the dainty hands and wrists of an Edwardian gentlewoman. And while like most gadgets it’s basically a flat black rectangle, some extra thought has gone into the design: a comfy surround provides support for your thumb and adds some protection for the screen.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD – hardware

A shade more powerful than the Fire HD but lacking the quad-core Tegra 3 poke of the Nexus 7, the Nook HD and its big brother have easily enough oomph to do what will be asked of them – reading books and comics, watching video and keeping an eye on your eBay auctions while you’re watching Great British Bake-Off. Video plays very smoothly indeed, and a flick through the OS revealed no worrying stalls.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD – software

If there’s anything that may put you off about the Nook HD it’s the fact that, like Amazon’s tablet, it runs a very heavily disguised version of Android that’s designed to help you buy more things from the bookseller. Technically it’s an ICS tablet, but it’s really a Barnes & Noble machine. The interface has some nice features that will have particular appeal for families – each family member can have an account and the accounts can be easily managed to limit what content the kids can access, to the extent that you can remove the web browser from their account. The Nook Store features huge numbers of books, magazines and movies, and the app experience is ‘curated’ – ie, you don’t get everything you get on Google Play. Not that anyone could possibly want to download all the rubbish on Google Play, but it’s nice to have the choice, and if the Nook’s gated OS means the best new apps are missed out, that could be a problem. 

Barnes & Noble Nook HD – verdict

From our first go on the Nook HD, we’re impressed – this is a very capable little machine with a superb screen, and a very attractive price. We can’t wait to get our hands on one for a proper, long-term review. Although we might just spend the whole time reading comics on it.

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