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Product Review: Nook Tablet

Short version:

Excellent for PDF reading, nice for reading magazines through Barnes & Noble and watching Netflix. Good basic e-mail and web browsing. A tablet experience? Not so much.

Longer version:

Several weeks ago, I decided I needed something better to read PDF formatted books and reports than my Kindle. My basic Kindle (sans touch or keyboard) does many things well, but providing a comfortable experience reading PDFs just isn’t one of them.

I’m a heavy consumer of PDFs for several reasons:

  • I sometimes need to read long articles and reports in the course of my work.
  • I’m a government documents fan and many of them are in PDF format.
  • My local libraries’ ebook collections have a number of titles that are not in Kindle format, but are available in Adobe PDF or Adobe EPUB.

Reading these long (10+ pages) PDFs on my netbook is tiring because of the need to use arrow keys and frequent mouse clicks. I wanted a simple one click/one touch paging experience for my PDFs like I had for Kindle formatted material.

This seemed to dictate a device with a larger screen, probably with touch. I considered several options, including a refurbished Apple iPad. After consulting some reviews and talking to some friends, I settled on an 8GB Nook Tablet. At $199 it was slightly over half the cost of the cheapest iPad I could touch.

It is great for the stuff that I bought it for. I loaded it up with a PDF of a report on the “moonbase that might have been” Project Horizon and a couple of different ebooks downloaded from my library’s collection. I also stuck in a few PDF articles that had been hard to navigate on the Kindle.

The reading experience was smooth. Minimal scrolling was involved and pages turned with a flick of the finger. The nook comes with a built-in notetaker and highlighter that works on all of the files types it can read, including PDFs.

Like Kindle and Amazon, the Nook is tightly integrated into the B&N online store. The store can be browsed or searched. The browsing experience for magazines is pleasant. Many titles offer a 14 day trial and I wound up subscribing to Discover Magazine, a magazine I used to enjoy but haven’t subscribed to in years in large part because magazines have a tendency to pile up at my home and so I avoid bringing in new ones. But it doesn’t matter how many issues pile up on my Nook.

The magazine experience is pleasing to me. Magazines download as PDFs and many of them also have something called “article view.” This is a plain text view of a particular article that eliminates the need to scroll around the magazine. Issues are delivered by wifi.

Multimedia is good on the Nook as well. It comes pre-installed with Netflix and Pandora, two services I have accounts with. Playback of Netflix content is as good as my large laptop and better than my netbook.

The Nook Tablet comes with a basic web browser and email client and these have worked decently well for me. When I email PDFs to myself the Nook opens them seamlessly.

To this point in time I am satisfied with the battery life and have gone days between charges. Not as good as my Kindle, but I can’t stream Netflix on the Kindle.

Those are the high points and for me, that’s enough. For serious computing, I have my netbook. But if you are looking for a tablet, as opposed to a solid reading/multimedia device, look elsewhere.

There are four major things I think would frustrate someone imagining they could have a good tablet for $200 by buying the Nook Tablet:

  • A stripped and locked down version of Android. As you could find out by Googling, the Nook Tablet’s version of the Android operating system is a version behind and highly locked down. Up until December 2011, it was possible to “root” the Tablet to free the system but I think that capability has been taken away until the hackers figure out how to restore it.
  • Dedicated storage space for B&N content. Barnes and Noble only allow a user to access 5 of 8 GB on the Tablet and reserves some of the remainder for content purchased from B&N. On something I expect to use as a computing device, I expect to have the entire hard drive to do with as I will.
  • A truly pathetic number of apps. As part of their locked down system, Barnes and Noble have a dedicated apps store. Browsing through their apps appears to show only a few dozen in any single category and things that should be a natural, like app one for TED Talks, are nowhere to be found.
  • Nook store search is terrible. If you can’t find what you are looking for through browsing, good luck! Especially if you are trying to find apps. One can only search the nook store by keyword. More dismayingly, one cannot filter or sort by type of item. This results in search results for apps being buried by results for books, audiobooks and magazines.

If I’d wanted a tablet computer, I would be disappointed by the Nook Tablet. So I think I’m performing a service by warning would be tablet buyers away from the Nook. But if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive device for PDF reading and want some nice multimedia features and e-mail to go with it, the Nook Tablet could be for you.

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