If you're in the market for a tablet, your options just got a lot more interesting. Barnes & Noble shakes things up with today's software update that opens its Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets to Google's full range of services, including the Google Play store and Google apps like Gmail, the Chrome browser, YouTube and Maps.
Previously, buying a Nook tablet meant sacrificing full Android compatibility for Nook's highly customized experience. That all changes with this update. Now, the 7-inch Nook HD and 8.9-inch Nook HD+ can compete head-on with the likes of Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad mini. And armed with both a storage expansion slot and the highest resolution screen available in a 7-inch tablet, Nook HD instantly becomes one of the best deals you can get in tablets today.
At 16GB of storage, the 7-inch Nook HD's $229 price is a bit higher than Google's comparable Nexus 7 at $199. But for the extra $30 you get a noticeably higher resolution display and a lighter and easier-to-hold tablet. Plus, it's the only tablet in this class with a MicroSD card slot, so you can expand storage by up to an additional 32GB. Apple, meanwhile, sells its comparatively low-resolution 7.9-inch, 16GB iPad mini for a whopping $329, with no expansion slot.
All About the Apps
Barnes & Noble has long had its own curated app store, and that won't change, according to Stephen Maes, vice president of product. But after a weaker-than-expected holiday sales season, Maes realized that the lack of full Android app support was a big part of the problem. Google's Play store now has over 700,000 apps.
No surprise there. Given Android's explosive growth on smartphones, it makes less and less sense for consumers to commit to fenced-off versions of Android like the Barnes & Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle Fire platforms. Why buy into a platform and wonder if the cool new apps will actually be available for it — months later. [See also: Who Killed the E-Reader? ]
The long-overdue step of opening up Nook tablets is a game-changer: Both Nooks are now full-bore, top-tier tablets — some of the best models on the market, thanks in part to powerful processors.
Since its launch last fall, the Nook HD has been the lightest 7-inch tablet, and with the highest resolution, too —1,440 by 900 pixels. By comparison, Google's Nexus 7 has 1,280 by 800 pixel resolution. Apple's slightly larger iPad mini is just a scoche heavier than Nook HD, but it lags behind both the Nook and Nexus 7 with 1,024 by 768 pixel resolution.
(The uniquely sized 8.9-inch Nook HD+ has competitive specs and a high-resolution display as well, at 1920 x 1080 pixels.)
Now, the question is how Amazon will respond as the other major bookseller with its own Appstore, and its own variant of Android. And let's not forget Google: The company's big developer conference, Google IO, is coming up later this month, and we could hear about a new tablet there.