Mere months ago, Apple was the undisputed king of tablets. The Californian company no longer sits so easily on that throne however, thanks to an influx of cheap tablets designed for downloading ebooks, movies and games.
Google's excellent tablet is the one to beat, while Amazon's device is useful, but lacks the ability to download video. US bookseller Barnes & Noble is wading into the battle for your cash with its 7.7-inch Nook HD tablet. But is this £159 gadget worth your time, or would you be better off with a tiny tablet from Google, Amazon or Apple?
The Nook HD is available now in the UK direct from Barnes & Noble, at £159 for the 8GB model and £189 for 16GB of storage. A larger 9.5-inch version, the , is also available.
Should I buy the Nook HD?
The Nook HD is a reasonable choice if you're looking for a media consumption gadget that's not too tough to get to grips with. This is a cheap, good-looking tablet that's easy to navigate and offers some neat software treats, but even if you're persuaded, I'd advise you to hold off on a purchase for a few weeks, because the Nook's video offering isn't available quite yet.
We know that when it does arrive in early December, videos will be playable offline, and we know that the screen has the potential to make hi-def movies look glorious. We don't know how many films will be on offer though, or how much they'll cost, and seeing as watching films is a big part of this device's appeal, that's a pretty big unknown quantity.
For now the Nook HD is a promising gadget, that -- if its video offering is up to scratch -- could just edge out Amazon's alternative when it comes to design and an attractive interface. If you're feeling just a little more ambitious or technically savvy however, a far superior choice is Google's Nexus 7, which does everything the Nook can do and a whole lot more, once you learn to navigate its Android interface.
Design is definitely the Nook HD's strong suit. It's a slim device with a soft-touch coating across the back and sides that makes it comfy to hold in one or two hands. The back of the Nook HD has a shallow indent with a recessed Nook 'n', while another tiny 'n' sits beneath the screen and serves as a home button, while the tablet comes in either grey or white.
The Nook HD isn't noticeably thicker than the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7, but at 11mm deep it can't measure up to the 's 7.2mm frame. Apple's tablet is much more expensive however (£269 for the 16GB model), so you're paying a big premium for that design. This tablet feels well put together, and while I noticed a bit of flex in the plastic back, the Nook HD feels sturdy -- it'll survive the odd knock.
At 315g the Nook HD is much lighter than the 395g Kindle Fire HD. It doesn't feel particularly airy, but neither is it likely to cause your wrists any grief if you hold it for long periods of time. You won't fit it inside a pocket, but any rucksack or handbag would easily accommodate this slate.
The bezel around the display is partially covered by more of that soft-touch plastic mentioned earlier, so you're not confronted with great swathes of unsightly black gloss around the screen itself. There's a home button beneath the screen for hopping back to the Nook HD's homescreen, which is more useful and easier to find than the Kindle Fire HD's virtual button.
All things considered this is a good-looking gadget for the money you'll be paying. The Nook HD doesn't look as classy as the Nexus 7, but I think it's considerably easier on the eyes than the chunky Kindle Fire HD.
The best thing about this tablet in hardware terms is its 7.7-inch screen, which packs a honking 1,440x900 pixels. That's higher than the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, both of which offer 1,280x800-pixel panels.
In practice the difference is slight, and chances are the displays on both those rival devices will be more than adequate for your needs. That said, this is a great screen, rendering text with a pleasing clarity and making videos, Web pages and photos look bright and sharp. Digital magazines look a treat too, with the high pixel count making it easy to read smaller chunks of text.
The distance between the display itself and the top of the screen is very slim, which gives the Nook HD a classy feel, and the viewing angle is generous so, if you wanted, you could crowd a few people around the screen without anyone getting a bad view.
Like almost every gadget out there however, the Nook HD's screen is terribly reflective, making the display all but unviewable in bright conditions. If you have dreams of lazing in the park on a sunny day enjoying an ebook, you'd be better off getting an E-Ink device such as the new Kindle Paperwhite, which handles sunny conditions with ease.
Software and performance
The Nook HD is powered by, though you'd never know it, as Barnes & Noble has created its own, heavily customised interface. Happily, however, that interface is easy to navigate, and looks good to boot.
The homescreen contains shortcuts to apps, books, movies and magazines from your library. There are five homescreens in total, accessible by swiping left and right, though you'll need a huge amount of stuff to fill all those panels.
Along the bottom of the display are links to your library, a list of apps, the Web browser, your email and the shop, where you buy new digital goodies. The library button lists everything you own, with media sorted by category into books, magazines, films and TV, apps, childrens' and newspapers.
That layout is slightly different to the Kindle Fire HD, which also runs a modified version of Android and displays links to your app collection, books, films and so on along the top of the screen. Neither device is particularly difficult to find your way round, but I'd cautiously suggest the Nook HD feels slightly more intuitive, and its homescreen certainly looks better than Amazon's somewhat spartan effort.