Nook HD is a natural competitor to the Kindle Fire HD. Reviewing the Nook HD will set things up nicely for a future Kindle Fire HD review.
Context for this Nook HD Review:
- Ownership since Day 5 after launch. So, approximately 7 months of ownership and regular use.
- Other Devices (to ensure a reasonable comparison basis): Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire 1, Kindle Fire 2, Nook Color, Nook Tablet, Google Nexus 7, Surface RT Tablet from Microsoft, Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, Nook HD+. And, in the past, iPad 2.
- Lots and lots of usage. Some book reading. Regular Apps and Games. Occasional web browsing. Lots of Netflix. Some general stuff like arranging things and setting things up.
Let’s start this Nook HD Review by understanding what the Nook HD is.
Nook HD Review – Nook HD is a Reading Tablet evolving into a Fuller Tablet
Nook HD represents a morphing from the Nook Color (a Reading Tablet that took off accidentally as a ‘cheap, all purpose Tablet’) to the Nook Tablet (a Reading Tablet inching towards being a full tablet) to the latest generation Nook Tablets (Nook HD, Nook HD+) that go ever closer to being ‘Full’ Tablets.
Last week B&N added Google Play Store to Nook HD. That brings it very close to being a Full Tablet. However, it is still 25% Reading Tablet and 75% Tablet.
This first part is absolutely critical. Nook HD is NOT an iPad or a Full Tablet. At its current sale price of $149 it’s less than half the price of an iPad Mini ($329). It’s 30% of the price of iPad ($499). So, please adjust your expectations accordingly. You’ll get an insane value for your $149. However, you will NOT get an iPad and you will NOT get an iPad Mini.
Nook HD Review – What the Nook HD is, What it’s Good for
What the Nook HD is -
- A Tablet that is built on a Reading Tablet base, with the addition of Google Play Store and Nook Video Store and B&N App Store. This turns it into a fuller Tablet. Important: It is NOT yet a full tablet.
- A Tablet that is built on top of Android and has Google Play Store and Google Apps. Important: It’s not ‘pure’ Android. Google Play is just an app within the Device. You don’t get a fully open Tablet and you don’t get the latest Android versions the minute they are released (perhaps never).
- A very well made hardware Tablet with buggy software. The hardware is the best out of the 7″ Tablets (though not as good as iPad Mini). The software has been improved since launch and yet it’s still buggy.
- A $149 Tablet that is worth more. A lot more if you consider the hardware quality and the addition of the Google Play Store.
- A Tablet that is family oriented. In particular, it’s aimed at mothers with young kids. The rest of this Nook HD Review will give you a good idea of whether it meets your needs or not. However, please keep in mind that any future software improvements (if they happen) will be tailored to this target demographic. The B&N App Store focuses on family friendly apps and kids apps. You will have to rely on Google Play for everything else.
Here are the Things Nook HD is Particularly Good for
An Important Caveat: If you have weak eyesight then you really should consider Nook HD+. It’s on sale for just $179 (a mere $30 more than Nook HD) and offers a 9″ screen.
- Reading Books. Nook HD is great for reading books.
- Watching Movies. Nook HD supports 720p videos and is great for movies and TV shows. It’s also great for Netflix although there are a few cases of Netflix not working. Now that there’s Google Play Store this issue should be fixed. However, check your device in the store you buy it from before leaving.
- Games & Apps. There’s a fast processor, enough RAM, a brilliant screen, and a light, easy to hold device. Games and Apps work well. You get Google Play and you get B&N’s smaller but well-curated store. Please Note: You will not get Apple iPad Apps and the Apps will not be as good as Apple iPad Apps. Amazon’s App Store and its Free App of the Day are also not available.
- Comics. Nook HD is great for comics. The high screen resolution and wide range of apps (thanks to Google Play) allows for a good comic reading experience. Nook Store has lots of comics and graphic novels and manga. Please Note: The 7″ screen means you can’t fit comics in page by page. You’ll have to read panel by panel.
- Google Apps. Now all the Google Apps like Gmail and Google Maps and YouTube are included.
