Predictably, given Barnes & Noble main bookselling business, the selection of magazines and books is much better than the app selection. You can subscribe to hundreds of magazines, or a handful of newspapers. The only UK-centric newspapers available from the Store at the time of review were the London Evening Standard and Independent, although we expect the roster will fill up fairly quickly with others.
The screen makes magazine content look great - the main limitation on this front is that not that many magazines are properly optimised for the tablet experience and the additional potential it unlocks.
Barnes & Noble promises movies and TV episodes within the Nook Store too, but at present the video service hasn't launched in the UK. It's not a streaming service, but rather one that lets you rent or buy movies, like iTunes. Streaming fans will be pleased to hear that a Netflix app is available from the Nook Store, although a LoveFilm app is not - no great surprise given that LoveFilm is owned by Amazon, which produces the Nook HD's arch rival.
If you want to play your own video files, the Nook HD is surprisingly good. It played out 1080p MKV test files at full speed, contrary to Barnes & Noble's own media specs for the device. High quality DivX and Xvid files played at full speed too. However, there are some improvements to be made here.
We found the video player a little buggy - at times it would refuse to play videos for no apparent reason - and it doesn't cope at all well with lower-quality material. Where some media players attempt to smooth out the rough-edges of SD-or-worse quality content, it can look quite raw on the Nook HD's screen. Textures and any detailed objects in motion in particular can look ropey on the unforgiving display. Stick to top-quality HD videos, of course, and they'll look fantastic.
Music doesn't get a look in at the Nook Store. You can't buy or stream tracks. However, there is an inbuilt music player and codec support is reasonable, incorporating OGG and WAV as well the usual suspects AAC and MP3.
The Nook HD's music player app is a simple and classy affair, with a bit of an Apple flavour to it. Although tablets don't make great music players unless you're using them as a wireless music controller, the memory card slot makes this better than most.
If you simply want to play a few casual tunes and no separate speakers to hand, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD has a pair of speakers on its rear, towards the bottom of the tablet.
They are crammed into one edge rather than at each end of the tablet, so can't hope to produce much of a stereo image. However, within the confines of what we can expect from a 1cm-thick tablet, sound quality is fairly good, with some warmth that removes it from the tinny fizz that some low-cost tablets produce. It's not quite up there with the iPad's output in quality terms, though, and doesn't go as loud as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
Used with a pair of headphones, the Nook HD outputs clean and clear sound, and goes loud enough to accommodate full-size headphones.
With a 4,050mAh battery, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD provides pretty convincing all-day use. Set to light tasks with the brightness dimmed to half-way, you'll get the full claimed 10.5 hours out of the tablet. At near-maximum brightness, we got a full day's fairly intense usage out of it, including gaming, web browsing and a spot of video. However, max out the brightness and set the Nook HD playing a looped video and stamina will be closer to the 6-7 hour mark.
The Barnes & Noble Nook HD can transmit audio to wireless speakers using its integrated Bluetooth connectivity. However, aside from Wi-Fi this is the only additional wireless connection the tablet has. Most importantly, there's no GPS, which means the device can't be used as a mapping tool while you're out and about. The Google Nexus 7 does offer this feature.
Other missing bits include 3G mobile internet, the wireless payments standard NFC, media streaming standard DLNA, and any sort of camera. For some, not having a user-facing camera may be a deal-breaker as it rules-out being able to video chat. There is an integrated microphone, however, that sits on the bottom edge of the Nook HD. Barnes & Noble says this is there to let you record your own narration of books, for your kids.
Since the Google Nexus 7 and the original Amazon Kindle Fire arrived, expectations of what a budget Android-based tablet should offer have skyrocketed. Poor-quality screens and weakling processors just won't cut it anymore. Unlike ebook-focused rival Kobo and its disappointing Kobo Vox, Barnes & Noble hasn't dropped the ball here.
There are holes in its feature list, but they are ones that don't show up too badly within the context of the "walled garden" of the Nook HD interface. The issue here is that the Barnes & Noble content infrastructure is pretty new here in the UK, and the apps, movies, games and TV offering just can't match up with what you get from a Google tablet or Amazon's Kindle Fire HD.
In terms of hardware alone, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD is an excellent tablet-ereader combo. It's lighter than the competition, and clever ergonomics make it the comfiest 7-inch tablet to hold one-handed. The screen is excellent too, with more pixels on show than any rival. Its issues are all in the software. The custom Barnes & Noble interface is easy to use, but it could be quicker. And at present the Nook Store doesn't offer enough content, with a limited apps and games roster and no movies, yet. It's remains excellent value for the amount of hardware you get, but compared to the Google Nexus 7, techies may find its limitations frustrating.