Back in the early days of tablets -- about three or four years ago -- Barnes & Noble was a major player in the market. But that was then, and this is now: with the exception of its GlowLight e-ink reader, the bookseller is now out of the tablet hardware business, having opted instead to partner with Samsung.
The first fruit of the collaboration is the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook. The hardware isn't new at all: in fact, this is exactly the same tablet as the existing Galaxy Tab 4 7.0, available at the same price ($179 with a $20 rebate). But the Nook version uses Barnes & Noble's own Android skin (an updated holdover of the company's earlier tablets), and throws in a dollop of freebies, including a trio of e-books, three TV episodes, and some trial magazine subscriptions.
The result is perfectly decent 7-inch tablet with all the basics (microSD expansion slot, the current Android KitKit 4.4 operating system, full access to Google Play app store), along with a handful of nice extras (it has GPS and doubles as a TV remote, for instance). But with screen resolution that's a bit of a step back from that of the the 2012 Nook HD and an inevitable parade of cheap-but-good tablets on tap for the last few months of the year, the Galaxy Tab Nook has its work cut out for it. And in the end, for fans of the Nook e-book ecosystem, it may not even matter: they can still use that app on any iOS or Android device of their choosing.
Design and specs
Let's restate the fact: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 that was released just a few months ago, but with Nook-centric apps and features baked into the interface. If you're a current Galaxy Tab 4 owner and that doesn't sound like much of a selling point, you're right. The re's a headphone jack at the top and a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom. The physical home button is flanked on either side by the capacitive back and app-switcher buttons on the lower bezel. The lock switch and volume control rocker are on the right side, while the microSD card slot sits on the bottom right, hidden by a flap that's secure, but fairly easy to open when you need to. There's also an IR blaster on the side, so you can use the tablet as a remote control with the Samsung WatchOn app.
Barnes & Noble and Samsung call the Tab 4 Nook the first Android tablet "optimized for reading." That's a rather specific claim, but the tablet does a pleasant job of serving up text. The 7-inch display has a 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution, giving it a pixel density of 215 pixels per inch. You can get 7-inch tablets with higher-resolution displays without spending too much more -- and, annoyingly, the Tab 4 Nook is a step back from the 1,440-by-900-pixel (243ppi) of the company's 2012 Nook HD tablet -- but the screen on the Tab 4 Nook is fine: colors are reproduced accurately and there was no shifting when I tilted the screen at awkward angles.
Sizing up the competition
Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook
Google Nexus 7 (2013)
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7
LG G Pad 7.0
Weight in pounds
Width in inches (landscape)
Height in inches
Depth in inches
There's only 8GB of storage, about half of which will be available for use when you first fire up the tablet. You'll need to grab a microSD card right away if you plan on downloading many books and apps -- the tablet will support up to 32GB cards (which you can snag for about $20). Thankfully, if you're starved for space, the things you buy from the Nook store will be saved to the Nook Cloud so you can re-download them at your leisure. That said, starting the storage capacity at 16GB would be in line with similarly priced competitors like the EVGA Tegra Note 7, and would make for a much more satisfying experience.
The tablet weighs just over half a pound (9.76 ounces) and is 4.25 inches wide -- eminently totable, and comfortable enough to hold aloft for extended periods of time. The plastic back is smooth, and while it's not exactly grippy or textured it's also not slippery, and feels nice in the hand. The Tab 4 Nook is plastic, which accounts for the light weight and bargain-bin price. I wouldn't go so far as to call it cheaply made though, as it's a sturdy little thing that I found offered only a minute amount of flex, try as I might to bend and twist it.
While easily outclassed in the style department by pricier, premium devices it doesn't necessarily feel like a disposable device. It has much in common with its slightly larger 8-inch sibling, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0. That device offered consistently fair performance for basic tasks while stumbling a bit on gaming, but its plastic build and that meager 1,280-by-800-pixel resolution failed to justify its $270 list price. (You can now find it closer to $240.)
As far as the current 7-inch tablet options go, the Tab 4 Nook faces some stiff competition in devices like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 and the Google Nexus 7. Both of those start at $230, but also offer double the storage capacity, at 16GB. They're also significantly more substantial, thanks to beefier hardware and higher-resolution displays, with 1,920 by 1,200 pixels on both. Granted, they lack microSD card slots, a feature in the Tab 4 Nook's favor if you're planning on loading up on movies and the like. Still, the gulf in resolution alone is arguably worth $30. And both of those are 2013 models that are likely to be refreshed before the year is out.