Barnes & Noble Nook HD review
A top-value tablet with a fabulous screen – an excellent compact tablet for those who don’t need 3G
The Nook HD, much like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in, is marketed as a colour ebook reader rather than a straight tablet. When it first appeared in the UK, just before Christmas 2012, it was limited in a similar way, running its own app, movie and book stores on top of a heavily modified version of Android 4.
Now, Barnes & Noble, the manufacturer of the Nook HD, has given its compact tablet a new lease of life, adding the riches of Google Play via a software update and cutting the price (temporarily) to £99. This makes all the difference. We liked it before, but we couldn't bring ourselves to recommend it because of the paucity of apps; now, we're huge fans. It's fantastic value for money, and that's due in no small part to the high quality of the hardware.
We'll start with the screen, which is the best on the compact tablet market for pixel count. The resolution of 900 x 1,440 gives a pixel density of 243ppi across the Nook HD's 7in display, which means it's in effect a "Retina" screen when viewed from 14in or further away. It's also brighter than most - only the far more expensive Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 beats it on this front.
The contrast ratio isn't as impressive, at 674:1, but it's still pleasurable for movie-watching. Colours look natural, with a pleasantly warm tone, and the high resolution means text looks super-sharp.
Battery life is excellent. The Nook lasted 12hrs 35mins in our looping video test – only the Asus Fonepad showed greater stamina – and performance is fine, too. The same update that added Google Play has smoothed out the slight sluggishness in the user interface, and benchmark performance is perfectly acceptable.
The tablet's 1.3GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4470 CPU helps it reach scores that are among the best for SunSpider, Geekbench and Peacekeeper. There's a blip in the graphics-heavy GFXBench test, where it finds itself behind most of rivals – this is due to the Nook's high pixel count – but we experienced no serious problems in everyday gaming.
We're also fans of the physical design of the Nook HD. It isn't particularly attractive, with its black screen surround contrasting rather uncomfortably with the stark white bezel and grey rear, but the scooped-out, rubbery back panel makes it comfortable to hold.
In addition, the proprietary user interface gets a lot right. We like the fact that it allows user profiles, so different people can use the tablet without having to share the same accounts and settings.
That said, there are areas where the Nook has gone backwards since that all-important update. For one, there's no longer an "Article View" setting on the tablet's default web browser. You can regain this feature by installing Firefox, which offers something similar, but its ad-stripped view isn't nearly as elegant as that of the old proprietary Nook browser. There's also no GPS, no front- or rear-facing cameras, no NFC and no option for 3G.
Aside from those obvious weaknesses, however, the Nook HD still represents a fantastic buy. It has a great screen, decent performance, very good battery life and a good all-round design, yet it costs a mere £99. The Fonepad's smartphone features and 3G capability keep it on top, but if you don't need those, this is the next best thing.
|Price ex VAT||£83|
|Price inc VAT||£99|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||6|
|Dimensions||127 x 11 x 195mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||900|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,440|
|Display type||Multitouch, capacitive|
|CPU frequency, MHz||1.3GHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||N/A|
|Built-in flash type||N/A|
|Upstream USB ports||0|
|Mobile operating system||Nook 2.0.4 (based on Android 4)|