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Barnes & Noble's refusal to open its ecosystem has long been one of our primary complaints about the company's tablet offerings. The Nook HD and HD+ are extremely nice pieces of hardware that have been held back by their own walled software offerings -- having a fast device with a nice screen only gets you so far without the proper apps. The company line up to now has been that walling off content allows for a sort of quality control, assuring that apps are developed specifically for the unique form factor of its devices. And while there's perhaps something to be said for that sentiment in the sometimes-fragmented world of Android devices, it was hard to ignore the fact that offering up exclusive access to content through your own marketplace assures better cash flow. It also, unfortunately, means that without extensive developer outreach, there are sure to be plenty of popular apps that just never make it over to your side of the fence.

With its announcement tonight, B&N acknowledges that, in this case, open is better. The company has responded directly to user feedback and will be issuing a software update to its Nook HD and Nook HD+ devices (sorry Nook Tablet and Color owners) that brings Google Play directly to the desktop. The software will come pre-loaded on new devices and will be available as an over-the-air update. If you can't wait that long, you'll also be able to download it directly from the bookseller's site. The update also brings a few other tweaks to the system, but this is far and away the biggest news. The first question we asked upon getting a quick demo: will you be able to buy content like books, magazines and movies through Play? Yep, that's coming too.

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Google Play comes to Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and HD+

If purchased through Play, that content, along with music, will be available for consumption through Google's app. Other standalone applications, though, will show up on your device alongside those you downloaded through Barnes & Noble's offering -- an app acquired via the latter, however, will feature a lower-case "n" Nook logo on its thumbnail to denote where you got it. Google's app, interestingly, will go logo-free. Barnes & Noble will continue to offer its own apps and content through its store; the company's hoping that the tailored experience and integration with its UI will be enough to keep users buying / downloading some portion directly from that store.

Google Play comes to Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and HD

Though, in spite of the fact that they're not made specifically with the Nook in mind, the company says that Play apps still look "great" on its devices -- and certainly the quick demo that we got of Temple Run looked pretty smooth on the in-house HD+ The rest of the integration was fairly smooth, as well, though we did experience a quick crash when trying to click into the Music section of the Play store. By the second tap, however, everything seemed fine.

Google Play comes to Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and HD

This update also brings some key Google apps on board, including Gmail, Maps and Chrome, which is now the default browser for the tablets, bringing tabs along for the ride. All in all, this marks a big move for Barnes & Noble. More choice is definitely a good thing, and the devices now have access to nearly all of Play's 750,000 apps (though the lack of cameras on the devices does preclude the use of certain titles). The addition definitely makes the Nook HD and Nook HD+ even sweeter propositions. That goes double for UK buyers, with limited time offers reducing the price of the Nook HD from £159 to £129, and the Nook HD+ from £229 to £179.

Show full PR text

Barnes & Noble Announces Google Play™ on NOOK® HD and NOOK® HD+

NOOK Media LLC, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble,
Inc. (NYSE: BKS), the leading retailer of content, digital media and educational products, today
announced it is expanding its extensive catalog of reading and entertainment content with the
addition of the popular Google Play digital content experience on its acclaimed NOOK HD and
NOOK HD+ devices. With Google Play on NOOK HD and NOOK HD+, customers have access
to more than 700,000 Android apps and games and millions of songs, and more. Barnes &
Noble's highly acclaimed lightweight high-definition 7- and 9-inch tablets will also include
popular Google services like the Chrome browser, Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.

"By adding Google Play to NOOK HD and NOOK HD+, we are offering our customers even
more great entertainment on our award-winning tablets," said William Lynch, chief executive
officer of Barnes & Noble. "Now with access to more than 700,000 apps and the best reading
experience available, NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ are must-see products for entertainment
lovers looking for high-quality tablets at incredibly low prices."

Always a great value, NOOK HD, now with Google Play, is available starting at just $199 and
NOOK HD+ starts at only $269. NOOK products are available at the nearly 700 Barnes &
Noble stores, NOOK.com and leading retailers.

Google Play and the other Google services will be available on all new and existing NOOK HD
and NOOK HD+ customers in the US and UK at no cost through an automatic over-the-air
update that will roll out to all devices connected to Wi-Fi beginning today. Customers who
would like to enjoy the major new software update immediately can learn more at
www.NOOK.com/support or www.NOOK.co.uk/support.

More than 700,000 Android Apps and Games: Choose from more than 700,000 great apps
including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Temple Run, ESPN, TED, Netflix and so many more, all
ready to enjoy right away. The NOOK Store™ continues to feature a wide selection of thousands
of high-quality NOOK Apps™ tailored for the devices including the highest-quality educational

Faster Web Browsing with Chrome: As Web browsing continues to be among the most
popular tablet activities, NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ now features the Chrome browser for fast
start up and page loading and an unlimited number of tabs open at once. Customers can even
sync bookmarks across any device with Chrome.

Gmail™, YouTube™ and Google Maps™: Customers will have instant access to Gmail,
YouTube and Google Maps, now built in to NOOK HD or NOOK HD+. Sync calendars across
multiple devices and check email from any account including Exchange, Yahoo! and Hotmail.

Additional great tablet features include:
• Stunning HD Displays: Crisp text and beautiful graphics make books and magazines
stunning to read. With NOOK HD's highest resolution of any 7-inch HD tablet and Full
HD at 1080p on NOOK HD+, videos and games look life-like from any angle, with rich
color, deep contrast and minimal glare.
• Light and Portable: Weighing in at only 11.1 ounces, NOOK HD was designed to fit
naturally in an adult or child's hand for hours of enjoyment. And at just 18.2 ounces,
NOOK HD+ is the lightest tablet of its kind – more than 20 percent lighter than iPad 3 –
making it the perfect companion for movie watching, long reads, Sunday crosswords or
favorite games.
• NOOK Profiles™: A personalized experience instantly transforms the device in hand to
any family member's very own tablet so only they can see their own content.
• NOOK Channels™: This pioneering recommendation system provides an easy way to
discover new titles by theme.
• The ability to sync the last page read on any NOOK Book across NOOK devices and
apps so customers don't lose their place.
• Expandable memory on the devices and free unlimited NOOK Cloud™ storage for all
NOOK content.
• Adjustable fonts, spacing and themes for a customized reading experience.
• Powerful dual-core processors and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

UK Pricing:

For a limited time only, as part of NOOK's involvement in the "Get London Reading" literacy initiative, NOOK HD is available starting at just £129 (down from £159), with the NOOK HD+ starting at only £179 (down from £229). NOOK products are available in John Lewis, Argos, Asda, Dixons, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Blackwell's and Foyles and also through www.nook.co.uk.

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Google Play comes to Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and HD+, we go hands-on (video)