Still below that row is a battery-level indicator, the time, and an open-book icon, which is visible across many of the Tablet's features, a gentle reminder that, even in the face of streaming movies and music, this device is a reader at heart. Clicking the "n" button brings up yet another menu, offering up ways of accessing home, library, the shop, search, apps, the web, and settings. Clicking the library icon will bring up an interface more like the Fire's default screen, complete with shelves. It doesn't look as good as the Kindle's classy wood design, bit does the trick. There are shelves for apps, books, magazines, newspapers, kids books and further customizable options.
As with the Fire, the app selection is limited to those Barnes & Noble wants on the device. Of course, there are workarounds
-- lots of them, in fact. We were feeling a bit saucy and managed to load the Amazon Appstore on the slate (here's where that microSD card comes in handy) with little effort. Or, you can always just root the Tablet
. Barnes & Noble would prefer you score your content through officially sanctioned channels, of course, but the company hasn't exactly made it difficult to find other avenues.
Where the Silk browser was one of Amazon's major selling points for the Fire, browsing speeds are less of a focus on the Nook Tablet. After all, Barnes & Noble doesn't have its servers doing all of the work for the device. The Nook browser doesn't offer a lot of bells and whistles, though unlike some seven-inch Gingerbread tablets like the Kobo Vox
, the thing actually renders pages in their desktop form, rather than as mobile sites.
Layout-wise there's not a whole heck of a lot of differences between the browsers on the Nook Tablet and Color. At top is an address bar, a back button, a star icon for bookmarks and an icon for additional options like opening up new windows, viewing bookmarks, refreshing, and paging forward. Hold down on a page, and you'll get options for searching on it, getting page info, adjusting settings, viewing your downloads and bookmarking.
Zooming and scrolling are zippy on the reader. You accomplish the former by either pinching, double-tapping or clicking plus and minus buttons that pop up as you scroll. And, yes, unlike some other tablets
, this one is fully capable of playing Flash video, and it does so quite smoothly.
The thought of reading an image-heavy magazine on, say, the Nook Simple Touch, seems like a downright nightmare -- the grayscale images, the clunky zooming, the endless scrolling. Compared to its e-reader predecessors, the Nook Tablet's full-color multitouch screen is a delight. Given the real estate limitations of the seven-inch screen, however, there's a still good deal of pinching to zooming and scrolling happening here to properly take in all of the text and images.
As we suggested in the Fire review, a 10-inch display is a far more ideal size for reading standard format magazines. Many magazines not formatted specifically for the device will show a black bar on the bottom to format them to the page -- of course, this will go away as you zoom in.
As with other texts, the Nook Tablet will offer you the option of picking up where you've left off, if you've been reading a copy of a given magazine on another device. The pages have animation similar to that on the iPad, simulating the experience of flipping through a physical magazine. Tapping a page in the center will bring up buttons for the table of contents, brightness adjustment and a handy gallery of thumbnail pages that you can quickly swipe through to find a spot in the periodical that you'd like to check out. Along the top of the page is a black bar offering up the magazine's name in one corner and a plus in the other that you can tap to bookmark a page, dog ear-style.
Comixology on the iPad is still the gold standard for digital comics reading. That said, the Nook Tablet's built-in comics reader certainly does an admirable job recreating the experience. The screen offers up vibrant screens for brightly color books. The blues and reds of Spider-man's costume really pop on the seven-inch screen.
Unlike the Fire, the Nook Tablet can pinch to zoom in those spots of artwork that require closer inspection or pieces of text that are just too small to read with the page at full-size. However, the Fire's panel-by-panel reading method is really the ideal way to experience a comic on a screen with limited screen space. With the Nook, you regularly find yourself pinching to get a closer look and scrolling around like mad to make it around the page. Once you flip the page, the whole thing pops back into place.
If you're reading a book with two-page splashes, you can shift the device to landscape mode, to look at two at once. Of course, given the size constraints, the text becomes much harder to read. The preview gallery found in magazine mode is also present here, and it looks really great flipping through brightly-colored action pages.
The full-color screen is also great for kids books, and thanks to their relatively limited text, they generally scale better than magazines or comics. Given the Nook Tablet's smaller size and cheaper price point, it actually may be a better option for young readers. When you click open a compatible title, you're greeted with three options. Read By Myself gives you the standard reading experience, Read and Play offers narration that reads for you as you flip through, and thanks to a built-in mic, Read and Record lets parents record narration on a selection of kids titles, so children have someone to read to them when they're not around.
A little arrow icon on the bottom of a page offers up a similar thumbnail gallery with large images of the book's pages. Some of the titles, like the Michael Chabon-penned The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man
offer up activities on each page. Clicking the star icon on the top lets kids know how they interact with the book, such as touching characters to see animations.
This wouldn't be a Nook without the reading, right? In spite of all of its flashy multimedia capabilities present, Barnes & Noble clearly considers the Nook Tablet a reading device at heart. The reading experience doesn't stray too far from the one offered up by the Nook Color. The pages are monopolized almost entirely by text, save for the ubiquitous bar at the bottom offering up WiFi strength, battery level and page numbers, with both your present page and the total number in the book, a feature curiously absent from the Kindle's default layout. Clicking on the numbers brings up a slider for adjusting your place in the book. You can also just enter a number manually by clicking Go to Page.
As with the Fire, you can navigate through the text by swiping forward or back or tapping a margin. Tapping on the center, meanwhile, brings up a menu offering up the table of contents, a search function, sharing, text, brightness adjustments and a Discover feature, which offers up texts similar to the one you're reading. Interestingly, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon opted not to feature a pinch-to-zoom option in the standard reading interface, choosing to use a simple method for adjusting text size instead.
In the menu, you've got a healthy number of options for looking at the page, however, including eight text sizes, six fonts, six color themes from black on yellow to white on brown (for when the white LCD gets to be too much), three margins and three line spacing layouts. Barnes & Noble does a solid job leveraging the color screen here by giving you a ton of viewing options for the reasonably simple task of looking at plain text on a page.
The market was already crowded well before Barnes & Noble announced the Nook Tablet, a situation that certainly didn't improve for the company with the announcement of the Kindle Fire. Anyone eyeing the Nook Tablet either as a gift or for themselves will almost certainly be cross checking it with Amazon's new much discussed slate. And then there's the fact that the Nook's predecessor didn't actually go away with the announcement of the new device -- rather, it got cheaper and better.
At $249, the Nook Tablet also costs a full $50 more than those products, a difference that's not negligible when we're talking about budget devices. The words "under $200" mean a lot to shoppers. Of course, you get some decided advantages along with that premium, including more RAM, great video, a microSD slot and attention paid to smaller things, like the built-in mic, which lets users do things like recording narration for kids books.
Amazon, on the other hand, offers up a smaller form factor, price and better proprietary media options. There's really no clear winner here, but with the addition of two now solid products to the ever-expanding world of tablets, there's an even greater chance that the consumer will get precisely what they're looking for.