Barnes & Noble Launches a Family Friendly Media Tablet, Pt 1

It's 1am when this post goes live, and B&N has just released the embargo on their new tablets.

Those who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I was in NYC on Monday. I went up to see B&N's dog-and-pony show so I could write this post. I saw a couple new tablets, a bunch of cool features, and now that I've written it up I must say that I am impressed - by the software, at least.

Last fall I came out of B&N's press event having swallowed the line of BS they were selling and it took a couple weeks for the effect to wear off. So on Monday I was careful to disbelieve every claim and slanted detail. Even so, today I am impressed.

First, the hardware news.

Like I posted yesterday, there are no new E-ink Nooks this time around. But there are details about the UK prices for the current Nook Glow and Nook Touch, and you can find my post on them over here.

But there is quite a bit of news for the 2 new tablets. B&N showed off the Nook HD and the Nook HD+ on Monday. We're not going to get a chance to buy these tablets any time before mid-October, but I think they're going to make anyone who had settled on the 8.9" Kindle Fire HD at least pause to rethink the purchase.

But before I cover the specs, here is the fact sheet. (I figure if I post it I can save the effort of posting the nitpicky details about the size and weight.)

This week B&N has arguably outdone Amazon, Kobo, Google, and possibly even Apple on the hardware front. They just unveiled a pair of new tablets, one with a 7" screen and another with a 9" screen. The Nook HD and the Nook HD+ have new higher resolution screens and will be sold alongside the Nook Tablet (they are finally retiring the Nook Color).

The 2 new tablets have a few details in common like no camera, no NFC, Bluetooth is enabled (finally) and instead of a USB port they have a 30 pin docking connector. They also each have 2 speakers, Wifi, a microSD card slot, and an optional dongle which brings out a full HDMI port. I'm told they're running Android 4.0 ICS under the hood.

The Nook HD has a 7" screen with a screen resolution of 1440x900, beating the screen on the Kindle Fire HD and on the Nexus 7 by a comfortable margin. The Nook HD is running on a dual-core Omaps 4470 CPU from Texas Instruments, with a clock speed of 1.3Ghz.

This model is going to be coming in 2 flavors, 8GB and 16GB, and the prices will be $200 and $230. (And the UK prices are £159 and £189.) That's going to make this tablet priced at right about the same price as the Kindle Fire HD - once you factor in the cost to remove the ads and to add the power supply which Amazon sells separate.

Given that the Nook HD has a better screen resolution and a slightly faster CPU, I have to say that I am impressed at what B&N pulled off.  I personally don't give a damn about the hardware differences, but B&N still managed to outpoint Amazon when it comes to 7" tablets.

The same can also be said for the Nook HD+. This is a 9" tablet with virtually the same screen resolution as on the KFHD 8.9, same CPU (1.5GHz Omaps 4470), storage (16GB and 32GB), and pretty much everything but perhaps the sound quality and the camera.  (Of course, the camera on the KFHD is pathetic so I don't see how the lack would be important.)

The Nook HD+ has a 1920x1280 resolution screen and will be priced at $270 for the 16GB model and $300 for the 32GB model. If nothing else it beats the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 on price - by a considerable margin.

The UK prices for the Nook HD+ are £229 and £269.

But as impressive as the hardware is, these are still locked down devices to being not much more than consumption devices, and you're limited to the types of consumption allowed by B&N. That doesn't suit me, and it really puts a damper on B&N's gadgets.

But that's just the hardware. The software, on the other hand, now there I found something cool. I won't cover all the features and services in obsessive detail, but there were one or 2 points which I liked and which I find compelling enough that I could see why someone would want to buy the tablets.

And you can find those details here.

30 thoughts on “Barnes & Noble Launches a Family Friendly Media Tablet, Pt 1

  1. Wow. This is the sort of substantial effort I wouldn’t have expected after the Microsoft deal.

    Was this just already far enough down the pipeline (and the presumed Windows Nook far enough back) that it was worth releasing them anyway?

    1. 2013 is, according to some estimates, going to be the year that the market for ebooks starts maturing, which would mean for B&N, going into Christmas 2012 with a not-quite-done Windows 8 tablet and expecting to make it up in Christmas 2013 would have been far too great a risk.

      Better to develop a device for the Christmas 2012 season, using an already existing Android 4.0, and then upgrade later. If it turns out that a Windows8/RT system for the devices is a reasonable option to offer, they can go ahead and develop it, and release it when its ready, rather than releasing it before its ready to have the devices available for sale before Christmas.

  2. Now we know why their Nook division is not profitable. This is impressive stuff, but the cost of getting there… they must be spending like there’s no tomorrow.

