Apple's iPad has been the star of tablet design, featuring a slick aluminum back and bright "Retina Display" screen with essentially invisible pixels. But today (Sept. 26) Barnes & Noble introduced two new tablets that not only go head-to-head with Apple on design but challenge it on usability, content offerings and price. The Nook HD, with a 7-inch screen, starts at $199, and the 9-inch Nook HD+ (nearly as big as a $500 iPad) starts at $269.
Both of B&N's Nook tablets have high-resolution screens ― 1440 by 900 pixels on the Nook HD (beating the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire HD) and 1920 by 1280 on the 9-inch Nook HD+. TechNewsDaily got a sneak peek at the devices earlier this week, and even with my nose nearly touching the glass, I could not see individual pixels. In digital comic books (of which B&N has many), it was easy to read even the smallest text in speech bubbles.
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But even the prettiest tablet is just a slab with a screen. It's what's on the screen that really matters, and Barnes & Noble has upped its offerings.
While the library of roughly 3 million books is the same, the company is providing many new ways to peruse them. It has created 100 "channels" ― collections of related books such as "Wise Gals," "Wild Journeys" and "Notorious American History." In the future, channels will include related magazine articles, TV shows, movies, and even apps.
Video is a major addition. Barnes & Noble has just launched a video store with movies and TV shows. (The company declined to say how large its inventory is, other than calling it "significant.") Videos looked good on the high-rez screens (though it was a bit too bright). And the Nooks provided serviceable stereo audio, although if you want quality worthy of the picture, you should use a good set of headphones.
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You can download movies to watch offline, storing them on either the built-in memory or your own micro SD cards up to 64 gigabytes. (The card slot means you don't have to worry too much about whether you buy models with 8, 16 or 32 GB of built-in storage.)
You can also stream movies from the new Nook Cloud. As with the books, the video cloud service records where you left off and allows you to resume at the same spot if you switch to another device running an upcoming Nook app, such as a smartphone or a TV.
Barnes & Noble also thought about who would be using the device. You can designate up to six users with their own profiles: collections of books, videos and other content. Profiles can be password-protected. You could, for example, have racy videos for the parents and picture books for the kids, and only certain people will be able to see certain things.
The new Nooks organize all this using a coffee-table metaphor. New and oft-used apps, books and magazines — as well as catalogs, a new addition — appear in a carousel at the top of the screen. You can drag them to a tabletop area below for easier access. There are actually five tabletops, as you can swipe left and right to reach more.
Will all the videos, music, books, catalogs, magazines and apps, that table is bound to get pretty full.