Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ review

The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ is a good choice for book lovers, but its smaller 7-inch sibling is a better bet. We want a lot more from a 9-inch tablet.
Photo of Barnes & Noble Nook HD+

Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD+ is an impressive $269 (16GB, direct) tablet. But a great 9-inch tablet experience is as much about content as it is about hardware, and that’s where the Nook HD+ falls short. The Nook has definite advantages over the Kindle and other tablets, but they’re better displayed in the $200 7-inch Nook HD, not in this larger, pricier tablet.

Physical Features
The Nook design just says “book” more than other tablets. It’s smaller than competing large tablets, at 9.5 by 6.4 by .45 inches (HWD), and lighter at 1.16 pounds. The soft-touch back is easy to grip. In standard Nook fashion, the lower left hand corner is cropped, with a metal ring set into it. On the bottom panel, there’s a MicroSD card slot and a charging port. This tablet is beautifully and sturdily built.

The Nook’s 9-inch screen is even higher resolution than the $300 Kindle Fire HD 8.9′s at 1,920-by-1,280 pixels, and colors seem better saturated, but they’re definitely in the same class. The Kindle’s screen is 254 pixels per inch, this one is 256ppi, and the $500 fourth-generation Apple iPad’s screen is 263ppi; only the $400 Google Nexus 10′s screen is noticeably tighter at an even 300 ppi.

Keep an eye on your Nook cable and AC adapter. Rather than the MicroUSB that almost every other Android tablet uses, the Nook HD+ comes with a proprietary 30-pin-to-USB cable and a special AC adapter. It’ll charge from a computer, but it won’t charge from other devices’ adapters.

Unlike the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, but like the latest iPad, the Nook HD+’s design requests politely that you use it in portrait modethat way, the embossed “n” Home button is facing up. But that puts the Volume buttons in an awkward position on the top, so “Volume Up” is on the right, rather the top. Turn the tablet into landscape mode and the buttons are in a more intuitive place, but then the home button looks wrong. The Kindle Fire goes whole-hog for landscape orientation and the iPad is all-in for portrait; I found the Nook’s half-and-half approach a little disconcerting.

Wi-Fi, Apps, and Performance
The Nook HD+ runs a highly skinned version of Android 4.0. It’s the same software as on the Nook HD, so you can read our Nook HD review for more details on things like the interface and document format support. The software gives the Nook a clean, highly simplified interface offering the ability to arrange your books, magazines, and newspapers onto virtual shelves. There’s also less of a focus on constant content selling than the Kindle Fire. The HD+ supports multiple users with different content sets and profiles, just like the Nook HD.

The five main selections on the Nook’s menu are Library, Apps, Web, Email, and Shop. The Nook uses a slightly modified version of the standard Android 4.0 browser, which is a good choice. It’s responsive and displays pages well. It offers Flash as an option, although installing it is a little confusing (you have to try to play a Flash video and fail, then it offers to install Flash.) And it scored better on the Browsermark benchmark than Amazon’s Silk browser 2,208 vs. 1,659, which would portend faster page loads if the Kindle Fire didn’t have much faster Wi-Fi. An Article View button strips all of the ads off a page for a purer reading experience.

To connect to the Internet, the Nook HD+ uses 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, and its Wi-Fi reception is significantly weaker than the Kindle and iPad, both of which also support the 5GHz band. I had repeated problems getting the Nook HD+ to connect in a weak-signal area where the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 had no problem. Bringing the Nook closer to the Wi-Fi router solved the issue. As there are no speed test apps in the Nook store, I couldn’t get a good measurement of Wi-Fi speeds, but 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is typically slower than 5GHz where both are available and running against a fast home or office connection.

You get the same 1.5GHz TI OMAP4470 processor as on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, and while I couldn’t run any system benchmarks, performance was fine, if not spectacular. The relatively slow Wi-Fi seemed to create most of the performance delays I saw when browsing the Nook Store for new content, for instance.

(Next page: Multimedia and Conclusions)

Battery life was very good at 6 hours, 53 minutes of continuous video playback with the screen set to maximimum brightness. While that fell a little short of the Kindle Fire HD’s 7 hours, 14 minutes, it fared considerably better than the iPad 4 and the Nexus 10.

