Review Price £159.00
Manufacturer: Barnes & Noble
In the US, Barnes & Noble and the Nook range of eReaders are well-known. But here in the UK, neither name holds much weight. Like Hershey's chocolate, they're around, but haven't yet woven themselves into the cultural fabric of the country.
However, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD is no limping entry to the tablet game. With a high-resolution 7-inch screen, dual-core 1.5GHz processor, aggressive £159 starting price and expandable memory, it wants to lure people away from the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7. And for at least a handful of people, it should do.
Like the Amazon tablet, it offers access to a handful of content portals, supplying games, apps, videos, books and magazines. It wants to be your ebook reader, as well as letting you perform tablet tasks like checking email, browsing the web and - naturally - playing Angry Birds.
One of the key taglines Barnes & Noble has stuck on the Nook HD tablet is that it's the lightest 7-inch tablet around. At 307g, it's lighter than the Google Nexus 7, 340g, and the Kindle Fire HD, which is a hefty 395g.
Being lightweight may be a design focus, but being desperately small and slim is not. Instead, Barnes & Noble has given ergonomics precedence. There's an inch-wide grey bezel around the sides of the screen surround, acting as a thumb rest intended to supply the most relaxed grip possible.
This generous bezel works in partnership with a soft-touch back that has a curved ridge that sits under your finger, making the Nook HD much more comfortable to hold than the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. However, like the Amazon tablet it's not quite a beauty.
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD's outer body is made up of four different parts. Its screen surround is glass and there are three grey plastic elements that form the front, the sides and the rear. The back and front bits are matt, but the sides are glossy and the unmistakeable seams that outline each betray the tablet's budget roots.
It is significantly more distinctive-looking than most cheap Android tablets, though, the contoured grey plastic front giving the curious impression of a device that's already in a case. There is a functional benefit the non-flat front - it helps to protect the screen when the tablet is laid down face-first.
There's another key hardware difference between the Nook HD and its key rivals too. It has a microSD memory card slot on its bottom edge, unlike the Google Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, which make you stick to the 16GB or 32GB of internal memory. Expandable memory makes the relatively poor amount of integrated storage you get here easier to forgive.
The lower-end Nook HD model has just 8GB of internal memory, costing £159, and the 16GB edition tops off the range at £189. It's therefore slightly more expensive than both the Amazon and Google alternatives. They offer double the storage for roughly the same price, but being able to boost storage with an inexpensive microSD card will be a huge bonus for some. Cards up to 64GB capacity are supported, ramping up maximum capacity to 80GB. Nowadays, even ultra-high capacity cards like this aren't too pricey, available for around £40.
Barnes & Noble really wants you to use its own online stores to consume content like movies, TV episodes, books and apps, but you can also transfer files to the memory manually fairly easily. Plug the tablet in to a computer using the supplied cable and both the internal memory and any inserted memory card will show up as disk drives, ready to dump files onto.
Rather than using a standard microUSB connector, though, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD has a proprietary socket that's a dead spit of the old 30-pin Apple plug. This connection is also used to charge the internal battery - a power adapter that the cable plugs into is included as standard.
The only other socket on the Nook HD is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which sits up top. There's no video output, which does feature on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, although you can buy a bespoke HDMI output cable that plugs into the tablet's main socket.
From a pure hardware design perspective, there's no clear winner in the sub-£200 7-inch tablet war yet. Ergonomically, the Nook HD is superior to the Kindle Fire HD, but both are a way off the Apple aesthetics of the iPad mini. And while not everyone will appreciate the ebook reader-like design of the Nook HD, it's roughly on-par with the Google Nexus 7 in build quality and aesthetics.
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