  3. Pro: The hardware specsheet looks impressive indeed. Especially the pricing. The size and weight of the 9-inchers is tempting.
    Con: Proprietary dock instead of USB. Lock-down. Having all the hardware features in the world is useless if I can’t use the tablet the way I need/want, with *my* choice of apps.
    Pass! (At least until I can install side-loaded apps.)

    One good thing: this should put an end to some of the Nexus 7 hype. When it came out I wasn’t as impressed as most simply because I knew it only looked good because it was being compared to last year’s models. Now that we are seeing what this year’s tablets can do, the Nexus 7 looks pretty vanilla, doesn’t it?

    1. Well, the Nexus 7 does have the extra CPU cores and new version of Android, but it’s missing all the really cool software features found on the NookHD and the KFHD.

      So yes it is pretty vanilla,

      1. Essentially, it now defines entry-level android, no?
        The lowest level of features you should be willing to pay for?
        (You planning to update your adroid table classification system?)

      2. Dual core and Quad cores from the same processor core design would be a simple comparison ~ with different processor core designs, its not necessarily a simple comparison. Some find that the quad core Tegra and the dual core TI OMAP are very similar in performance. Tegra may have an edge in power control, but we won’t know which tablet has better real world battery performance until people have a chance to test them in the field.

  4. Wow, that dock connector could be a mistake.

    XDAers will have a frikkin field day with these.

    You know who has just been mortally wounded? Archos. No one will want to buy their tablets now when they can get one of these cheaper and with far better hardware.

    But wait — where’s the “revolutionary” screen? It’s HD and that’s all? I need to see some video of these too, to see if they have that flicker in video that other Nooks displayed on camera.

    1. How is the dock a mistake – other than for B&N?

      With the dongle available the hardware hackers will be able to pull out all sorts of interesting stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if they find a way to get a second video channel and USB host from that port.

      And yes, the only revolutionary detail about the screen is the slightly wider viewing angle and higher resolution.

          1. Why not? Standard Micro-USB cords are stuck at USB 2.0 for the foreseeable future, and are thus limited to pulling a maximum of only 5V.

            That’s why the NOOK Color/Tablet had the “special” charger with the extra pins on the end – higher voltage (12V) so it would charge faster. This seems like a logical extension.

          2. Is it just a special connector on the Nook Side but USB on the other side like many tablets have? Otherwise, how would one hook it up to their computer to transfer to the tablet other than the micro SD Card?

          3. It wasn’t that special. It is still 5V, but the extra pins give an extra path for current so that they run charging at 2 amps without melting the microUSB pins on the cable.

            (microUSB didn’t specify that kind of current, so if someone picked up a cheap $1 cable that fused to the Nook, people would blame B&N.)

          4. flyingtoastr, its going to be 5V anyway, its the 0.5amp standard that they get around with the non-standard cables.

            B&N’s original “extended micro-USB” might have been thought a clever way to have both a higher amp charger cable and support for a standard micro-USB cable for data access … but it is longer than a standard micro-USB plug, which makes it a more effective lever, which has been on of the main Nook Color and Nook Tablet failure points since they adopted the design. It turns out that people in the real world don’t always plug in their charger cable gently and gingerly and set the device aside while it charges.

  5. I only see one speaker on the back. I think that would be the bad part hardwarewise compared to the Kindle HD which has great sound for a tablet.

    1. Look again. The Nook HD has two speakers and they are claiming to use the same SRS TruMedia that Amazon adopted with the Kindle Fire HD.

  6. >>>The Nook HD is running on a dual-core Omaps 4470 CPU from Texas Instruments, with a clock speed of 1.3Ghz.

    Which TI just obsoleted!!

    TI steering OMAP to embedded
    http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4397207/TI-steering-OMAP-toward-embedded

    >>>Executives from Texas Instruments Inc. said Tuesday (Sept. 25) the company would shift its R&D investment on the OMAP applications processor to focus more on the embedded market and less on smartphones and media tablets.

    Dahyum!

    1. So what? It’s not like the chips will suddenly stop working.

      On a related note, don’t you find that bit of news bizarre? The Omaps chips are running in both new Kindle Fires, both new Nook HDs, and even the Kobo Arc. That is a spectacular accomplishment and yet TI doesn’t want to be in this market anymore. Weird.

      1. They want higher margins and aren’t interested strictly in revenue growth. The Kindle, Nook, and Galaxy Nexus are clearly negotiating hard to squeeze every last penny out of cost, and the future of that market may very well lie in cheap Chinese chips.

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