- EMail – I’m not sure since Google Play is still new. The Nook HD EMail program was decent but not super. Now it’ll have Google Mail so if you’re on Google Mail then it should be very good. For other providers it works fine. However, there are sometimes problems with Yahoo Mail and with some of the smaller regional providers. On the whole, the in-built EMail works well, but not super well.
- Facebook – Not sure. Users seem to run into lots of problems when using Facebook via the browser. Now with Google Play there will be, I’m assuming, the Android Facebook App.
- Web Surfing. Nook HD is very good for web surfing. A large range of browsers. Higher screen resolution means you can see more of the webpage. Please Note: As stated earlier, if you have weak vision, the 7″ screen won’t work well. Get the Nook HD+ for $179 instead.
- What Else? Let me know what other use cases you’re considering and I can add details.
Nook HD is not a full-fledged ‘can be used for anything’ Tablet. However, it does do quite a few things very well.
Nook HD Review – What the Nook HD isn’t, what it’s not good for
What the Nook HD isn’t -
- It’s not an iPad. You can’t access iPad Apps. You can’t access Apple Store content.
- It’s not a ‘pure’ Google Device. What does that mean? It means you won’t get new versions of Android the minute they are launched. In fact, the OS might never be updated beyond the current Android 4.0.
- It’s not an ‘Amazon device’. Yes, you can get Kindle for Android (via the Google Play Store) and read Kindle Books. However, to support Amazon Instant Videos you’ll have to buy a $3 Browser (Puffin) and that support might end if Puffin stops supporting Amazon Instant Videos. You won’t get the same benefits as you would from buying a Kindle Fire.
- It’s not a large screen reading Tablet. This might come as a surprise to you – 10″ screens are MUCH better for reading PDFs, Magazines, Newspapers, and Web Surfing. Doubly true if you have weak eyesight.
- It’s not super smooth and free of errors. The software is a weakness, perhaps the only major one. The software is a real weakness.
What the Nook HD isn’t Particularly Suited for
Translation: Don’t buy it for any of these purposes. It won’t work and you’ll just be frustrated. Plus there will not be a Magical Fix in the future that’ll solve these issues.
- Consuming things you bought from Apple. Just won’t work.
- Consuming things you bought from Amazon. Won’t work well. Lots of hoops to jump through to get things to work.
- ‘Open Everything’ and ‘Load Anything’. This isn’t open Android. It’s a closed ecosystem that allows Google Play Store and Google Apps.
- Free Books. Kindle is best for that. Amazon gets exclusive contracts with authors in return for letting them give away books for free. B&N gets perhaps 20-50 free books a week from Publishers and Indie Authors and Smaller Publishers. Amazon gets hundreds a day.
- PDFs. Just don’t work well.
I’ll have to think more about this. There are quite a few other things Nook HD isn’t suited for. The biggest mistake prospective Nook HD owners make is assuming Nook HD is ‘iPad for $149′ or a Windows PC in Tablet Size. It’s neither of those things.
Nook HD Review – Top 10 Pros for Nook HD
Here are the Top 10 Strengths of the Nook HD -
- Very well made Hardware. Solid. Beautiful. Light. Compact. Highest resolution screen of any 7″ Tablet. I’ve had a Nook Color for 2+ years and it’s almost as good as new. Nook HD has a similar ‘well made hardware that will last’ feel to it.
- Google Play + B&N Ecosystem. Want lots of free apps? You have Google Play. Want a curated app store with safe apps? You have Nook App Store. Want books from Kindle, Kobo, Google? You have Google Play Store. Want books from Nook? You have B&N Store. You get both the ’Free and Open and Advertising Focused’ Google Play Store and the ’Paid and Curation Focused’ B&N Store.
- Incredible Price. Incredible Value for Money. Nook HD at $149 is a must-buy if A) You’re in the market for a Tablet, and B) Your needs are met by what Nook HD provides, and C) You don’t have a strong connection to another ecosystem like Amazon or Apple. Nook HD is not only the best 7″ Android Tablet, it’s also one of the cheapest. You get a lot for your money.
