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.
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.