Sharp display; Best tablet reading experience; Useful parental controls; Long battery life; Affordable price
Limited Android implementation; Few apps; No camera
With a beautiful screen, interactive books / magazines and strong parental controls, Barnes & Noble's Nook HD+ provides a superior tablet reading experience.
In the past two years, Amazon and Barnes & Noble both entered the tablet market with compelling, low-cost 7-inch tablets. This year, the two leading booksellers have supersized their offerings, with Amazon releasing the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and Barnes & Noble launching the 9-inch Nook HD+. With its bright, high-res screen, a host of interactive features and a highly attractive $269 price, this new Nook has a lot going for it. But is it the right media tablet for your money?
Editor's Note: Portions of this review were adapted from our review of the Nook HD, which has the same software and OS.
DesignNook HD), this hole provides a unique flourish and a place to hang charms or other adornments.
Below the screen sits a small black glossy strip with a single hardware home button shaped like the Nook's "n" logo. Adorned with an understated Nook logo, the dark gray back has a luxurious soft-touch feel that made gripping the device a pleasure.
At 9.46 x 6.41 x 0.45 inches and 1.1 pounds, the Nook HD+ is a tenth of an inch thicker than the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9, but 0.15 pounds lighter. The 9.7-inch iPad weighs 1.44 pounds, nearly a quarter of a pound more, but is considerably thinner at 0.37 inches.
Display and Audio
Specs aside, the Nook HD+ provided one of the sharpest, most-colorful pictures we've seen from a tablet. When we watched the same scene from the "The Avengers" on both the HD+ and an Amazon Kindle Fire HD+, colors like the blue in Captain America's costume or the red in Black Widow's hair were noticeably more vibrant on the Nook. When viewed from 180 degrees to the left or right, colors stayed true on the Nook HD+ but were masked by a lot of reflections on the Kindle's glossier display.
When we played an "Avengers" trailer on the Nook and put it next to a fourth-generation iPad playing the same clip, colors like the red in the Marvel logo or the gray in an overcast sky seemed a bit more vibrant on the Nook, but more true-to-life on the iPad.
The Nook HD+'s single rear-facing speaker provides audio that's accurate and loud enough to fill a small room. When we listened to both the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" and the hard rock "Cult of Personality," music was flat but completely free from distortion. However, users must be careful because the speaker is located in the lower right corner of the back, a place where it's far too easy to block with your hand. The Kindle Fire HD's stereo speakers and their Dolby Digital technology offer far better audio.
OS and Software
Once logged in, the Nook HD+ presents you with a desktop with a small carousel on top that allows you to flip through thumbnails of your most recently used apps and content. A status bar at the top of the screen shows your clock, Wi-Fi connection and battery level. Tapping the gear icon next to the Wi-Fi icon reveals a quick settings menu that allows you to control the brightness, quickly change Wi-Fi status or toggle Airplane mode. If you receive a notification, its icon appears in the middle of the status bar.
The Nook's home screen rotates into landscape or portrait mode, depending on how you hold the device. On the bottom or right side, depending on orientation, you'll find icons for Library, Apps, Web, Email and Shop, though some of these may not appear on child accounts, depending on how you configure them.
The Library contains a list of all the content you currently own, divided into shelves, each of which shows different types of content from Books to Magazines to Apps and Movies. You can also create custom shelves to store shortcuts to only your favorite content. The Apps menu contains a list of all your apps, both those you installed and those that came preloaded.
User Profiles, Parental Controls
Parents can set up special accounts for children that restrict them to shopping for kids content only (or not at all), limit them to viewing files in the library, disable the browser and limit them to only child-friendly books, movies and apps. You can also help the Nook recommend content by telling it about your child's interests and selecting from a list of 11 interest categories, including "Fascinating Facts," "Important Skills" and "Nature & Science."
Under the "Have video for kids" option was a list of available ratings, which had the G movie rating, TV G, TV Y and TV Y7 ratings checked by default with the option to check PG and PG13 boxes. After tapping next, we were asked for the child's interests and then given a set of free samples of books we could add to the child's library based on their interests. The whole process took no more than a couple of minutes.
A button in the nav bar lets you toggle between Browser View and Article View, which shows you a version of the current Web page that's been stripped of ads and navigation bars for easier reading. There's a save page button that clips the contents of the current URL for offline viewing. You'll also find a share button for sending your favorite Web pages to friends via email or, if you have one configured it, a Twitter or Facebook account.