- Brilliant Screen. Nook HD’s screen has 1440 by 900 screen resolution and can handle 720p Video. It has 243 pixels per inch pixel density - that’s almost iPad Retina Screen level quality. It’s the best 7″ Tablet for watching movies, displaying photos and reading magazines.
- B&N Stores & Store Staff. Nook Store Support is great with great Staff. If you have a B&N store nearby you’re in luck. Great Support. Special BOGO offers on ebooks if you go into store (started 2 weeks ago). The ability to browse any ebook for 1 hour (1 hour maximum in a 24 hour period) if you go into a B&N Store.
- Light, Compact, Portable, Pretty. Nook HD is more compact (7.65″ by 5″ by 0.43″), lighter (11.1 ounces), and better looking than most other 7″ Tablets (including Kindle Fire HD). It’s easy to fit into a purse or bag and easy to carry around.
- Profiles Feature in Nook HD. You can set user profiles and set an age for each profile – only content rated for that age will be shown. You can enable/disable different features and apps and content for each profile. Profiles are a very useful feature, especially if you have kids or family you want to share your Nook HD with. Please Note: It’s not fully baked. However, it should cover 90% of your use cases.
- Google Apps are included. If you’re invested in the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube), then Nook HD becomes a great choice.
- SD Card. This is a big advantage over most other 7″ Tablets like Kindle Fire. With the SD Card you can greatly expand storage capacity.
- Lots of great features for Kids. If you’re a parent then Nook HD (especially at the current $149 sale price) is a great choice. You can set up Child Profiles, there are ‘Read to Me’ books, there are lots of Apps for Kids in the Nook Store.
- Bonus: No Annoying Ads. Also, the Recommended Books feature is less intrusive than on Kindle Fire HD.
A few more strengths -
- Scrapbooking Feature & Catalogs. Scrapbooking doesn’t work on all magazines. However, for the magazines it works with, it’s a very fun feature to have. Catalogs are nice to have too.
- HDMI out (cable sold separately) lets you watch movies bought from Nook Videos Store or from Google Play on your HDTV.
- Power Adapter is included. B&N won’t Nickel & Dime you.
- Very comfortable in your hand. Nook Tablets are all very comfortable to hold. Nook HD, due to its compactness and lightness, is perhaps the most comfortable Tablet to hold. Also, no large, ugly bezel around the device like Kindle Fire HD has.
- Lots of options for browsers. There’s Chrome by default but you can switch to any browser available in Google Play Store or Nook App Store.
- Two Stores. Want Ad-supported Apps? Use Google Play. Want Ad-free Apps? Get the App from Nook App Store.
- Two color choices for Nook HD hardware – Snow (White) or Smoke (Charcoal Grey/Black).
From these lists it should be clear that Nook HD is a very strong, very capable little Tablet. If you ensure Nook HD covers your main 3 to 5 Tablet use cases (what you need and/or want to use a Tablet for), you’ll be happy with it.
Nook HD Review – Top 10 Cons for Nook HD
Here are the Top 10 Weaknesses of the Nook HD -
- Software Issues Part 1. The Android Skin B&N has added on top of Android 4.0 is buggy. While it adds some good features like User Profiles, it also has lots of bugs.
- Software Issues Part 2. The combination of Google Play Store and Google Apps running alongside Nook Apps doesn’t work perfectly all the time. There are lots of small niggling things.
- Software Issues Part 3. You might be stuck on Android 4.0. B&N is rumored to leave the Tablet Space around April 2014. Its move of dropping prices massively and adding Google Play supports this rumor. The problem is that you will not get software updates beyond that point. Perhaps they’ll stop earlier. So, to be on the safe side, assume that Android 4.0 is the Android version you’ll be on forever. Forever = for the life of your Nook HD. Might not be an issue now. What about in 1 year? Furthermore, B&N tends to break things when it does updates.
- If B&N sells Nook Media to Microsoft or someone else, you might be lost in terms of finding support. The whole ‘great B&N Store support’ might be gone. Support in general might be reduced greatly.