Barnes & Noble locks the Nook even more strictly to its own app store than Amazon does. The Nook store has about 10,000 smartly curated apps, with lots of good casual games. But entire categories are missing. There’s no music store, for instance, or any alternative video players. And unlike with Amazon, you don’t have the ability to sideload apps from a PC. While the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is no app master (that crown belongs to the iPads), it still beats the Nook HD+ because of its larger store and the sideloading flexibility.

I’ve always pegged the Nook’s strongest advantages in children’s books, magazines, newspapers, and comics. Children’s books, especially, have interactive features that just leave the Kindle in the dust. But all of those categories, except maybe magazines, are just as readable on a more-portable seven-inch tablet. I’m growing impatient with the Nook’s comics selection, too. The store has very few single issues (it’s almost all trade paperbacks), and the limited app store doesn’t have Comixology or other apps that would allow you to download other single issues.

Multimedia
Larger tablets are used differently than smaller ones. They’re better platforms for video, because of their big screens. Unfortunately, the Nook HD+ falls short on every aspect of the multimedia experience.

Things start out well with storage. The Nook HD+ runs $269 for a 16GB unit and $299 for a 32GB model, and both tablets support MicroSD memory cards up to 64GB. System files take up about 3GB of the internal storage. You can drag over files from a PC by connecting a USB cable and using the standard Android file transfer software.

But the tablet falls behind when it comes to available content and playback options. Barnes & Noble has no music store. The Nook can play your own MP3 and AAC files copied over from a PC, but not WMA or OGG files. You’ll probably have better results with a streaming audio player like Rhapsody or Spotify, both available in the Nook store.

While Barnes & Noble says it’s ramping up video availability, it has a long way to go to match Amazon. I searched both the B&N and Amazon stores for the top 13 Nielsen-rated TV shows (other than sports, news, and reality genres), and for the top 20 DVDs by dollar sales in 2012. The Nook didn’t offer a single one of the TV shows. The Kindle had 10 of 13. Of the movies, the Nook had 10 of 20. The Kindle had 16. The iPad supports both Amazon’s video service and Apple’s, for an even better set of options. I asked B&N about this, and they said three more of the movies on the list will be available by Christmas, and at least half of the TV shows would be arriving within the next month.

The SD card slot indicates that this would be a great device on which to play your own videos, but format support is slim: H.264 and MPEG4 files only. Unlike on the Kindle Fire, you can’t download any additional codecs of video players from the app store to beef up file support. The Nook’s speakers, while loud enough, also deliver less immersive sound than the Kindle’s widely-spaced stereo speakers. And the Kindle has a standard microHDMI jack for playing videos on a TV; Barnes & Noble promises an HDMI cable for the Nook’s proprietary port, but it isn’t here yet.

Finally, I’m a skeptic when it comes to tablet cameras, but I can at least see the argument for a front-facing camera to use with Skype, and Apple, Amazon, and Google see that argument, too. The Nook has no cameras at all.

Conclusions
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ gives you a solid media and Web tablet for $269. But unless magazines are your killer app, the smaller, more-portable Nook HD delivers all the best aspects of the Nook HD+ experience for $199. I’d recommend the 7-inch Nook HD to people looking for an excellent tablet for children’s books, for instance.

Competing larger tablets offer better content and app selections, sometimes for just a little more money. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is the best budget large tablet, thanks to its robust media store, better app store, improved speakers, and its ability to sideload other Android apps. Our favorite large tablet is the more luxurious Apple iPad 4. At $499 and up, though, think of that tablet as a general-purpose computer rather than as a simple media tablet.

More Tablet Reviews:

Specifications
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1280 pixels
Operating System Google Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Dimensions 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.45 inches
Weight 1.14 lb
Screen Type Widescreen
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 16 GB
Tablet Type Slate
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Bluetooth Yes
Screen Size 9 inches
CPU Texas Instruments OMAP4470 Dual-Core
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ is a good choice for book lovers, but its smaller 7-inch sibling is a better bet. We want a lot more from a 9-inch tablet.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc