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Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet: What We Like, What We Don't

With a dual-core 1-GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, a brilliant screen, and some slick new software features, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet is primed to compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire or perhaps even the iPad for your media tablet dollars. We'll be posting our full review of the Nook Tablet later this week, but we've spent enough time with the device to develop some strong first impressions. Here's a list of what we like so far and what needs improvement.

What We Like

  • Read and Record: A hardware microphone enables the next big thing in children's books: personalized audio. Using Read and Record on Awesome Man, a kids' book that came on our review unit, we were able to record our voice reading the text on each page and then play it back when reading that page. Parents who travel a lot will appreciate having the ability to "read" to their kids even when they're out of town. The video below shows Read and Record in action.
  • Physical Volume / Home Buttons: While the Kindle Fire makes you use the screen to go back or home, the Nook Tablet has a physical N button that you hit for the main menu or to return to the main screen. Where the Fire makes you use an onscreen menu to raise or lower the volume, the Nook Tablet has volume up and down buttons on its right side. 
  • Light Weight: At 14.2 ounces, the Nook Tablet is a teeny bit lighter than the 14.4 ounce Kindle Fire and significantly lighter than the 15.5 ounce Nook Color.
  • Strong Viewing Angles: The 7-inch, 1024 x 600 screen is not quite as bright as the Kindle Fire's measuring only 392 lux on our light meter as opposed to the Fire's 465 lux. However, we found the screen less reflective and we preferred the sharpness and color quality of the Nook Tablet to the Fire. Our 2010-era Nook Color was noticeably dimmer with only 326 lux.
  • Gorgeous Design: There's little doubt that the Nook Tablet is the best looking 7-inch slate on the market. Sitting next to the Nook Tablet, the otherwise-attractive Kindle Fire looks like a chunky hunk of glossy plastic. 

Its thin pewter-colored frame, black-edged screen, rounded edges, and soft-touch rubberized back give the device a luxurious look and feel. Like the Nook Color, the Nook Tablet has a tiny, triangular hole in its lower left corner that is actually a tiny physical nook for hanging charms and an attractive N button that launches the menu or takes you to home. The rubberized backside feels even softer and more grippable than the Fire's; we just couldn't stop touching it.

What We Don't Like

  • Weak Speaker: If you plan to use the Nook Tablet, plan to attach a pair of headphones. Both when we played Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" on Napster and when we streamed the newest Star Trek movie on Netflix, volume was very low and music playback was tinny and inaccurate. Even worse, the back-mounted speaker gets muffled when you place the tablet on your lap or flat on a table. By comparison, sound on the Kindle Fire was loud and accurate.
  • Interactive Children's Books Don't Save Your Place: We fell in love with interactive titles like Awesome Man, which not only have Read and Record, but also offer unique interactive features like the ability to change Captain Awesome's costume colors. However, if you leave the book (perhaps by hitting the N button accidentally) and come back, you'll be returned to that title's start page, not the last page you were reading.
  • No Sideloading: Make no mistake. The Nook Tablet is an eReader first, and a tablet second or maybe even third. You're limited to the modest selection of apps in Barnes & Noble's Nook app store; there's no way to install programs you've downloaded from another app store and copied onto the internal storage memory.
  • Poor Offline Media Options: If you want to play video on the Nook Tablet, you'll need to use Netflix, Hulu Plus, or maybe one of the other streaming apps in the Nook app from channels like Showtime and Univision. However, none of these choices give you the ability to play video offline or to choose from all the latest titles as you can with Amazon Video on Demand on the Kindle Fire. There's no way to purchase offline music, either, as your main music choices are Napster and Pandora, both of which are streaming services.

Yes,  you can copy your own DRM-free video or music files to the memory and play them from there, but if you want to rent that hot new movie for viewing on the plane or buy that new album for listening, you're out of luck.

Check out the unboxing gallery below and stay tuned for our full review of the Nook Tablet.