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The newest editions to Barnes & Noble's NOOK tablet family are not only cheaper, lighter, and far more capable than the 7" NOOK Color, but the 2012 NOOK HD family also boasts features — like better resolution and design — that rival its brand name competitors.
The newest NOOKs come in two distinct flavors: the 7" NOOK HD (8GB for $199; 16GB for $229), and the 9" NOOK HD+ (16GB for $269; 32GB for $299). All of the models are Wifi only, as there's no 3G option. Their obvious comparison is to Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, which also comes in 7" and 9" versions and has been branded "high definition." However, the NOOK HD's resolution slightly outshines the competition with a 1440x900 display on its 7" model (compared to the 1280x800 display on the Fire HD 7" — the same resolution as the Nexus 7, too) and the 9" NOOK HD+'s 1920x1280 resolution (compared to the 8.9" Fire HD's 1920x1200).
The resolution on the NOOK HD+ comes in just shy of the 2012 iPad's 9.7" retina display (2084x1536), a spec differential that PCMag said was not discernible in their brief time with the devices. "What is more noticeable," the publication said, "is the NOOK HD+'s 3:2 aspect ratio. When you look at it next to the 4:3 iPad, it looks longer and a bit narrower — more like a conventional magazine format than a tablet."
Aside from the NOOK HD's near-unanimously praised display, one of the most notable impressions seemed to be the tablet's wispiness. The HD weighs in at only 0.69 lbs., and the HD+ at 1.13 lbs. By comparison, the Nexus 7 weighs in at 0.75 lbs., the 7" Kindle Fire HD clocks in at 0.88 lbs., and the 8.9" Fire HD comes in at a slightly more substantial 1.25 lbs. The UK-based PCPro summarized what this actually means for usage. "[The NOOK HD] is lighter, at 315g to the Fire's lumpen 394g, and when we picked each one up that difference was obvious. Weight is an important factor in devices designed to be held in one hand for long periods of time, and on this front the Barnes & Noble device looks to have a winner on its hands."
The diminutive weight in conjunction with the tablet's relatively beefy bezels also seemed to be a hit with most reviewers. Jeffrey Van Camp at Digital Trends raved that, "From the moment I picked [the HD] up, I was impressed by how comfortable and easy to grip it was. Instead of going with an entirely flat glass front screen like almost every tablet these days, Barnes & Noble has surrounded its screen with a pleasantly grippy plastic."
This "grippier" design is also better suited to smaller hands, making it a selling point for usage by young children. In addition, the NOOK HD OS allows for different logins for each family member, along with parental master content controls. In addition to B&N's long-heralded interactive picture books, the NOOK HD appears to be branding itself as the family-friendly discount tablet. Sorry, Tabeo.
A cursory glance at the minimalist NOOK HD notes its proprietary charger (for faster recharging, says B&N) as well as a microSD slot, which is absent in both the Fire HD and Nexus 7. The NOOK does have Bluetooth 4.0, but aside from that doesn't have much to offer in the way of connectivity or utility; there's no HDMI output (though B&N sells an adapter), no mini-USB, and no camera. At its core, this tablet is for reading and watching, not for gabbing and Instagraming.
On the inside, the Barnes & Noble NOOK HD is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, which Endgadget referred to as "zippy." CNET further noted that, "navigating the interface and Web was speedy." The new NOOKs are also still running Android — Ice Cream Sandwich this time — though with a NOOK specific "skin" or UI. You'll find the shortcuts to reading libraries, apps, and the eBook store across both the top and the bottom of the home screen. And unlike the Kindle Fire HD, there are no ads in sight.
The basic 7" tablets from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Google each go for $199, so consumers might find it difficult to decide which is worth their money. According to our rough analysis of reviews, the NOOK HD will give you the best screen and feel, but the Fire HD will give you the most memory and basic tablet functions, while the Nexus 7 will give you a fully integrated tablet experience. Keep in mind too that we still have yet to see how the rumored iPad Mini (and the still unseen Microsoft Surface) will fit into the touchscreen hierarchy.
Once these tablets debut, dealnews will provide a more extensive comparison amongst the options. But for now, the NOOK HD seems poised to remain a dark horse competitor; it offers a fantastic display and form factor, but it seems that Barnes & Noble's devices may continue to operate under the immense shadow of Amazon and, now, Google.