Nook Tablet: A Great E-Reader or a Crummy Tablet Computer?

By Dan Palma

The seven-inch tablet market received a new entry in late 2011, as Barnes and Noble joined the fray with their Nook Tablet, which burst on the scenes as the chief rival to the economically priced Kindle Fire.

Over a year (and several drops in price) later, the Nook Tablet remains a formidable competitor in the budget tablet niche, despite the fact that other manufacturers (most notably Google’s Nexus 7) have since ratcheted up the competition in that specific price point.

Tablet Newbie?

If you are a tablet connoisseur, a gadget guru that has to have the latest and the greatest, the Nook Tablet will probably have become passé in your estimation by now, assuming you ever had a yen for a low-priced gizmo to begin with.

However, if you are in the market for a mostly-functional, feature-moderate tablet and you’d rather have several hundred dollars in your pocket than the latest, state-of-the-art offering, then the Nook Tablet is a pretty formidable option.

It has some advantages over the competition in its pricing point, yet does have a few drawbacks in contrast.

If your tablet budget is in the $150 to $200 range, you’ll want to at least investigate the Nook Tablet as an option, because in my estimation, it is a handy little device for watching video, reading magazines and other picture-rich literature and accessing productivity applications on the go.

Display and OS

The Nook Tablet boasts a 1024×600 multi-touch display screen, much like its rival Kindle Fire, which is plenty bright and detailed for tablet novices who have not grown accustomed to the Retina display on newer iPad models (a brilliant look, at over twice the cost).

The interface is relatively easy to use and the tablet comes stock with an Android powered operating system that was designed specifically for Barnes and Noble. While the operating system is easy to use and looks nice, it is rather limited in its capabilities compared to other full-fledged Android interfaces, and this is one of the key drawbacks to the Nook Tablet – in this regard it is similar to the Kindle Fire, which also has a proprietary OS that has many limitations; both of these tablets pale in comparison to their rival the Nexus 7, which boasts the full power of the latest Jelly Bean operating system.

Navigation on the stock OS is pretty smooth, with the notable exception of the Barnes and Noble app store, which is somewhat clunky and cumbersome to navigate. More distressing than the funky course-plotting in the B&N app store is the fact that the number of applications available is only tiny fraction of those available on iTunes or the Google Play store. You can get most of the basics, but the vast majority of the ever-expanding app markets are shut out to you, which is unfortunate.

E-reader or Tablet?

For this reason, the Nook Tablet is better thought of as a supercharged e-reader than a fully functional tablet computer, a device designed for curling up on the couch with a good book that also possesses enough audio visual equipment to double as a media center when you are on the go.

With these expectation adjustments, the device seems a bit better. And truthfully, reading books and magazines is what this tablet was primarily designed for, and the B&N stores while short on apps and similar goodies, is quite rich in reading content which you can purchase and download.

If you are someone that wants to use your tablet primarily for reading the latest best sellers, or devouring the e-edition of the New York Times with your morning coffee then the Nook Tablet could be the right device for you, and you’ll be happy to get the added bonuses of being able to watch videos, play a few games, surf the web and check your e-mail in between your literature sessions.

Notable benefit

There is one area where the Nook beats its similarly priced competition, however, and this is in the storage capacity sphere. The NT boasts a MicroSD card slot – something neither the Nexus 7 nor the Kindle Fire can claim – and this allows you to expand the tablet’s storage capacity to up to 32gb.

This MicroSD slot does provide the tech savvy with a way to circumvent the operating system and app store limitations described above. Armed with some fairly advanced knowledge and your trusty SD card, you can install the complete and unrestricted Android operating system and the Google Play store. With this done, your Nook Tablet e-reader actually does become an all-encompassing tablet.

Unfortunately this nugget of wisdom will only benefit those who are brave enough to wade through some pretty technical instructions, which can be found here.

For everyone else, the Nook Tablet is a neat little device that has a few worthwhile features, but may annoy you with its limitations. However, at around $150 – on balance I would consider the NT to be a pretty fair deal.

Dan Palma writes on behalf of the conference services specialists Smart Source Rentals.