Galaxy Tab 4 Nook puts Barnes & Noble's interface and free content bundle on Samsung's most affordable tablet (hands-on)

The first fruits of Barnes & Noble's partnership with Samsung is a version of the Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch Android tablet, loaded with the bookseller's reading-friendly interface and oodles of free content.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
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David Carnoy
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Barnes & Noble announced back in June that it would launch a co-branded Samsung tablet that would marry Samsung's hardware with its Nook software. That tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook, is now shipping, and it's exactly what what we imagined it would be.

Indeed, the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook hardware is identical to the existing 7-inch Galaxy Tab 4, which lists for $199, but is widely available for $20 less. In fact, there's not even any Barnes & Noble branding on the device, only on the box.

The Nook version comes in white or black. It's being offered for $179 after a $20 instant rebate in Barnes & Noble's online and brick-and-mortar stores. At launch you also get what B&N says is $200 worth of free content, including three e-books, three TV episodes, a $5 Nook store credit for apps or movies, and some special offers for digital magazines.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook: An Android tablet optimized for Barnes & Noble (pictures)

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The Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch is Samsung's entry-level tablet, but it's smartly designed. Barnes & Noble says it's its thinnest Nook tablet offering yet, measuring 0.35 inches thick and weighing 9.7 ounces. It runs on a quad-core processor and has 8GB of built-in storage. About 5GB of that is usable, but its micro-SD expansion slot means you can add storage on the cheap (with a 32GB card costing less than $20).

Its screen resolution is 1,280x800 pixels (216 ppi), which is fine, but actually a step down from the resolution of Barnes & Noble's last 7-inch model, the 2012 Nook HD tablet, which came in at 1,440x900. (The Nook HD and 8.9-inch Nook HD+ are officially discontinued, and Barnes & Noble has been selling through its remaining stock, which have long been heavily discounted.)

Nook interface

Galaxy Tab 4 Nook's user interface is where it departs from the stock Galaxy Tab 4. Instead, you get the Barnes & Noble skin that's similar to that of previous Nook tablets. The idea here is that this remains a "reading" tablet, with your e-books and Barnes & Noble's book recommendations and deals featured on the device's home screen.

You have quick access to your library, the last book you were reading and needless to say, Barnes & Noble's e-book and app stores. As before, you can also setup password-protected user profiles, so members of your family can have their own personalized content lockers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Barnes & Noble has made some enhancements to the Nook interface and also says it has tweaked its store and improved its recommendation engine. (I didn't get a chance to test it out yet because a Barnes & Noble employee's profile was on the device I looked at.) While current Nook tablet owners might get those enhancements down the road, at this time Barnes & Noble reps said it had no plans for a software update for its legacy tablets, which will be phased out.

One of the key differences between Barnes & Noble's tablets and Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets is that you get full access to the Google Play store and the full suite of Google apps, including Google Maps (yes, there's GPS and Bluetooth). That means you can load any Android app -- the device runs on Android 4.4 KitKat -- including the Kindle app.

With this tablet, you also get access to Samsung Galaxy apps, so you can essentially choose between three different app environments, although Barnes & Noble would obviously prefer if you stuck to its app, e-book, and video stores.

Free content included

As mentioned above, B&N is sweetening the deal by including a fair amount of freebies with the purchase of the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook -- another distinguishing feature from the Samsung version. Specifically, buyers will get three ebooks ("Freakonomics," "The Wanderer," and "I Am Number Four"); one episode each of "Hannibal," "Orphan Black," and "Veep"; a $5 Nook Store credit; and up to four two-week trial subscriptions to any of 12 magazines, including Us Weekly, Sports Illustrated, and Cosmopolitan, each of which includes access to the dozen most recent issues as well.

Barnes & Noble will sell a couple of different cases, including this one which offers both a vertical and horizontal stand modes. Sarah Tew/CNET


We'll have a full review of the device in the coming days, but here's my gut reaction to this initial Samsung Nook product and the partnership in general.

Barnes & Noble needed a new Nook to show its customers that it's still committed to the brand after a very rough 2013. While it's agreed to buy 1 million Galaxy Tab 4s from Samsung over the next 15 months, that's a far less risky and affordable proposition than making its own hardware.

The Galaxy Tab 4 isn't the most exciting device -- not too many tablets are these days -- but it's got an attractive enough design and is reasonably zippy. It also helps that the Samsung brand is quite powerful and feels like a safer investment compared to the Nook brand.

I think the 8GB of built-in storage is skimpy (16GB would have been better) and I would suggest you invest in a 32GB memory card to up the total to 40GB. But the fact that this is an open device (you can access the Google Play store) and has that memory-card slot are notable pluses. Amazon's, Apple's, and Google's tablets do not have memory expansion options.

All that said, if you buy this tablet, you're presumably a Nook customer or have some interest in becoming one, because after all, having quick access to your Nook content and the Nook store are the only things that set this apart from the existing Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch.