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I’m Returning my Nook Tablet – Here’s Why

I got a Nook tablet on the very first day it came out, and last night I decided to send it back. This post isn't going to be an in-depth review; everyone has done one by now so I don't think it's worth my time. But I do want to explain why I'm returning it. I'm hoping my reasons will help others make a decision for and against the Nook Tablet.

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.

About Nate Hoffelder (11121 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

116 Comments on I’m Returning my Nook Tablet – Here’s Why

  1. burger flipper // 23 November, 2011 at 8:56 am //

    Took mine back Saturday for the same reason. If it takes more hacking than flashing from a card slot, it just isn’t worth it.

    FWIW, the locked bootloader was most likely required by Netflix (in turn required by the studios who supply them) in order to include the ramped-up HD version of their app. The Fire doesn’t have the HD streaming and thus didn’t have to lock it down.

    Can’t really blame them since HD is a big marketing point for them.

  2. this is a great post. i’m wondering – do you have hands-on experience with the Kindle Fire enough to say if it suffers in the same way?

    i’m on a sort-of crusade right now trying to inform people about what exactly the difference is between the Fire/NT and a full-priced tablet (ie iPad) other than just the price. this information will undoubtedly be very useful!

  3. I own a Kindle Fire, yes. Aside from a few minor quirks, the KF is an open Android tablet. You don’t have to do anything with Amazon other than register it.

  4. Excellent post and you make some great points.

    I was intrigued by what you said about the ability to install apps via the web browser being a loophole that was designed to support the walled garden. Do you really think B&N knew about the possibility of installing 3rd party apps via the web browser? If so, this means they may not take away that ability via an update, which has been my main concern. Because I am fine with the tablet as is; I have no desire to root or hack or anything like that. All I want is an ereader that can also install the apps that B&N doesn’t have, like my favorite comic reader and video player, etc. As long as I have that option, I’m fine being in the walled garden. My fear is that they’ll take away that option via an update, which really would decrease the value of the device. But now I’m really wondering if, as you suggest, they knew it was possible to install apps via the browser and they allow it to deter people from rooting. That never occurred to me- but it’s a really interesting idea.

  5. The feature is new with the v1.4 firmware and wasn’t present with the v1.3 firmware (on the NookColor). I do think it was intentional; it fits with the idea of a walled garden.

  6. FFS, the NookColor has been out all this time and you thought the Nook Tablet would somehow be different?

  7. Nate, just curious:

    Is there ANY 7 inch tablet that’s decently priced, fully accessible and comes with expandable storage? Every tablet seems to have some Achilles’s heel; the fire has limited storage, the nook is locked down, stuff like the xoom costs 400 dollars, etc. I’m wondering if there’s an option that comes closer to being affordable AND usable.

    Does something like that actually exist?

  8. B&N called it a tablet and they pitched it as being more open than the Kindle Fire. As i said at the end, I got snookered by the hype at the launch event.

    And besides, look how easy it is to hack the NC (there’s even an SD card you can buy that will hack it for you). That is really what I expected when the NT first came out.

  9. The HTC Flyer is $300 or so? and has everything on it. You can also use the KindleFire launcher with it, but I read that there are crashes and that’s not something I care to encounter much. I haven’t had one crash in over a week with the Fire.

    The things that Amazon doesn’t advertise or market particularly except to its existing customers is that they give every global customer 5 gigs of free storage in the cloud. Then they give another 5 gigs of free storage to Kindle owners for their NON-Amazon documents and books (as long as they’re not rights-protected).

    It’s things like this that make a difference with consumers. Add that they’re smart in saying that if you take the limited time offer of $20/year for 20 gigs of general Cloud space:
    Not only do no Amazon-purchases count against the storage limits under any circumstance, there are other features.

    1. You can store and stream ALL your personal (non-Amazon-purchased
    mp3’s that you own, no limit, no matter where you got them as long as
    they don’t violate DRM). They kind of get you where you live.

    2. The personal docs or books you put into personal-docs Kindle Cloud will now be syncable between or among devices and annotations will be backed up if you want. Customers have long requested that our personal books be sync’able too . And they quietly did this a couple of months ago. Nate and Felix noticed it before they announced it.

    Nate, you’re right. B&N don’t do opposition-research. At the conference you attended they actually said that Amazon is a closed system and that B&N has Netflix and Hulu but Amazon wants to have you watch only their movies or listen only to their music.

    But it had already been said by Amazon at the Sept 28 launch of KFire, that Netflix and Pandora already had early editions of Kindlefire.

    They’ve even been quoted as saying they don’t intend to stop rooters and that people can sideload and it’s been easy to do.

  10. Well, you’ve got your HTC Flyer, your Acer A100, and your Lenovo Ideapad A1. The Lenovo is the one trying to steal the show with price, but the HTC Flyer is the clear winner on performance and battery life.

  11. As Mike Cane said, FFS, you expect there to be a fully SD-bootable, alternative OS built by the community less than a week after launch?

