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Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ - The Lightest And Highest Resolution 9 Inch Tablet

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Great hardware for the money, but it's hobbled by restrictive video and app stores, plus a sluggish UI

The first time Barnes & Noble showed off the Nook HD+ was before Christmas last year. It all went quiet for a while, but the eagerly awaited 9in tablet has finally arrived, and it crams in a huge amount for the money. It’s another eBook reader/ tablet hybrid, and it runs a heavily customized version of Android, locked into Barnes & Noble’s own book, video and app stores. There’s barely a hint it’s running Ice Cream Sandwich; Google Play is conspicuous by its absence.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD+

This makes the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9in (web ID: 380932), which also employs its own take on Android and a proprietary app store, its closest rival. The Nook HD+, however, lands the first blow by being substantially cheaper - with prices starting at an astonishing $304 for the 16GB version - and, in many respects, just as good in terms of hardware.

It’s thicker and more angular than the Amazon device, and we’re not sure about the hole set into one of the corners: it looks like it should serve a purpose, but, short of hanging it on a giant key ring, we can’t think what. Build quality is flawless, however: the rear panel is made from solid, grippy, soft-touch black plastic, and the edges and screen surround are hewn from a harder, smoother plastic that’s slightly darker in color. It’s comfortable to hold, even one-handed, and features a microSD slot, allowing you to add up to 32GB to the tablet’s 16GB or 32GB of internal storage.

Oddly, for a tablet designed for watching video as much as reading books, there’s no HDMI output, but the display more than makes up for this: it’s a stunner. The resolution is a better-than-HD 1,920 x 1,280, giving a pixel density of 245ppi, only 20ppi short of the iPad’s Retina display. Quality is beyond reproach, too. Text in eBooks and magazines is super-sharp, the display renders subtly textured backgrounds with convincing realism, and Full HD movies burst with detail.

Despite the glossy finish of the screen, reflections aren’t overly intrusive, which is partly due to the fact there’s no air gap between the glass front and IPS LCD panel beneath. Brightness is top-notch: at 415cd/m2, it’s only just behind the latest iPad.

Hardware-wise, there’s very little to complain about. Even battery life is respectable: it played our low-resolution test video for 9hrs 33mins at half brightness before the battery was exhausted.

Hardware-wise, there’s very little to complain about. Even battery life is respectable: it played our low-resolution test video for 9hrs 33mins at half brightness before the battery was exhausted

As ever, though, the hardware isn’t the whole story, and it’s here things start to go wrong for the Nook HD+. It isn’t that we don’t like the UI: its bright graphics and customizable home screens are much more pleasant than Amazon’s stark, black equivalent. The ability to maintain six user accounts is a boon, too, especially since adult accounts can be password-protected. The Article View, which strips out ads and other web page furniture from online articles, works superbly, and reading glossy magazines on the glorious display is an almost physical experience, complete with curling page animations and a collection of excellent browsing and page-clipping tools.

Our biggest bugbear with the Nook HD+ is sluggish performance. Compared to other Android tablets we’ve used, including the Kindle Fire HD 8.9in, it feels skittish and jumpy. The carousel graphic on the main homepage stutters, the store loads slowly and feels horribly labored, and the Nook HD+’s web browser doesn’t feel as fluid and responsive as it should.

This is all the more frustrating since the dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 processor is clearly capable. We recorded decent scores of 1,111ms in SunSpider, faster than the Kindle Fire ’s 1,3438ms. There were no issues with dropped frames during Full HD video playback, either.

While the book, newspaper and magazine store is well stocked and full of content, we’re not as impressed with the video store. Its database of films and TV shows is limited, and although in theory you can add films bought through Sony Pictures’ UltraViolet cloud-based movie collection system, the one movie in our collection -animated title, The Pirates!

Band of Misfits - refused to play, claiming it was “unsupported”. The Nook app store, meanwhile, remains a strange place, with plenty of useful and entertaining stuff - Spotify, Evernote, Temple Run and Asphalt 7: Heat - set against an avalanche of tosh, exemplified by the list of titles in the “Must Have Games” category, which includes Bingo and the low-rent Bejeweled clone, GemClix Duet. Even Amazon’s app store is better.

All of which leaves the Nook HD+ in an awkward place

All of which leaves the Nook HD+ in an awkward place. On one hand, the hardware is brilliant, the price is amazingly low, the UI is friendly, and the bookstore is well stocked. On the other, it feels sluggish, and the movie and app stores are sparsely populated. There’s plenty of potential, but the lack of content rules out a recommendation. Unless you’re willing to make do with books and magazines and aren’t bothered by the limited choice elsewhere, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9in offers a far more convincing package.

Specifications

  • Dual-core 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 CPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 16/32GB storage
  • 9in 1,920 x 1,280 IPS LCD
  • 802.11bgn Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • Android 4 (customized)
  • microSDHC
  • 1yr RTB warranty
  • 163 x 11.4 x 240mm (WDH)
  • 500g

 

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