New software upgrade turns Nook HD into a good Android tablet (Review)

New software upgrade turns Nook HD into a good Android tablet (Review)

Summary: The recent Google app store software update has turned Barnes & Noble's HD e-reader into a good, low-end Android tablet.

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I was pleased that Barnes & Noble (B&N) had updated its HD line with Google Store. I knew this software upgrade would make the low-priced HD — usually $149 to $199 until May 12 — a truly usable Android 4.x tablet. What I hadn't realized was that it would transform it into a good, albeit low-end tablet.

01nookhd
One major software update later, and the Barnes & Noble Nook HD has become a compelling low-end Android tablet. (Image: Screenshot by Steven J Vaughan-Nichols)

The B&N Nook HD started life in late 2012 as B&N's answer to Amazon's Kindle Fire. It was, and is, a 7-inch tablet.

It comes in two colors: Smoke and snow. The Nook HD has a soft, rubberized back, with a volume control rocker switch on the top-right edge and a power/sleep button on the other side. On the HD Nook's top, you'll find a standard headphone jack and microphone. On the bottom, you'll find a custom 30-pin charging/USB 2.0 connector. The device also comes with dual speakers on the lower back.

At 0.68 pounds, it's as light as an iPad mini, and lighter than a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD. For all of its lightness, I found it to be the most comfortable tablet-like device for long periods of reading I've found to date, which is why I bought one late last year.

Under the case, you'll find a dual-core, 1.3Ghz, ARM Cortex-A9 processor. This is backed by a PowerVR SGX544 chip for graphics and video. For storage, the low-end model comes with 8GB. Of that, 5GB is available. That's not much, but unlike the Nexus 7, iPad mini, or Kindle Fire, the HD, and its 10.1-inch tablet big brother the HD+, it comes with a microSD/microSDHC slot that can hold up to 32GB of storage on an inexpensive card.

For networking, the HD supports up to 802.11n and Bluetooth. It does not have a camera, 3G/4G,  or GPS. But, if you can live without those three items — and I can a lot of the time — the newly renovated HD has a lot to offer.

While the B&N Nook interface looks the same as ever, I've found that simply adding Google Play had made it much more useful. As you add new apps, they're added to the Nook carousel at the top of the main Home screen. You can also add apps from Google Play to your choice of home screens.

It's those apps that move the Nook HD from being an ordinary e-reader with some tablet-like features to being a real tablet. However, you can't download apps that the hardware doesn't support — there's no point in Instagram without a camera after all. Other than that, you can download any program you want from Google Play. From popular games, such as Candy Crush Saga, to the handy Swype keyboard and Amazon Kindle ebook e-reader app, they're all available and work well on the Nook.

What's that you say in a tone of disbelief? The Amazon Kindle ereader is also available on the arch-enemy B&N's Nook now? Yes, yes it is, and it works fine. For that matter, you can also buy, download, and play/view Google' ebooks, movies and music on the Nook.

You can, of course, still read B&N ebooks, and view and listen to other B&N content on the Nook. Unlike the Kindle, which is locked into the Amazon eco-system, the Nook HD really is a full-powered Android now.

Are there better tablets? Sure, but for the price, the refurbished Nook HD deserves a second look if you want an affordable low-end tablet. I'm certainly glad that I picked up mine.

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Tablets

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38 comments
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  • Recent update and sale prices make theNook HD/HD+ the best buys!

    Bought my wife a Nook HD for Christmas. A superb tablet now that it has the latest software update. In addition to full access to the Google Play Store, you get the Chrome browser which is an order of magnitude better than what Barnes and Noble offered before. With a sleek design, good build quality, great 243 ppi screen, expandable storage, and excellent processor power, what is not to like? Add in the new sales pricing ($149 for the 7 inch Nook HD, $179 for the 9 inch Nook HD+) and I cannot think of any better buy currently available for tablets.
    ckantack
    • cheap in this case means poorly made

      ith the broken internals and software corruptions I've had so far from my one month old nook hd+ I could not recommend his device to anyone. It is just bad and he low price doesn't help when you have to replace it so soon out of the box.
      DreadPirateDoc
  • I've been using the update since it was made available

    If you want widget support, install an alternative launcher. Doing so will cause you to lose the native Nook Reader while you use the launcher. You could download the Nook App from the Play Store to compensate for it but I believe that there is some difference between the two that I can't remember.

    The Nook struggles a bit with changing the launcher. It looks fine and mostly operates without hiccups (I'm using Apex) but I have had random reboot that I'm willing to blame on the launcher now. The screen became jittery twice with this switch also. I'm going to give it another week or two before switching back since I can't consistently cause the issues.

    Outside of this the update has been awesome. I bought the Nook HD for its' high res screen, it's nice being able to use it as a real tablet now without having to switch to cyanogen mod.
    srkelley5
  • It's the Best Product out there by far and away

    End Of Story........Period
    Over and Out
  • Bill Gates does not call them tablets

    He call's them "iPad like devices."
    Tim Jordan
    • Post PC devices not PC enough

      Post PC devices gladly not PC like!
      Tim Jordan
      • People use to think that the "Only" choice was Microsoft

        Now they know better.
        Tim Jordan
        • no wonder why Android dominates now tablets too

          1 Android Linux 56.5%
          2. iOS 39.6%
          3. Windows 3.3%
          4. Windows RT 0.4%
          5. Others 0.2%

          source: IDC- Q1 2013 tablets global market share
          Frankie1965
    • Too demeaning to make an "iPod like device"

      Bill Gates speaks of "iPad like devices." Well, we call them tablets. Maybe he is strategizing to win the name "tablet" for his devices for marketing reasons.
      Tim Jordan
    • Timmay!

      Tim, Tim, Tim, Timmay! Timmay! Tim, Tim, Tim, Timmay! Tim, Tim, Tim, Timmay!

      That's pretty much what I'm getting from your posts. Also I apologize to the Timmy on South Park for the insulting comparison to this Tim Jordan guy...
      athynz
    • Who Cares!!!

      They are now tablets. Once the advertizing dies away, we will probably call all of them Pads.

      Oh, and isn't Bill Gates the one who said that "Nobody will ever need more than 640K of memory on a computer." If you trust him that much, consider.
      YetAnotherBob
  • Bill Gates predicts iPad and Android users will switch to PC tablets

    I'm first in line;/
    Tim Jordan
    • "PC tablet"

      Maybe Microsoft can not make a tablet ? Maybe ? Did Steve Jobs figure out Microsofts achilles heel. Was touch and the tablet the death of Microsoft ?
      Tim Jordan
      • The OS is proprietary

        No one knows what is going on in Microsoft's Windows, the OS is proprietary. All Linux kernels are Open Source.

        Why does Bill Gates hate with such a passion Open Source ???
        Tim Jordan
        • Bill Gates left Microsoft a while back

          Bill Gates left Microsoft a while back and became a philanthropist. Sorry you haven't heard the news. Steve Balmer is the CEO of Microsoft these days. Perhaps is Steve Balmer you want to speak of rather than Bill Gates.
          joeycagle
        • Tim...

          It's one thing to talk to yourself, another thing entirely when you lose arguments with yourself...
          AmraLeo
    • .

      Wow just shut up, not a single one of your comments is in the least bit relevant to the article.
      Koopa Troopa
  • I like mimi tablet

    In my opinion,I like thin and light tablet to use.

    smart bear tablet from moralregion.com.It is just one like this.
    annieeducational
  • Nook Color?

    My daughter has the Nook Color (not the HD model). Is the update available for that model?
    MajorlyCool
    • Not right now

      The upgrade is currently for the HD and HD+ only.
      brucegil9