    The original Nook Color took five months, and it wasn’t really _good_ until nine months after it was released.

    Android 4.0 source code came out the same day as the Nook Tablet. People working for free have their own priorities.

  12. Good points, Andrys. And you’re right, Amazon does offer 5 gigs of storage (and more if you’re willing to pay for it). But for folks like myself who don’t really want to have to rely on “the cloud” for their content, Amazon is stiflingly limited. It’s a great concept, but until we reach a point where you can download a 700 MB video file to your device in 10 seconds, online storage really doesn’t seem like a viable option. Great for books and maybe music, but for video- it’s really pointless. It really cuts off options. Especially so if you don’t have access to wi-fi, say if you’re on a flight, etc. Without wi-fi, whatever’s on your tablet is what you’re stuck with. That doesn’t really work for me. I don’t need 200 gigs of content, but I’d like a wider selection of movies and music to choose from and even with wi-fi, I don’t want to have download stuff in order to get it. Additionally, new games are going to take up even more space, especially as games develop and get larger in file size, etc. A 1 gig game would take up a huge chunk of your available space on the kindle fire. Of course you can delete it and redownload it, but you better have an hour to spare (and a wi-fi connection).

    With an SD card however, you can load up additional content and it’s there when you need it. Games, movies, music, whatever. It just seems much more freeing than being locked down to 6 or so gigs. The cloud is a great idea, but again, until downloading is as fast as loading something onto an SD card, it really seems limiting.

    Just my nickel minus 3, of course.

  13. I’m confused. I’ve already admitted to the mistake and explained how it happened. Why do you 2 feel the need to yell about it?

  14. Kobo Vox is fully open and runs $199.

  15. I don’t find the argument of (future) alternate ROMs a compelling reason to keep (or buy) a Nook “tablet”. Alternate firmware is a last resort for trying to get full value out of hardware where substandard firmware keeps you from doing what should be possible.
    I’ve been there and done that.
    (OpenInkpot for Hanlin V3, for one).
    I’d rather not do it again.
    In my book it is one thing to open up a locked system so you can *add* value with external apps (say, hacking a Sony T1 or Nook STR) because you get to keep the original out-of-box functionality and another to give up on what defines the product in the first place.
    If you’re looking forward to replace the supplied firmware with some generic, unsupported firmware you’re, in effect, saying the supplied firmware is worthless. And if the firmware is worthless, regardless of how good the hardware, why keep it?
    Walled garden systems are package deals; most people will either buy the complete package or go elsewhere.
    If you find the Nook “Tablet” hardware interesting, just wait a couple month. Once the Fire intro ripples through the market there’ll be plenty of comparable options from other second tier vendors.

  16. One thing I’ve learned (the hard way) is that second tier vendor tablets are often second tier for a reason. The Nook Tablet is perhaps my 6th or 7th tablet, after trying and returning a wide variety of cheaper tablets from lesser known brands. All of them had various problems (terrible battery life, system freezes, apps shutting down, etc) and finally I realized that I had to wait for a tablet from a company that exercises some sort of quality control. Barnes and Noble may exercise too much control over their products, but they do seem to insist on a quality product. Many of the second tier vendors don’t seem to do that. Not saying all of them, but a lot of them will just throw a version of android onto a tablet and release it into the wild whether it’s ready to go or not. The low low prices will entice suckers (like myself) but the terrible user experience is usually enough to make people think twice before dipping their toe in that pool again.

  17. Things like being able to install APK files, or being able to root the device are only important for tech nerds like us. But we are only a very small number of users.
    The average Nook user finds just dragging and dropping files to the Nook something too difficult to even contemplate. I do not think the average Kindle user is that much different.
    So although Amazon has enabled installing APK files, most Kindle users do not know what APK file are, and will never install them or root the Kindle Fire. They will just buy apps from the Amazon app store.
    So for the average user the Kindle Fire is just as closed a tablet as the Nook Tablet.

    The 1GB memory thing is a non-issue. For $10 you can buy a 8 GB micro SD-card that will give you more memory than you will ever have on the Kindle Fire. And there are goods reasons for the current memory partition model.

    As for the number of available Nook apps. B&N has promised thousands of apps before the end of the year. I expect them to keep that promise. Several people have been told by B&N representatives that there will indeed be a big change for the apps store before the end of the year.
    I hope this will happen after the big 1.4 update for the Nook Color.

  18. I’m not so sure. Last year you might have been right, but Android tablets are so common now that most users will know how to install apps or they will learn. It’s now the norm.

    And besides, there have been a bunchaton of posts about installing apps on the KF and NT. The average user probably knows how to do it now.

  19. Yes, the NT is badly named

    Waiting on an open android tablet at a reasonable price and a quality build to replace the NC

  20. I like this post, quite a bit, actually.

    Android is a big ocean, the whole point is people should get what they want, there are simply too many options out there right now to think everyone should get the same thing.

    As for me- I’m a fan of all things Barnes and Noble. I was previously going to stick with my unrooted NC, but am now considering an upgrade to the tablet.

