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.
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.
|Tested spec||Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook||Google Nexus 7 (2013)||Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7||LG G Pad 7.0|
|Weight in pounds||0.6||0.66||0.66||0.65|
|Width in inches (landscape)||7.36||7.8||7.3||7.45|
|Height in inches||4.25||4.5||5||4.48|
|Depth in inches||0.35||0.34||0.35||0.4|
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.
But the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is all about books, and the remnants of the old Nook UI lurk underneath. With Nook's profiles, for example, you can create individual profiles with individual libraries for anyone who might use the tablet. The tablet makes it easy to create individual user accounts, and then swap between them by clicking on a profile picture from the lock screen. This is a great option for parents, as you can lock much of the tablet's features away from inquisitive eyes, and hand it over to your kids at your leisure -- provided they don't figure out your PIN, of course.
Samsung's TouchWiz UI still runs the show, and its custom Android skin will prove largely familiar to anyone who has checked out Samsung's wares before. The rest of the Nook UI presence is a little more subtle, but still rather useful. Consider article view, which strips down content to its bare essentials. Magazines on tablet devices are little more than glorified PDFs, and I often find myself needing to zoom in to read lengthy articles. On the Tab 4 Nook, the "article view" button appears at the bottom of the display and gives you a pared-down, text-only view. It's akin to something you'd see in read-it-later apps like Pocket . This view makes things far easier to read, but you'll sacrifice any images that might grace the text. You'll also lose out on formatting like italicized text, which proved rather confusing for some things such as interviews in Rolling Stone.
I generally found myself sliding from the standard page view to the article view, taking in the images and layout before settling down to read. In magazines, this feature only works on feature articles: when you reach the end of a piece, tapping the previous and next article prompts that appear actually jumps between features and skips any content in between, which can be a bit jarring. That said, this is a great compromise for reading magazines on an 8-inch device, if you're not going to use dedicated magazine apps like Wired Magazine's iPad incarnation.
Other Nook apps of interest are designed to try to make it easier to find and organize your content. The Nook Highlights app, for example, collates all of the notes and highlights you've made in the books you're reading and plops them in one convenient location. And then there's the Nook Today app, which keeps track of your activity and recommends new things you might be interested in based on your reading history. Subtler touches will be found on the homescreen. You'll find, for example, two bundled widgets that funnel readers back into the Nook ecosystem: one points to the Nook library, and the other pipes in recommendations and news from the Nook Store. In the bottom left corner of every homescreen is an icon of an open book; tap that, and you'll pop back to whatever you were last reading. That's a neat little convenience, but it only works with books and magazines in your Nook library.
As mentioned above, Barnes & Noble is sweetening the deal by including a fair number of freebies with the purchase of the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook. Specifically, buyers will get three e-books ("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 -- and they're yours to keep, which should help you build a back catalog rather quickly. You will need to sign up for a subscription, but you won't be charged if you cancel that subscription before your two weeks are up.
And there's one more important consideration: while Barnes & Noble would likely prefer you bought your apps and books from the Nook marketplace, there's nothing stopping you from sticking to the Google Play Store, or getting your content from Amazon's Kindle app. That's important, because even if Barnes & Noble doubles back on its renewed commitment to the Nook platform, you'll still have a fully functioning Android tablet.
The Galaxy Tab 4 Nook's performance is right in line with the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 : it too has a 1.2GHz quad-core processor and 1.5GB of RAM. Simple tasks like swiping through menus, thumbing through magazines and e-books, and browsing the Nook store are handled effortlessly. For more complicated tasks like gaming it didn't fare as well: even on the lowest settings Dead Trigger 2 tended to stutter occasionally, and frame rates were rarely smooth.
The life of the Tab 4 Nook's 4,000mAh battery is rated at 10 hours, which is about right. After 4 to 5 hours of near-nonstop video streaming I generally needed to reach for a charger, while I easily saw a day and a half or more when my use was limited to casual Web browsing and thumbing through back issues of magazines.
There's a tiny speaker on the rear of device, and it pumps out the anemic, tinny sound you might expect from a budget device. The speaker is also easily blocked should you lay the tablet flat or grip it while holding it out in landscape mode, so you'll want to stick to headphones here. You're also not going to want to do much with the cameras: both the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera and the 3-megapixel rear shooter create dull, grainy photos devoid of detail and with washed-out colors.
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 good (albeit not exceptional) specs.
The 8GB of built-in storage is skimpy (16GB would have been better), so you should invest in a 32GB memory card to increase the total to 40GB if you're doing anything more than reading books. Of course, that will cost you another $20, and put you within striking distance of similarly sized tablets (the 2013 Nexus 7 for $229, for instance) with improved resolution and better performance, especially for gaming.
All that said, if you buy this tablet, you're presumably a Nook customer or have some interest in becoming one. With that in mind, the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook will be a good option for families looking for a cheap device that makes it incredibly easy to set up parental controls, and anyone who wants a budget tablet with a smattering of free goodies tossed into the mix.