Barnes & Noble's Nook remains the best platform for children's books, with around 4,000 interactive picture titles that can read each page to kids using a pre-recorded narration. Parents can use the Read and Record feature to create their own narration files for each book. Best of all, many pages on these titles have unique features you can activate by hitting a transparent star button that appears on the top of the screen.
We found it easy to record our own narration using the Read and Record feature and then to play it back by tapping an icon on the book's launch screen. No need for mommy and daddy to wrestle over who gets to narrate junior's favorite story. Different parents can record different narrations, and children can choose which one they want to hear.
Book Reading Experience
The gray nav bar at the bottom of the screen has buttons that show general information about the title, display an interactive table of contents, let you to change the font size and color or allow you to rate the title. You can also post your reading status to Facebook or Twitter, if you've configured those accounts in settings.
The Nook HD+ is also quite adept at displaying comic books. When we read "Invincible," a sample comic, we appreciated the scrolling carousel of page thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and the ability to zoom in and out on particular frames. A button on the nav bar allowed us to toggle between zoomed-in and full-screen modes.
Magazine and Catalog Experience
The magazine reading experience on the Nook HD+, which Barnes & Noble calls "Magazine 2.0," looks and feels a lot like the comic book reading experience. The table of contents button shows you thumbnails, and blurbs for each story link you to that specific page. A separate thumbnails button that sits to the right of the table of the contents button shows each page of the magazine as a thumbnail and lets you jump to it. When you move the slider bar at the bottom of the screen, you can also see thumbnails of each page.
A button in the middle of the nav bar lets you toggle between Magazine View, which shows the full page with columns and ads, and Article View, which pops up a scrollable window that lets you view all pages of the article in a single, one-column view.
Catalogs offer an additional hotspot feature that you don't get on magazines or books. When we navigated through a recent Sharper Image catalog, we saw small translucent circles on a number of coats and, when we tapped them, we got a pop-up window with additional product details and a buy button. Barnes & Noble says that magazines will start offering hotspots early next year.
When you watch a video, you have the option to either stream it and start right away or download it, a process which took us about 20 minutes when we tried it on the Nook HD. Video performance was smooth and images crisp, both on a downloaded version of "Sherlock Holmes" and a streaming rental of "The Avengers."
Apps and App Store
Barnes & Noble's library of approximately 10,000 apps is tiny in comparison to both Google Play (675,000) and Amazon app store (50,000), neither of which is available on the Nook HD+.
We found some quality productivity applications such as OfficeSuite Professional, which reads and edits Office files. There's also Touchdown, a high-quality Exchange client. Among games, we spotted a number of casual titles like "Angry Birds Space" and "Bad Piggies," some racing titles like "Riptide GP" and "Raging Thunder" and a few action titles. Two out of Pocket Gamer's Top 10 Android games of October 2012 -- "Fighting Fantasy: Blood of Zombies" and "The Bard's Tale" -- were listed in Barnes & Noble's app store as of publication time.
You won't find Skype or any other video chat client in the Barnes & Noble app store, because the Nook HD+ has no camera, something the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 has.
On An3DBench, a graphics benchmark, the Nook HD+ scored a solid 7,699, far better than the 7,348 category average, but not as speedy as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD's mark of 8,025. The Nexus 10 score was just slightly higher than the Nook HD+ with 7,813.
With the Nook HD+, you can spend all day away from the outlet without running out of juice. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness, the tablet lasted exactly 9 hours, 1 hour and 43 minutes longer than the tablet category average and the 8 hours and 18 minutes offered by the Nexus 10. However, on the same test, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD lasted 9 hours and 49 minutes, while the iPad endured for a full 12 hours and 22 minutes.
Configurations and Storage
The Nook HD+ comes in just two configurations. For $269, you get the Nook HD+ with 16GB of internal storage, while $299 nets you the 32GB version. Users who want more storage after they buy the device can add up to a 32GB microSD card.
Consumers whose focus is more on gaming, productivity, Web surfing or other tablet tasks will prefer a full-fledged slate like the $399 Nexus 10 or $199 Nexus 7. Media mavens should go for the more-expensive Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9, which has a huge library of videos and music, and better audio playback. However, if you want the best possible tablet reading experience and don't mind the added heft of a 9-incher, the Nook HD+ is your best choice.
|CPU||1.5-GHz TI OMAP 4470|
|Storage Drive Size||32GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||1920 x 1280|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution|
|Card Reader Size||32GB|
|Warranty / Support||One year parts and labor|
|Size||6.41 x 9.46 x 0.45 inches|