Nook HD review: A faster, brighter and better e-reader/tablet

Barnes & Noble's new Nook HD and Nook HD+ Android-based tablets are worthy competitors to Amazon's Kindle Fire.

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Media capabilities

The Nook's media capabilities are something of a mixed bag. On the plus side is the exceptionally clear, crisp, high-definition screen that displays HD content beautifully.

But the device's speakers still suffer from a problem that bedeviled the original Nook Tablet -- they simply aren't loud enough. Unlike the original Nook Tablet, the Nook HD's speakers are stereo, which is a step forward. But they're still not loud enough for movies and TV shows -- you may need to use headphones or external speakers to get adequate volume. I did find the speakers all right for playing music; it was only for TV and video that the volume was a problem.

Barnes & Noble offers a new video service called Nook Video, which doesn't run as a separate app, but is accessed directly from the Nook Store.

Nook Video allows you to buy or rent movies and TV shows on an individual pay-and-play basis. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a plan like Amazon Prime for the Kindle in which you can download unlimited video for an annual fee of $79. Another minor complaint: You have to watch a rented video within 24 hours; Amazon gives you 48 hours. Finally, Nook HD doesn't have a music catalog or cloud music player like the Kindle does.

When I tried it out, the video selection was pretty limited. For example, there were only 64 films available in the comedy category and only 75 available in drama. Other categories had similarly paltry offerings. Barnes & Noble has inked deals to make more video content available, so over time the amount of video content should increase.

The Nook HD also includes support for the cloud-based third-party UltraViolet service, which lets you purchase and stream videos to a variety of devices.

The bottom line

First, keep in mind that, although Barnes & Noble likes to call the Nook HD a "full HD tablet," it's like its main competitor, the Kindle HD, in that you have to deal with a tweaked version of Android, and you don't get access to the full Google Play app store. If you want a small tablet with a full working version of Android, you're better off with something like Google's Nexus 7.

If you already own a Nook device, it's well worth considering an upgrade -- the new screen and faster processor, improved Web browsing and email, and better overall interface make it a significant improvement over its predecessors.

As for how it stacks up against the Kindle HD, that's a little tougher to call. The Nook HD's screen is superior and overall the device is a much better and smoother performer; it didn't suffer from the delays and glitches I found when using the Kindle HD. Web browsing is noticeably faster as well. The Nook HD's interface is also cleaner and simpler than the Kindle HD's -- and it doesn't include ads, as does the Kindle HD. (To eliminate the ads in the Kindle HD, you can pay an additional $15 fee.)

On the other hand, the Nook HD doesn't have a camera; the Kindle Fire HD does. And the Kindle Fire HD offers a superior video library -- at least, for now. So if these are important to you -- or if you're already invested in the Amazon ecosystem -- the Fire is probably a better bet.

For me, however, the Nook HD remains my favorite. Its better software, exceptional screen, faster Web browsing and much smoother performance make it the winner in my eyes.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

See more by Preston Gralla on

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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