Remember when deciding to pick up a book only required one decision: Which book to get? In the age of smartphones, tablets, computers and e-readers, it's not so much what you're reading but how you're reading it. And you can almost guarantee that if a huge corporation wants to sell you a book, it also wants to shove the device that allows you to digitally read it in your hands.
The first e-reader was launched in 2006 by Sony Corp. It was the launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007, however, that made having a digital e-book reader a foregone conclusion to 21st-century living. Suddenly, anybody in the business of selling books needed a device to keep customers browsing their digital shelves.
In November 2009, Barnes & Noble Inc. launched the Nook, a standard E ink display that operated on an Android system and allowed direct download and even sharing of Barnes & Noble books. A year later, the Nook Color debuted, with WiFi capability and a sharp color display. This was all fine and good until the Apple iPad came along, when suddenly competition to up the tech ante became fast and furious.
Enter the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, launched in November 2011. The Tablet promises a full selection of the 2.5 million titles Barnes & Noble has in store and an easy way to get at them. Unlike a traditional e-reader, the Nook Tablet wants to be more than just your digital bookshelf. It also probably has a somewhat nervous eye on the iPad, and for good reason: In 2011, Amazon and Barnes & Noble sold a combined 7.5 million tablets, while Apple's iPad sold a whopping 40.4 million units [source: Tofel]. That means it has to compete not just to be a great medium for reading "Moby Dick" but also one for playing Words with Friends, streaming Netflix and checking your e-mail.
What exactly does a Nook Tablet offer, and how does it compare to other tablets and e-readers on the market? Let's find out.
2: Nook Tablet Specs
From Kindle Fires to iPads, tablet PC purveyors all tout their technology as the best. The Nook Tablet is no different, promising a lighter design, a faster processor and extended battery life.
Let's see how the device's claims stack up. Just 8 inches (203 millimeters) tall and 5 inches (127 millimeters) wide, the real kicker is the slim depth: less than half an inch (12 millimeters). It has an Android operating system and comes in a 16GB and an 8GB model. The display is 7 inches with a high-resolution, 1024 by 600-pixel display. It also boasts LG VividView technology, a supposedly sophisticated laminated display designed to control glare and maximize readability while you're, say, reading your trashy romance novel on the beach.
The Nook, like the Kindle Fire, is only WiFi-capable. With no 3G or 4G, the tablet has a lower price point, avoiding costly carrier data plans. However, Barnes & Noble realizes that while it's great to have a customer buy an e-book to read directly on their Nook, getting them into their stores to pick up an impulse paperback is even better. So, cleverly, they offer free WiFi in every Barnes & Noble location, allowing Nook users to download and read books for free (for up to one hour a day and only certain titles).
The Tablet's layout is also very adaptable to reading. Press the "Nook button" at the bottom of the screen to access a kind of contents page and slide a touch-screen icon to unlock the Tablet. Physical volume buttons (along with a microphone and headphone jack) let you adjust the sound level.
There's also a MicroSD memory card slot, which competition like the Kindle lacks. This might come in handy -- While the Nook Tablet boasts 8 or 16 GB of storage, there's limited space for personal stuff. The 8GB version offers 5 GB for personal space, and 1 GB is reserved for Nook Store content. Oddly, the 16GB version gives you 12 GB for Nook Store content and a measly 1 GB for your own use. But according to the small print on the Barnes & Noble Web site, you can visit a store location to have someone reconfigure your space, freeing up 5.5 GB for personal storage and unshackling you a bit from the Nook Store. Note that RAM for the 8GB version has been reduced from 1 GB to 512 MB, which probably won't make a huge difference to the 8GB user.
As for its battery life, the Nook Tablet is rated for 11.5 hours of reading or 9 hours of video content, which is more than than its competitors the Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7.
3: Nook Tablet Features
When it comes to tablets, it's important to know your audience. While the iPad wants to be everything to everyone, the Nook has a different purpose. Keep in mind that this was a tablet developed for Barnes & Noble, presumably to keep their customers loyal. And while their customers may be interested in checking their Facebook status or open to the idea of a game of Angry Birds, they're primarily in it for the books.
A good example is children's books. If your youngster isn't quite ready for a soliloquy, just tap the "Read to Me" button, and the story is read aloud to them. Even better, the "Read and Record" feature allows a person to record themselves reading the book -- perfect for a parent or grandparent who might not be able to be there every night at bedtime.
On the reading side, the Tablet also features magazines and comic books, as well as the usual 2.5 million Barnes & Noble titles. There are even some "enhanced" books available -- a fitness book with video demonstrations or extra photos, for example.
When you're reading a book on the Nook, it's designed to look like -- hooray! -- a real book, meaning the screen is filled with text without pesky browser bars or the like. You can call up "Reading Tools" by touching the middle of the screen, which will give you options to see a table of contents, share comments, find text and adjust fonts and brightness. The Nook Tablet is also surprisingly adept at displaying comics. It offers ZoomView, which allows you to focus on single panels as opposed to the larger page.
But the Tablet isn't just for bookworms. Netflix and Hulu Plus are pre-loaded apps, and video streaming should be a breeze with a good WiFi connection. Of course, just because you have the apps doesn't mean you have the service; although free trials are offered on the Nook Tablet, you do have to sign up for the subscription services if you want to continue. Here's where you'll see a noticeable difference between the Kindle, the iPad and the Nook Tablet: You can't directly download music or video onto the Nook. You can hook it up to a PC and drag files onto it, but otherwise you're strictly streaming.
Navigating the Nook Tablet
With your space dedicated to Nook Store purchases, you'll need to be aware of some limitations. Remember that your Nook won't let you browse Amazon.com for books or media; you're strictly buying from Barnes & Noble. While that probably isn't going to be a huge issue -- Barnes & Noble isn't exactly lacking product, boasting 2.5 million titles in the Nook Store -- it is something to keep in mind, depending on where you're used to buying or looking for books.
At one time, brand loyalty was important. Originally, Barnes & Noble only had a partnership with Marvel comics (due to a little company called Amazon snapping up DC Comics digital rights), so you were out of luck if you wanted a Green Lantern comic on your Nook. However, in 2012, Barnes & Noble struck a deal with DC Comics to get digital content. Incidentally, that also means Barnes & Noble is restocking their physical shelves with DC comics. If a publisher has exclusive digital rights with Amazon, Barnes & Noble will quickly banish any physical copies of those books from its stores, which is a pretty persuasive tactic for getting publishers to make a deal with the bookseller.
Remember how we told you earlier that Barnes & Noble still wanted to get you in their stores? Well, they're doing a darn good job of it by leveraging their Nook Store apps. One promotion offered Angry Birds addicts the opportunity to move up a level free (when you'd normally have to pay $1). The catch? The bonus was only awarded at no cost if it was accessed via WiFi at a Barnes & Noble location.
Speaking of apps, one downside of the Nook Tablet is that you don't have full access to all apps available for Android. Instead, the Nook Store offers a cultivated library. It's growing, but there are significant holes. Finding a Major League Baseball app proves fruitless in the Nook Store, while it's a free Android offering. While we're not condoning it, it's also possible to find ways to access and download non-cultivated material on your tablet.
As a former digital book scoffer ("who wants to read a screen?") who now sees the appeal ("everyone, because we do it all the time"), I still wasn't entirely convinced about tablets. Sure, e-readers are useful: a big pile of books on a skinny little screen. But add in the bells and whistles -- Internet! games! movies! -- and suddenly my clean little bookshelf is crammed with things that are basically designed to distract me from reading. Tablets are useful for a number of things, but that just may deter them from doing one thing: letting me settle comfortably into a good book.
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