- Phone Support and Live Chat Support are bad. Nook Store support is amazing. However, by all accounts, the phone support is terrible. If you don’t have a B&N store within driving distance, you might have a hard time solving issues you have with your Nook.
- Nook HD Speakers are not as good as Kindle Fire HD speakers. Kindle Fire HD has the best speakers of ANY Tablet. Nook HD speakers aren’t as good and are not very loud.
- Nook HD is built on Android but it’s not Android. What that means is – If you love Android Openness you’ll go nuts on the Nook HD. Just trust me on this. If you are an ‘Android’ person, don’t get it. It’s B&N’s Closed Nook ecosystem + Google Play Store. That’s it. It’s not an ‘open Android Tablet’ you can tinker with.
Truthfully, there aren’t really 10 big cons against the Nook HD. You could even take the first 3 Cons and distill them into 2 Cons (buggy software, might be stuck on Android 4.0). Nook HD is a very good device. Software is its only real Achilles heel.
Additional concerns -
- WiFi support is spotty. WiFi doesn’t work well with 802.11 n. WiFi doesn’t work well with dual bands.
- Speakers are good but not best in class (Kindle Fire HD has better speakers). If you’re an audiophile then get a Kindle Fire HD – the difference is clear. If you don’t need audio to be super great, then Nook HD is great.
- Proprietary Charging Cable.
- No easy way to get Amazon’s Kindle Fire App Store on Nook HD.
- Sideloading is disabled. You can sideload via ADB or you can root. However, you can’t just simply sideload an App.
While there are not that many cons, the ones that do exist are very definite problems. If you can’t handle software that is buggy and sometimes sluggish, or if you are wedded to one of the other ecosystems (Amazon, Apple), or if you are in love with openness and tinkering and software freedoms, then Nook HD is most definitely not the right choice for you.
Nook HD Review – How does it stack up against Kindle Fire HD?
I’ll do a separate detailed Kindle Fire HD vs Nook HD post. The short version is that you should NOT get Nook HD (instead get Kindle Fire HD) if one or more of the following are true -
- You’re wedded to the Amazon ecosystem.
- You’re an Amazon customer and trust them a lot.
- You aren’t willing to go into a store for support. Remember, phone support for Nook is spotty.
- You need to have the best speakers.
- You want a company that is going to stick around in Tablets for longer than the next one year.
- You don’t care about Google Play Store and lots of apps and just want an easy to use Tablet. Note: If you don’t need Google Play Store, then having it just introduces complications such as all the Google Apps running all the time and eating up battery life.
Nook HD was the better Tablet. With the addition of Google Play it’s no longer a close contest. However, your best option might be Kindle Fire HD. Just go over the cons of the Nook HD and consider the above list.
To beat Nook HD, Kindle Fire HD’s price would have to drop to $139 to $149.
Nook HD Review – How does it stack up against iPad Mini?
I don’t own an iPad Mini, so this section isn’t worth much. The following thoughts are based on iPad Mini articles and specifications.
The short version of Nook HD vs iPad Mini is -
- If you can afford the iPad Mini, get it.
- If you can’t afford the iPad Mini, then stop expecting that Nook HD or Kindle Fire HD will give you the same experience. They won’t. Better to be realistic now than to be disappointed after you’ve already invested money in an Android Tablet.
Just to be precise – iPad Mini beats the other Tablets in nearly every criteria that matters. iPad Mini is far superior on hardware quality, software quality, quality of apps, ease of use, range of tablet optimized apps, and smoothness. The few areas Nook HD and Kindle Fire HD beat iPad Mini include – price, better screen, better audio (Kindle Fire HD), more compact (Nook HD), user profiles.
If you care about hard to measure things like ‘openness’ and ‘saving baby pandas’, then you could come up with a lot of reasons to claim some other tablet is better. However, the truth is that iPad and iPad Mini are the best tablets. If you can’t afford them then you can’t get that same high quality experience.
