Nook Tablet shows prom­ise in crowded mar­ket

The Washington Times Daily - - Business -

Ap­ple’s an­nounce­ment Wed­nes­day of a new ipad only con­tin­ues ques­tions about that de­vice’s place in the mar­ket. By the end of 2012, Ap­ple is ex­pected to rack up cu­mu­la­tive ipad sales of more than 100 mil­lion units. An ob­server might con­clude that the ipad is about all there is in tablet-land.

Such an ob­server would be wrong, how­ever. Ma­jor book­sell­ers are in the tablet space, fig­ur­ing, per­haps rightly, that e-books will even­tu­ally trump pa­per books, and it’s bet­ter for Ama­ or Barnes & No­ble to sell a dig­i­tal book on a hard­ware “plat­form” of their choos­ing than to sell no books at all.

The printed book isn’t go­ing away, not yet at least, and I be­lieve the tablet age is in its in­fancy. But nei­ther fact has stopped Barnes & No­ble, one of the coun­try’s old­est book­sell­ers — and now one of the largest — from of­fer­ing its own line of e-book “readers” and even an An­droid-based tablet, the $199 or $249 Nook Tablet, the price de­pend­ing on whether you want 8 gi­ga­bytes or 16 gi­ga­bytes of mem­ory in­stalled.

I’ve played with a 16-gi­ga­byte Nook Tablet model and I must say, it’s nicer than I’d thought and cer­tainly a de­vice that shows prom­ise in a crowded mar­ket­place. While I was (and re­main) a bit luke­warm about the $199, 8-gi­ga­byte Ama­ Kin­dle Fire tablet , the Nook is nicer.

There are frus­tra­tions with the Nook: Barnes & No­ble pre-in­stalls a link to the mu­sic ser­vice — the same one that didn’t work on the Kin­dle Fire I tested last fall — and while I could (sort of) log into Mog, it wouldn’t respond with mu­sic. Other An­droid apps might not be avail­able, and Barnes & No­ble didn’t respond to a ques­tion of whether such items can be “side-loaded” or trans­ferred to a Nook via a cable con­nec­tion to a com­puter.

Then again, Pan­dora Ra­dio worked just fine, and there are plenty of ap­pli­ca­tions avail­able to cover just about any in­ter­est. If the one I want isn’t yet avail­able, a sub­sti­tute can likely be found.

So what makes the Nook Tablet a thing of value? Sev­eral fea­tures. One is the screen, a su­per­sharp, col­or­ful 7-inch dis­play that’s great for tele­vi­sion shows, movies and mag­a­zine lay­outs. Watch­ing some brief tele­vi­sion clips on Hulu Plus was a hoot: won­der­ful video, and the sound was OK with the built-in speaker. (More se­ri­ous viewing — not to men­tion the com­fort of your neigh­bors — would sug­gest us­ing a head­set.)

Books — pre­sum­ably the pri­mary thing for Nook users — are fun to read; the feel is nat­u­ral, and the type easy to read and easy to re-size. I can at­test that the Nook Tablet is durable, too: drop­ping one onto a car­peted floor wasn’t a prob­lem, as I dis­cov­ered while doz­ing off dur­ing test­ing.

Bat­tery life seems bet­ter than the Kin­dle Fire as well: Barnes & No­ble prom­ises 11.5 hours of read­ing time and 9.5 hours of watch­ing videos. And un­like the Kin­dle Fire, both times are with Wi-fi con­nec­tiv­ity func­tion­ing. Like the Kin­dle Fire, there’s no 3G wire­less op­tion.

I was a bit con­cerned that Barnes & No­ble’s e-books might not be eas­ily trans­ferrable to other plat­forms if, say, a user ditched the Nook for an ipad or an­other An­droid tablet. Apps from Barnes & No­ble will han­dle that, a com­pany spokesman said. They didn’t say — but I have found out — that you can fairly eas­ily hack a Kin­dle Fire to run the An­droid Nook ap­pli­ca­tion.

So porta­bil­ity of books isn’t a con­cern, as it frankly is with Ap­ple’s ibook plat­form. That’s good. Barnes & No­ble has a ton of ti­tles, and the prices seem as fair as any e-seller’s.

For my needs, wants and de­sires, I’d prob­a­bly stick with an ipad. But for a smaller-sized, use­ful, read­ing-and-tablet ex­pe­ri­ence, I’d also say that the Nook Tablet is, for now, the one to beat.

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