US bookseller Barnes & Noble is poised to unleash two new tablets into UK shops. The 7.7-inch Nook HD goes toe-to-toe with the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, but it's also made a larger 9.5-inch device, called the Nook HD+. It goes up against the Nexus 10 and the iPad with retina display.
I've been hands-on with the Nook HD+ ahead of its release later this month, so read on for first impressions. If you're considering a purchase, don't forget to bookmark this page, as we'll be updating it later with a full review and a star rating.
The Nook HD+ is available to pre-order now direct from Barnes & Noble for £229 -- it'll be released on 22 November.
Design and display
The Nook HD+ feels well-built when you take it in your hands, and has a hole bored into one corner, which makes for an interesting design feature. It's 11.5mm thick, which isn't as slim as the 9.4mm iPad, but it is lighter than Apple's 652g tablet at 515g. It still feels quite hefty compared to smaller gadgets such as the Nexus 7, though.
The display is worth a mention, because it has a very high pixel count for the money you'd be paying. The 9.5-inch panel has a 1,920x1,280-pixel resolution, which means this is a higher than 1080p display.
The iPad's retina display is more impressive, packing in 2,048x1,536 pixels, but that's not to suggest the Nook HD+'s screen is blurry or unimpressive -- my first impressions were that this panel looked bright, clear and colourful, and likely to do justice to high-resolution video or glossy digital magazines.
Also bear in mind that this tablet is a lot cheaper than the £399 iPad, costing £229 for the 16GB option and £269 for the 32GB model. It's hard to feel too upset about that slight difference in resolution as a result.
Software and interface
The Nook HD+ is running on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, though you'd never know it, as this is a heavily customised version of Google's mobile operating system.
It's unlikely to offer the same degree of customisation and flexibility as a full-Android device like the Nexus 10, but the trade-off is that Barnes & Noble seems to have made this tablet very easy to navigate.
On the homescreen you'll see selections of books, movies, magazines and newspapers, with shortcuts to downloaded apps and your full library of digital goodies. It seemed intuitive in my brief hands-on.
One good feature is that you can have multiple users on one tablet, handy if you're sharing a device with other family members. If there's something you don't want the kids to access you can control the media they can see, as well as available payment options. Hold down on an ebook or movie for a moment and you'll get the option to add it to another user's profile.
Unlike Amazon's devices, the Nook HD+ supports the popular .epub file format, which means you can load ebooks you've bought and downloaded from a variety of places. Handy.
Something else this tablet offers over the Kindle Fire HD is that you'll be able to download films for offline viewing. Amazon's tablet only lets you stream video, meaning you need a constant web connection. Finally there are some interesting ebook discovery tricks in place, including Netflix-esque categories such as "the new classics" and "crossover teens", which could make finding new literature easier.
Hardware and battery life
The Nook HD+ is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, which hopefully will make it capable of powering through most tasks. I noticed just a little lag when swiping through homescreens, so when we give this tablet the full review treatment we'll be keeping a weather eye on how speedy it feels to use. It's particularly important that hi-def video plays smoothly.
The tablet has a microSD card slot in case the on-board storage doesn't provide enough space -- something that could well be the case seeing as the amount of usable space on the 16GB model is only 13GB, and 28GB on the 32GB model. Expandable storage gives the Nook a key advantage over the Nexus and iPad tablets, all of which lack this feature.
In terms of battery life, Barnes & Noble is promising 10 hours of reading time and 9 hours of video. We'll see how well its battery holds up when we give this tablet the full review treatment.
Barnes & Noble has created a tempting tablet that -- on paper at least -- offers a great display and an easy way of watching films for an appealingly low price. It'll all come down to how pleasant the software is to use however, and the breadth of apps, movies and books that the tablet's virtual shop can offer.
I think the Nook HD+ could prove better than Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets (of which there is no 9-inch version available in the UK). but it'll be hard-pressed to measure up to the power and flexibility of the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10.