The one exception: If you’re looking for a Tablet for Creators (and not Consumers). Then a keyboard equipped tablet like Surface Pro is better than iPad.
Nook HD Review – How does it stack up against Google Nexus 7?
Nook HD vs Nexus 7 will also be a separate post. The short version is -
- Nexus 7 was the weakest out of Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD, and Nexus 7.
- If you’re a ‘Google’ person then, for some strange reason, you can’t see this. Then Nexus 7 is best for you.
- If you’re not a ‘Google’ person, then it’s a no-brainer. Get Kindle Fire HD if you don’t care about Google Play Store. Get Nook HD if you care about Google Play Store.
Google’s Nexus 7 is just a tablet made by Asus and branded ‘Google’. So it doesn’t even make sense to assume it’s some special Google Tablet. It’s also pretty old. Far older than Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD. Makes no sense to buy a Tablet that is 6-7 months older than the competition. That’s half a generation.
Nook HD Review – How does it stack up against eInk Readers like Kindle Paperwhite and Nook GlowLight?
Firstly, if you’re comparing Nook HD against Kindle and Nook, you’re making a mistake. These are VERY different devices. The former is a Tablet that happens to be optimized somewhat for reading. It’s like a truck you drive to work because your car is in the garage. The latter are dedicated reading devices.
The short version of Nook HD vs Kindle Paperwhite vs Nook Glowlight -
- If you read a lot of books, just get a dedicated reading device. It’s not close when it comes to reading. eInk Readers are the best devices for reading. Strange as it might sound, a device optimized in every way for reading does happen to be better for reading than one that isn’t.
- If you are going to read 80% of the time on your Tablet, then get an eReader instead (or in addition to) of a Tablet.
- If you are not going to read much, or if you want a device that ‘also lets you read’ (versus a device that ‘focuses on reading’), then a Tablet is the better choice.
Prices of dedicated eReaders are really low now. If you love to read, you owe it to yourself to get a dedicated reading device like the Kindle Paperwhite and actually read.
Nook HD Review – What about the new Tablets? What about iPad Mini Retina Display?
Expected Release Dates are -
- June or July – cheaper Nexus 7. May or may not be a newer model.
- July to September – New iPad Mini. May or may not be Retina iPad Mini.
- October to November – Kindle Fire HD 2.
- Nook HD 2? Perhaps Not.
- 7″ Windows 8 Tablets – July to September time range.
- B&N Windows 8 Tablet – Perhaps. Perhaps in September or October.
I’m really not sure if and when these tablets will arrive. Quite frankly, it might make sense to wait and see what the Windows 8 Tablets are like. For the rest – No. Because then you will just end up waiting another 3 months and another 6 months. Before you know it you’ll be 121 years old and wondering whether the Microsoft Teleporter Tablet 2.0 is better than the Amazon Gratification Delaying Tablet 3.1.
Nook HD Review – The Conclusion
Nook HD is, without a doubt, the absolute best value for money in the 7″ Tablet market. At $199 it was a steal. At $149 Nook HD is a no-brainer PROVIDED it is what you’re looking for in a Tablet.
In my opinion, Nook HD is better than – Kindle Fire HD, Surface RT (yes), and Nexus 7 PROVIDED you are looking for a Tablet that does well what the Nook HD does well (reading books, watching movies, displaying photos, web surfing, email, Netflix, comics, apps, games).
- Nook HD is a very good Tablet for reading books and surfing the Internet and for mobility and portability.
- Nook HD is not a good Tablet for PDFs and Magazines (screen size is too small).
- Nook HD is not a good Tablet if you want the Apple experience or the Kindle/Amazon experience. This is important. You can get the Kindle Reading App on it and you can use Puffin Browser to watch Amazon Instant Videos. However, large parts of the Amazon experience will be missing.
- With the addition of Google Play Store, Nook HD is excellent for games and apps. Nook App Store also has some good games.
Quite simply, Nook HD is the Best 7″ Tablet around. It also happens to be one of the cheapest 7″ Tablets around. So, if you’re thinking about it, the Nook HD Mother’s Day sale price of $149 is well worth considering.