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Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ review: A fantastic tablet value

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The Good The Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ starts at only $149, and has a sharp screen, good performance, and a microSD slot. It's also lightweight and comfortable, and implements magazines and catalogs better than any other tablet.

The Bad There are no cameras, the screen is susceptible to fingerprints, and the OS can feel sluggish at times.

The Bottom Line The Nook HD+ is a low-price, quality entry point into the world of tablets, especially now that it has full Google Play support.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Editors' note, November 25, 2013: Due to increasingly stronger competition in the tablet space, CNET has lowered the score of the Nook HD+.

At only $149, the Nook HD+ is a fantastic value. It's a 9-inch tablet with a high-resolution screen, and implements magazines and catalogs better than any tablet before it. It also includes a microSD slot and is lightweight; however, it doesn't feel as durable as its 7-inch sibling, the Nook HD.

With the addition of Google Play, the Nook HD+ now has access to tons of new apps and a deep catalog of media content. While in overall performance it can't compare to the Nexus 10 -- especially in games -- its much lower price means it may not have to.

$149 is a fantastic deal for a large, capable tablet with complete access to Google's media library.

The Nook HD+ features a medium-gray ("slate") body with a smooth plastic back. Sitting alone toward the top of the right edge is a power/sleep button and right above it, on the top edge, are a volume rocker, headphone jack, and microphone pinhole. On the bottom edge are a custom 30-pin charging connector and a microSD card slot covered with a door. The tablet comes with a 30-pin-to-USB cable that plugs into the included AC adapter. Dual speakers sit nestled in the lower back, under a single speaker grille.

On the front, right above the bottom bezel, is the hardware home button. Like on the iPad, the home button is a great "just press this if things get confusing" solution for the ever-evolving tablet interface. Unfortunately, there's no built-in camera, no ambient light sensor, no Micro-USB, and no HDMI port. A $39 Barnes & Noble HDMI adapter is available, though.

Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ Apple iPad (fourth-gen) Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Google Nexus 10
Weight in pounds 1.13 1.44 1.25 1.32
Width in inches (landscape) 9.5 7.3 6.4 10.4
Height in inches 6.4 9.5 9.4 6.9
Depth in inches 0.45 0.37 0.35 0.35
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.63 0.87 1 0.9

The Nook HD+'s corners are smoothly rounded, and at only 1.19 pounds, it's the lightest large tablet available and feels almost perfectly comfortable to hold. Just not quite as perfect as the smaller, lighter 7-inch Nook HD does.

Even with its light weight, the Nook HD+'s build feels solid and fairly durable; however, it lacks the rubberized feel of the 7-inch Nook HD and therefore probably can't take as much punishment. Also, applying enough pressure to the back or along the left or right bezel yields a visible screen-warping effect on the display. Now, screen warping occurs to some extent on nearly every tablet, but if you're just holding the Nook HD+ while reading a book or watching a movie, you'll likely have no cause to apply enough pressure to it for this to be a problem.

James Martin/CNET

The interface
The Nook HD+'s operating system uses Ice Cream Sandwich as its base, with a custom-designed skin that feels like an evolution of the original Nook Tablet's OS. The home screen sports a light gray, slightly textured aesthetic that permeates all native apps and menus. The home screen shows Library, Apps, Web, Email, and Shop options near the bottom with a global search bar underneath. Directly above is a space in which to organize content shortcut icons, and near the top of the screen sits your content carousel.

In the top-right edge of the screen is Your Nook Today, a widget that shows the current weather as well as book and movie recommendations based on recent additions to your library. Also, if the opt-out-of-ads kerfuffle for the Fire HD line turned you off, you'll be pleased to know that Barnes & Noble has no such ads on its tablets.

Settings can be accessed by tapping the gear icon at the very top right of the screen, with options too numerous to name. If you've ever used a tablet before, though, there's nothing included in the settings that will surprise you. The default software keyboard thankfully includes a Tab key. Typing felt about as accurate as it does on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, but not nearly as precise as on the Nexus 10 or iPad.

James Martin/CNET

Nook Profiles can be accessed from the upper-left-hand corner. This feature allows users to set up multiple profiles on a single tablet. With a simple tap of the profile photo at the top of the screen, you can switch to a new profile almost instantly. Once in the new profile, that user's content (and only that user's content) will be displayed and accessible. Lock-screen switching is also possible. Both adult and child profiles can be accessed and passwords can be added to adult profiles, ensuring that not just anyone can access your content. Nook profiles are simple to implement and feel secure and useful, likely appealing to families on a budget looking to share a single tablet.

Eric Franklin/CNET

Overall, the interface is much cleaner and more intuitive than the Nook Tablet's; however, I still have a few problems with navigation. As much as I like the home button, I feel the interface relies on it a bit too much. If you're looking at a magazine, for example, there's no built-in way to view all magazines in your library or a back button to return to where you first launched the magazine. Instead, you're forced to use the home button or the recent-apps software button to access another piece of content if you want to switch. Not a huge deal, but it's annoying in the moment.

Now Playing: Google!
As of version 2.1.0 of the Nook OS, both the Nook HD and the Nook HD+ include full Google Play support. All apps, music, videos, books, and magazines available on Google Play can now be downloaded directly to the Nook HD tablets. The Nook Store and its contents are still available.

Nook HD+ owners now have access to many more movies and TV shows. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The chief criticism of the Nook HD tablets when they launched was the severely limited apps-and-media-content ecosystem. With the addition of Google Play, however, this effectively becomes an nonissue. Google Play is second only to the Apple Store in terms of available content.

Chrome is now the default Web browser, and all (aside from Google Now) Google service apps -- Gmail, Magazines, and Books, and so on -- are automatically downloaded to the tablet once the update is installed.

Eric Franklin/CNET

Nook OS
If you have an UltraViolet account, any movies added to your digital UltraViolet library will show up in your Nook HD+ library as well. The tablet supports MP4, 3GP, WEBM, and AVI video files, and MKV files.

Eric Franklin/CNET

Thanks to its high-resolution screen, text in books is crisp and clean whether in Google Books or the Nook's own book app. On the Kindle Fire HD, reading options like X-Ray and immersion reading may give Amazon's tablet the slight edge here. For a pure reading experience on a large tablet, though, the Nook HD+ is the best current choice thanks to its lightweight and comfortable build.

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