  21. Logan Kennelly // 23 November, 2011 at 4:03 pm //

    Maybe I’m reading too much into your words. B&N selling it as a Tablet is misleading. That’s fine, and you explained your thoughts above.

    However, you then wrote:

    “And besides, look how easy it is to hack the NC (there’s even an SD card you can buy that will hack it for you). That is really what I expected when the NT first came out.”

    The N2A card and community version of Android for the Nook Color is not in any manner I know of supported by B&N. By saying you “expected” a community of volunteers to have the same level of support for the NT on the first day smacks of entitlement. The community does that work because it is fun and that you receive anything from those people at all is a gift.

    I can see, in a different light, how you weren’t necessarily criticizing the community but your own world view. I appreciate their hard work (as well as yours, Nate, in digging up these rumors and entertaining us), but I want to be sure that you aren’t trying to force volunteers into some sort of personal, unpaid job.

  22. Honestly, I’m really liking the nook tablet. It’s a solid device; nice and light, very sturdy, fast response times and all that good stuff.

    The walled garden aspect does trouble me a bit, but as long as I can load my own content, it’s a non-issue. If they really did leave in that loophole to allow apks to install via the browser, it’s a perfect match for someone like me. They got my money, I got an excellent tablet.

    But for those who want total freedom, yes, I guess the search continues.

  23. Oh ye of little faith. Ye may find a site called XDA Developers to change thy thoughts on yon tab. A mere 5 minutes will erase all points mentioned above. A simple root will open all worlds – Amazon App Store, Android Market, Side load, etc.

  24. “A simple root”? Don’t kid yourself. The root process isn’t simple nor is it a fixall.

  25. Actually, it’s been just over a week and we’ve learned that hacking will be difficult if not impossible, and we’ve learned that rooting is probably going to stay an incomplete process.

    I wasn’t expecting the NT to be hacked the first week, but I was expecting the devs who had hacked the NC to do a proof of concept in the first couple days and show that it is possible. Instead we learned that the NT is even more locked down than the NC.

  26. Nor is it guaranteed to last.
    Let’s not forget that the recent Nook STR update blocked the previous rooting tools. And the STR *hardware* isn’t locked like the NT hardware.
    That B&N is spending that much time and effort (read:$$$) to block hacking (signed bootloaders is not an anti-piracy measure, it’s an anti-hacking move) means that they are serious about preventing it. At some point they could easily start blocking access to the online services for hacked NTs as other walled garden vendors do.

  27. Good review but I am one of those who know going in that it is a “walled garden” and I am okay with that. I have had a Nook Color for a year now, non-rooted. I am happy with it but would love to upgrade to the NT with its faster processor. I consider myself an average user but don’t have a clue what an APK is or why I would care. The forums I follow have never mentioned it, of course I am not rooted….perhaps that is why I have not come across the term.

    Perhaps B&N is wrong to call their new gadget a “tablet” but I think that is partly the fault of the rooting community who took the NC and have had a blast this year rooting the heck out of it, making everyone think it was worthy of the name “tablet”. I think that given enough time the XDA folks will find a way to hack/root the NT also. It’s still early. You know those guys love the challenge!

  28. Nate, you said, “A simple root”? Don’t kid yourself. The root process isn’t simple nor is it a fixall.”

    Well the only semicomplicated process for rooting my Nook Tablet was installing the drivers on my Windows PC so that my computer would see my nook. But after that, it was super simple. All i do is turn on debugging mode on the nook and do the one click app called “NookandZergy.bat.” and bam im permanently rooted. So with that widows based one click app, its super easy. Im not sure what you mean by you finding it very complicated? The one click app even auto installs all the google apps automatically for you so you dont have to mess with them, like google market, etc. So I dont see how its complicated?

    Also once your rooted, you have all the same benefits of the kindle fire except you have better batter life, more ram, and possibly clearer screen.

    With mine rooted with that simple one click windows app, I would rather have my NT then the fire due to the hardware benefits.

    I mean I have the Google market, Amazon app store, various ereader programs, i even installed slingplayer mobile on it, lol. (did a google search for the apk, lol) So my NT is awesome.

    So in the the end all you arguments are mooted by these facts I mentioned above.

    For those who think rooting there nook Tablet is difficult, after me doing it once, i can tell you its not. There are many online instructions, but the clearest and easiest i found so far are here at this link:

    Oh well, I guess everyone is entitled to there opinion lol.

    Btw, you can tweak your nook so easily by using the apps, “HomeCatcher” & “Button Savior” that it makes your nook experience even better. See link for detailed info:

  29. Okay, that moved faster than i thought. It was only on Sunday that it required the Android SDK, the command line, and a hacked script.

  30. Mooted? I don’t think so.The most recent Nook touch update broke the previous hacks, right? Also, didn’t at least one of the NC updates break prior hacks?

    I think it’s safe to assume that B&N plans to continue to break the hacks, which I think proves my point that this is more their tablet than it is yours.

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