The one area that the Barnes & Noble Nook HD can comfortably claim to beat all the competition is its screen. It is seven inches across and uses IPS display technology, just like the Google Nexus 7. However, its screen resolution is significantly higher than any other tablet in its class.
The Nexus 7 has a 1,280 x 800 pixel screen, the iPad mini a lower 1,024 x 768 pixel display - both well below the 1,440 x 900 pixel 7-incher the Nook HD provides. Pixel density is 243dpi, which is excellent for a tablet this cheap. The key benefit of such a pixel-packed screen is that text looks very sharp.
This comes in handy when using the Nook HD as an ereader, although if reading is your only aim, we still recommend getting an E-ink screen device like the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight or Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. Even a good-quality IPS screen can’t compete with the relaxing look of an E-ink display.
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD screen is far better at displaying rich content, such as videos or magazines, though. Colour reproduction is good, maximum brightness is respectable and contrast is decent.
There are just two niggling holes in its armour. The display's blacks turn blue-ish when the screen is tilted in certain directions and there's no ambient light sensor. This means the Nook HD can't adjust brightness automatically depending on the environment, forcing you to manually control brightness. In Barnes & Noble's defence, the brightness slider is only ever a screen tap away, within the quick-access Settings menu.
The positioning of all the Nook HD's controls are determined not by the Android Ice Cream Sandwich software that sits at the tablet's core but the Barnes & Noble user interface that sits on top. Just like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, the Nook HD features a custom-made skin that's quite far removed from the feel of vanilla Android.
Also like the Amazon tablet, it's intended to direct you towards using Barnes & Noble's content hubs. However, it feels less aggressive and is more accessible than Amazon's flawed effort.
Crucially, it doesn't sideline any core tablet features too badly. At the bottom of the tablet's start screen is a row of up to five icons that take you to the web browser and email client, as well as your book/magazine library, your app collection and the Shop.
The Shop is where you get hold of all your multimedia goodies, from TV episodes and movies, through newspapers and magazines to apps and games. All these content types sit under this roof. We'll delve further into what's on offer later.
Barnes & Noble is keen to reiterate that it knows that tablets tend to be used by more than one person, especially when used within the context of a family. The Nook HD is geared-up for this situation, letting you set a different user account for each person.
The main point behind these accounts is to give each user an area to make their own, where they can pick their own shortcuts and background image, but there is a child account option too, which lets parents limit kids' access to the browser, shop and apps collection. Passcodes can be used too, so you don't have to rely on children doing as they're told.
Although the Nook HD interface feels quite different from vanilla Android, its approach to home screens is comparable. Once you've setup a user account, you're free to customise each of the five home screens as you wish. A long press on the touchscreen opens-up a toy box of shortcuts to apps, videos, bookmarks and books, each of which can be dumped onto the home screen as a little icon.
Compared to a full-blown Android tablet like the Google Nexus 7, the Nook HD keeps things simple, though. There's no Android widget support, so you can't dump calendars or clocks onto them. The limited functionality of home screens makes having five of the things feel like overkill, but we imagine that - like so many Android tablet users - a lot of Nook HD users will ignore all but one home screen.