Let the tablet price wars begin. On the heels of Amazon's launch of its Kindle Fire HD tablets, Barnes & Noble has unveiled its own high-def models. And the new Nook HD and Nook HD+ offer pricing not yet seen in tablets with similar resolutions.
The 1920x1280 resolution on the 9-inch Nook HD+ comes close to matching that of the Apple iPad's Retina display. Yet its price starts at just $270 for a 16GB version (a 32GB version of the Nook HD+ costs $300). That's roughly half the price of a third-generation Apple iPad, although the Nook HD+'s screen is smaller than the iPad's 9.7-inch display.
Barnes & Noble says the Nook HD+ has almost as many pixels per inch as the iPad, and in our brief look at the display during a press event previewing the devices, the Nook HD+ looked sharp indeed.
The company also announced a smaller tablet, the 7-inch Nook HD. Its 1440x900 resolution is slightly higher than that of the Kindle Fire HD's display. It's available with 8GB of storage for $200 and 16GB for $230. The latter is about
$30 $20 more than the same-size Kindle Fire HD, when you include the price of the Fire's adapter. But unlike the Fire and the iPad, both Nooks have memory-card slots. Neither new Nook is available with 3G or 4G connectivity, though; both are Wi-Fi-only devices.
Barnes & Noble says it wants to focus on the reading experience with both devices, although it does so in different ways for each. The Nook HD weighs just 0.7 pounds, making it about 20 percent lighter than the Kindle Fire HD. Like its predecessor, the Nook Tablet, the Nook HD measures 5 inches in width, narrow enough to hold comfortably in one hand for long periods of time.
While the Nook HD+ is bigger, it's also light, at 1.1 pounds. That's 20 percent lighter than the iPad (though, of course, the iPad's display is larger). In addition, the Nook HD+'s squarish, 3:2 aspect ratio, like the iPad's, makes the screen well-suited for reading magazines.
Barnes & Noble says its magazine selection includes the top 100 best-selling magazines. A new visual table of contents shows each page in a thumbnail format, so you can easily swipe through and select articles that way. As you flip through a magazine, you'll see a mirror image of the prior page on the back of each page, much as you do on the iPad.
Other features also distinguish the new Nook tablets. The shopping experience looks like it's been changed significantly, with new "channels" available to help you select books that meet your interests: You'll be able to select "Forensic Mysteries," "Jane Austen and Heirs," and "Sophisticated Journeys," as a few examples. Related movies and other content will be added soon.
If you're a catalog shopper, retailers including L.L Bean and Pottery Barn will deliver their catalogs to you, with each item hot-linked to individual Web pages from which you can make purchases. You'll also be able to create your own scrapbooks by virtually "ripping" pages from magazines and catalogs, then placing them in folders you create.
Earlier this week, Barnes & Noble announced its new Nook Video service, which will deliver content from Disney, HBO, Sony, and others. Streaming movies looked crisp and bright during our preview demo.
B&N has created new ways to personalize the Nook, as well. You can create profiles for individual users, a particularly helpful feature for controlling what your kids look at or buy. But the parental controls are not as robust as those in the Kindle Fire, which also offers Web filtering and time controls. The user interface is a new carousel of recently accessed content, but you'll also be able to customize the home pages in various ways.
Because the new tablets have memory-card slots, you'll be able to increase storage by up to 64GB. But unlike the Kindle Fire HD and many other tablets, the new Nooks have no camera.
The Nook HD and Nook HD+ are available for pre-order now at barnesandnoble.com. The company says they'll ship at the end of October and will also be available in November in its stores, as well as at Best Buy, Target, and WalMart. We'll do full tests of both tablets as soon as they're available, so check back with us. Meanwhile, take a look at our current tablet Ratings to see what's available now.
Barnes & Noble HD+ (photo: Barnes & Noble)
Barnes & Noble HD (photo: Barnes & Noble)
—Donna L. Tapellini