This is a great piece of hardware, and it works quite smoothly. If you go into this expecting a locked down media device then you will likely be happy with the Nook Tablet. But I'm returning it because that's not want I want in a $250 gadget.
I bought the Nook tablet without really thinking about what it was or what I wanted to see. Rich Adin pointed that out when I wrote my first impressions post, and he was right. I hadn't really considered what I wanted out of the Nook Tablet. But after discussing this with a B&N contact, I realized that I went in expecting a tablet experience and instead I got an iPad-type walled garden experience.
I don't want to live in a walled garden. I want to be able to install apps from anywhere, buy content from anywhere, and finally, I want to have more control over my device than Barnes & Noble allows.
Do you know how everyone says that Amazon released the Kindle Fire so they could use it to sell you content? This is true, yes, but what I didn't realize until I put my hands on the NT was that B&N thought of it first (and they got it on the market long before Amazon). From the very beginning, the NookColor and Nook Tablet were not intended to be tablets. They are B&N's digital storefront. Their entire reason for existence is to sell you ebooks, apps, and other content, not so you can do anything with them besides buy stuff from B&N.
Oh, and do you know the media subscription apps (Netflix, Rhapsody, etc)? I'll bet dollars to donuts that B&N gets a cut of the subscriptions - just like on iOS, the larger walled garden.
The Walls Are Too High
I've posted before about the Nook Tablet having a DRMed bootloader and how that will make it difficult to hack. B&N did this on purpose; it makes escaping the garden that much harder. Yes, there's now a way to install apps via the web browser, but that was also designed to support the walled garden. That loophole acts as a safety valve. The NT owners who are truly desperate for a tablet experience can (with some difficulty) install apps, and that cuts down on the desire to fully hack the NT.
Update: Shortly after I posted this review, an easy and permanent way to root the NT was released. You can find out more at XDA Forums. If you want to try the hack, go ahead. Just remember that B&N will break the hack with the next update.
The Garden Is Too Small
I have an iPad and while I chafe at the limitations imposed by Apple, at least with the iPad I am trapped in a huge garden. I could stay in there for years and never encounter the walls. This is not true for the Nook Tablet.
First, there are hardly any free apps on the NT. I am pretty sure this is by design; B&N keeps the free apps out of their app store because that way they can sell you more apps. I'm all for B&N acting in their best interest but I will also act in mine. I already own lots of apps and I do not wish to buy them again.
The app restrictions also mean that I cannot find certain apps in the Nook App Store that I can find anywhere else with no difficulty. For example, Overdrive's app isn't there, which means that I can't easily use library ebooks. Also, there are no reading apps in the Nook App Store. I don't expect to see competitor's apps; I just want the free ones like Aldiko, Coolreader, and Adobe Reader.
And then there's the limitation on storage. I only have 1GB of space to load my own content. I'm going to leave aside the fact that B&N doesn't actually tell you this unless you read the fine print and the fact that it's not enough space for me. My objection is that as small as the walled garden is, B&N allows me to control an even smaller fraction. They decided what was best for the largest part of their garden, and I am just not happy with that.
In spite of the fact that I paid B&N good money for the NT, this is far more their tablet than it is mine.
I have to say that it is a little strange to be writing this. I came out of the Nook Tablet launch event thinking that the NT would meet my needs as a tablet better than the Kindle Fire. I got snookered by B&N's marketing, yes, and that remain a learning experience for me.
If I had gone into this expecting a closed, ereader type of experience I would probably have been quite happy with the Nook Tablet. It really does have the best hardware and software in its price range. But when I invest $250 in a gadget I want to be able to extend the abilities of the device as much as I can.
Here's the kicker. I can add the Nook app to a generic Android tablet and have all the B&N content I want while still having an open tablet experience. It won't be as polished of an experience, but that's okay with me. I value the openness more than the refinement.
The fact of the matter is the Kindle Fire is far more open than the Nook Tablet. It's easier to find and install apps, load content from elsewhere, and I think I have more control over the KF. This is why I might be keeping the Kindle Fire but will definitely be returning the Nook Tablet.