Barnes & Noble Nook HD review: A media tablet for non-techies

The Nook's magazine app is still the preferred way to view your favorite periodicals. I includes a smooth page-turning effect and the option to easily cut any page and include it in a virtual scrapbook. So, depending on your magazine(s) of choice, you could easily make a workout or recipes scrapbook, which is a lot less cumbersome than taking screenshots. Unfortunately, your clippings are only stored locally and (probably thanks to copyright laws) there's no way to share them online. You can, however, share them with other profiles on your Nook HD+.

Catalog support? Check! Oh, you didn't know that was a thing? Well, it is. James Martin/CNET

Catalog support is not something I ever thought I'd begin a sentence with in a tablet review, but here we are and the Nook HD+ has it. Catalogs can be downloaded through the Nook store and function much in the same way that magazines do. However, certain items (predetermined by the catalog's publisher) will have a distinct visual cue next to them called a hot spot. Tapping on the hot spot takes you to a page with more information about that particular item at which point you can add it to your scrapbook and be seamlessly directed to the company's Web page for that item. If thumbing through catalogs is your thing, it makes for a fairly convenient and entertaining way to shop.

Hardware features
The Nook HD houses a 1.3GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 CPU with a PowerVR SGX544 GPU bringing up the rear. It comes in both 8GB and 16GB varieties and its microSD card slot supports up to 64GB cards. The tablet includes 1GB of RAM, has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, and Bluetooth 4.0. There's no gyroscope, compass, or GPS inside the tablet. There is however an accelerometer.

No, I actually like the rubbery, grippy backside. James Martin/CNET

Performance
The Nook HD delivers images through a high 1,440x900-pixel resolution -- the highest yet for a 7-inch tablet. Evidence of its superior clarity can be seen in HD movies, in text in books, magazines, and Web pages, and pictures in magazines and and Web pages. There's a slight clarity advantage in games as well.

The Nook HD's screen is clearly more impressive than the Nexus 7's 1,280x800-pixel screen; however, it's not as cut and dry compared to the Kindle Fire HD. Most of the time, the Nook HD exudes superior quality to the Kindle Fire HD's 1,280x800-pixel screen, with a higher brightness and clearer, well, everything. However, the Kindle Fire HD's interface takes better advantage of its lower (but still high for a 7-inch tablet) resolution and glossier screen.

On the Fire HD, thumbnail images and fonts just look sharper, aided no doubt by the white text on black design of its interface, compared with the Nook HD's less contrasted black on gray design aesthetic. Also, while colors don't appear to be as accurate on the Fire HD, again, thanks to the screen's glossy coating, they pop from the screen much more vibrantly, especially on Web pages with white backgrounds like Collider.com.

As I mentioned before, HD movies are noticeably sharper on the Nook HD and colors look more accurate as well, compared with the Kindle Fire HD. The Nook HD also displays less backlight bleeding on dark screens. Both the Nook HD and Kindle Fire HD deal with glare equally well and viewing angles on each screen are wide. However, the Nook HD's screen is much more susceptible to moisture, so oily fingerprints tend to create a moire effect on the screen, blurring certain assets, especially text. Honestly, it can sometimes ruin the effect having more pixels provides. This is mostly a problem with text, however. Overall, I prefer the Nook HD's screen when viewing video, games, books, and magazines. It displays sharper text and images, and more accurate color. The Kindle Fire HD's glossy screen however gives it a higher perceived contrast when viewing the Web and is much less susceptible to fingerprint sullying.

Tested spec Barnes & Noble Nook HD Amazon Kindle Fire HD Google Nexus 7
Maximum brightness 455 cd/m2 394 cd/m2 288 cd/m2
Default brightness 94.1 cd/m2 394 cd/m2 190 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.53 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2 0.28 cd/m2
Default black level 0.11 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2 0.18 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 855:1 960:1 1055:1
Maximum contrast ratio 858:1 960:1 1028:1

The Nook HD's speaker volume was consistently low when watching movies, but output at a decent volume for narrated kid's books.

Ah, Riptide GP, how I love your scalability. James Martin/CNET

I used Riptide GP to test the Nook HD's gaming performance and came away impressed. The 1.3GHz TI OMAP 4470 delivers frame rates higher than any other 7-inch tablet running the game so far at what looked to be a constant 60 frames per second refresh rate. Unfortunately, the game can't be played using tilt (Barnes & Noble says a fix is coming), but luckily tap controls work just fine. It's a shame the app store isn't full of more games that show off the Nook HD's superior 3D graphics hardware. Also, as of yet, there's no known way to sideload apps, although I'm sure that will have changed by the time you read this. Hopefully.

In 3DMark, the Nook HD performs about as well as the Nexus 7, meaning that overall gaming performance is smooth and playable, but not outstanding in any way. Check here for more information on how 3DMark determines its scores.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ 1.5GHz TI OMAP 4470 PowerVR SGX544 (single-core) 1GB Nook OS 2.1.0
Barnes & Noble Nook HD 1.3GHz TI OMAP 4470 PowerVR SGX544 (single-core) 1GB Nook OS 2.1.0
Google Nexus 7 1.2GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 ULP GeFOrce (12-core) 1GB Android 4.2.2
Google Nexus 10 1.7GHz Dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) Mali-T604 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.2.2


(In Frames-per-second; Longer bars indicate better performance)
3DMark (Normal)


(In frames-per-second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 1, 720p (GPU)


(In frames-per-second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics Test 2, 720p (GPU)


(In frames-per-second; longer bars indicate better performance)
Physics Test, 720p (CPU)

As of yet, there's still no known way to sideload apps, but hopefully that changes soon.

Screen rotation is noticeably slower than on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and can't compare with how fast the iPad rotates its screen. Navigating the OS however does feel a bit sluggish as apps take their time to load. There's also a delay when bringing up recent apps, and the carousel has a frame-y, rough look when browsing through apps.


(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)
N.O.V.A. 3 Level 1 load time

Screen rotation is noticeably slower than on both the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 and navigating the OS feels a bit sluggish as apps take their time to load. There's also a delay when bringing up recent apps, and the carousel has a frame-y, rough look when browsing through apps.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Barnes & Nobles Nook HD 7.3

Conclusion
The addition of Google Play changes everything. With access to every app and piece of content on the store, there are now few major caveats to buying a Nook HD.

To be sure, the Nook HD has no cameras, lacks micro USB, and Micro-HDMI. And there's there's no GPS or gyroscope. Also performance can be lagging when navigating the interface.

However, the Nook HD is light, comfortable, great for pure books and magazine reading, and its scrapbook feature is well-implemented. Also, it's the sharpest movie player of any small tablet.

Profiles is a great solution for families on a budget and the microSD slot goes a long way toward dulling the sting of its low initial storage capacity and is something the other top 7-inch tablets don't support.

The Nook HD won't do every tablet-y thing you can think of, but with full Google Play access, it is dramatically more appealing than it was when it launched last year.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b
    IEEE 802.11g
    IEEE 802.11n
  • Weight 11.1 oz
  • Storage 8 GB integrated
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