Barnes & Noble announces Nook HD, we go handson

Sure we heard some early rumblings about a new tablet from Barnes & Noble, and no, we can't say we were particularly surprised by the revelation -- after all, no one expected the bookstore to sit idly by and let Amazon own the holiday shopping season with its freshly souped-up Kindle Fire line. But the company did manage to offer up a few surprises with today's announcement -- biggest of all (literally, in fact) was the launch of a 9-incher, the Nook HD+. And where the HD borrowed some style cues from B&N's Simple Touch line, its bigger brother is the aesthetic descendent of Nook tablets past, borrowing that long, skinny body and even offering up a winking reference to the carabiner that lent such a dramatic distinction to past products.

That said, we're not simply repeating the move from Nook Color to Nook Tablet here. The Nook HD+ is a far more significant upgrade, even as it pays a little tribute to its predecessors. Barnes & Noble's really gunning to make a splash in the budget tablet space this holiday season, and while the company's clearly betting on the smaller and cheaper HD to be the big seller, a company rep told us that he expects that HD+ to be a sleeper hit for the company. And certainly it's easy to see why the company's got some confidence this time around -- the device is sleek, fast, hi-res and affordable. But can it succeed in such a cutthroat market? Check out some impressions after the break and judge for yourself.

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Barnes & Noble announces Nook HD+, we go hands-on

Barnes & Noble has never been lacking when it comes to distinctive hardware designs. Say what you will about the Nook Color / Tablet, those things stood out in a sea of like-minded, trade dress-encroaching slates. The company worked with industrial designers to create a followup capable of paying homage to past products, while keeping up with the increasing quality of budget tablets. And really, regardless of its distinctive design, the Nook HD+ actually does feel quite nice. At 515 grams, it's also pretty light -- 20 percent lighter than the current iPad, the company will happily tell you.

As one can certainly gather from the name, B&N's paid special attention to the display on this device. The 9-inch (that's nine on the nose) display is 1,920 x 1,280 at 256 ppi. The high resolution is aimed at offering up the proper showcase from Nook Video's high-def offerings. Interestingly, like the HD, the device was designed for reading, first and foremost, offering up an ideal aspect ratio for looking at magazines and catalogs. And yeah, it's also quite nice for reading comics and the company's custom multimedia kids books.

DNP Barnes & Noble announces Nook HD, we go handson

Speaking of kids, the company's really talking up its use of personal profiles. On the lock screen, you slide into the profile you'd like to log into. Different accounts contain the user's personalized content. Parents can password-protect profiles and can control the settings on each account, offering up different permissions for different kids. UI-wise, we're talking about the same Paper layout built on top of Ice Cream Sandwich that we're seeing on the HD. There's also a no-thrills abandoning of content containers, with the Active Show scrolling spread offering up content on the top of the home screen, which can be dragged and dropped on the desktop.

Barnes & Noble's still in the big bezel game here, a distinction it notes will help keep your thumbs from greasing up the display. On the bottom, that large, pronounced "n" home button is back, which, among other things, helps orient the user. Below that, the big carabiner from the Color / Tablet has been traded in for a far more subtle hole, which, like its predecessor, serves no particular purpose to speak of, beyond lending some distinction.

DNP Barnes & Noble announces Nook HD, we go handson

Flip it over and you'll get that nice soft-touch material. There's no concave back here, however, and interestingly, while the company is talking up the quality of the device's speaker, there's only one grille on the back, unlike the HD (and the Fire HD, for that matter). Along the bottom, you'll find the microSD slot and a proprietary charging port, which the company says will charge the device faster, though we kind of prefer the ubiquity of something like micro-USB. If you want to use the port for HDMI out, you'll have to hook up an adapter.

DNP Barnes & Noble announces Nook HD, we go handson

Inside, you'll find a dual-core, 1.5GHz OMAP4470 processor. The device seemed zippy enough in our time with it, though the company promises more advances as we push up to release. There's also a 6,000mAh battery that should give you either 10 hours of reading or nine hours of video. Storage-wise, you get either 16 or 32GB. All of that runs you $269 or $299, respectively -- a deal you can jump on right now with a pre-order. The Nook HD+ starts shipping in late October and will hit Barnes & Noble stores in early November.