The Nook HD Experience

Bottom line: If you are fully bought into the Nook ecosystem, and want the best possible LCD-based reading tablet, look no further than the Nook HD. Otherwise, you are going to have a frustrating time. And the physical design of the Nook is top notch.

So I ordered the Nook HD tablet the day it was announced. I had been eyeing a Nook Tablet for a while, and had tried out the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight (which at that time was $139). So, for $200 (or $229 for the 16GB version that I ordered, the Nook HD did not seem that much more expensive than its e-ink siblings. And the screen specs! Oh, the screen specs. 1440x900 resolution, crushing the iPad mini's resolution of 1024x768, and noticeably better than the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.

But after using the Nook HD for a few weeks, I returned it. Why? Well, it's a tablet. It has it's own proprietary charging cable and power adapter. So it's a committment to bring along. And I want to be able to "make" stuff on it. And I want to be able to install other Apps on it. Barnes & Noble has a set of Apps that can be installed, so if your App is not on that list (I'm looking at you 1Password, there is no way to install it - well there is a way, but it is incredibly complicated and requires the developer tools, and I am not going to mess with it). For example, you cannot install the Kindle app (not surprising, but annoying). And you cannot install the dedicated comics apps like Comixology or Dark Horse. Again, not surprising since Barnes & Noble has its own comics available on through the Nook.

One significant plus for the Nook HD is its mini-SD card slot. This makes it possible to add up to 64GB of storage to the Nook. So there is no reason to get the 16GB version unless you have a thing against mini-SD cards.

Unfortuantely, I noticed quite a few bugs with the intial implementation of the Nook HD operating software, including issues with the Reader program itself. These included issues with the page-curl animation and the pages not moving forward. Unfortunately, I found the built-in Nook HD Reader less reliable than the standalone Nook App for Android that I used on the Nexus 7. And I had one issue where the Email app refused to open. And the only thing I could do was to erase and re-register the device, which caused me to lose all of my local data. Note that there is no way to back up the data on the Nook HD that I am aware of, so if you have to hard-reset the device, it's gone. I found this really annoying with the scrapbook feature of the device that let's you "clip" pages from the e-catalogs for shopping ideas. They are gone when you hard-reset the device (otherwise, the e-catalog system is fantastic).

The Nook HD also has a really slick multi-user system, so everyone in the family can have their own account. And it has restricted children's account as well, which is really neat. Coupled with the kid-friendly book selection of Nook, I could see this as a great selling point for families. I really hope iOS adopts something like this in the future.

I feel like the Nook platform has so much going for it, including its strong and smooth industrial design, its superior screen, its simplified operating system, and its many tie-ins to Barnes & Noble. What it lacks is a developer community putting out more than a few great Apps for it. Nook should do whatever it takes to make sure that the top 100 Android apps are available for the Nook tablets (and I mean apps, not just games) . Cross platform staples like 1Password are sorely missing. And decent Twitter clients. And descent text editors. I can go on and on about this.

You win again, Apple

Anyway, after I returned the Nook HD, I purchased a now-cheaper Nook Simple Touch Glowlight ($119), which is a fantastic reader. But I returned that too for the simple reason that I am getting more and more frustrated that I have too much distributed eBook content, and the options for reading them are way too complicated. I want a small device that can view Nook, Kindle, iBooks, and epub. And there is only one device that does that, the iPad mini. So, after trying just reading on the iPad 3, then the Nexus 7, then the Nook HD, then the Nook Simple Touch Glowlight, I ended up at the iPad mini. Of course it is still in the box so I have not really gotten to use it. But I am going to use it, just because I own a ton of software for it, and I can read any of my purchased ebook content on it.

The iPad mini I purchased is the 32GB Wi-fi. It is the first iPad I have had that does not have 64GB and does not have a cellular modem.

But for me, I learned that if I am going to carry around a tablet, I need to be able to do more that consume content on it. Now, for consuming plain text, nothing I have found beats e-ink. But for text quality on a 7" LCD tablet, nothing beats the Nook HD. On the otherhand, I can read stuff from Nook, Kindle, and iBooks on my iPad or iPhone, and I already am carrying those devices with me. And for me, there is only one do-anything tablet that is tied into the eosystems that I use, and that is these iPad. For now, and probably for the future.

The magnificent retina screen

But let's go back to the iPad 3 for a minute. The iPad retina screen is magnificent. Magnificent. It is so nice. While the Nook HD screen has similar pixels per inch, the overall quality of the 9.7" iPad retina screen blows it away. Text looks fantastic on it, and is very readable at all levels of brightness. And the iPad is a content creation tool, so that is very useful. iBooks on iPad with Retina is the "best" electronic reading experience anywhere, but you need some sort of fancy harness to hold up the massively heavy (in comparison) 9.7" iPad while reading.

Which android?

Back to the Android readers... which one to buy. Well, the Nexus 7 is the flagship tablet. It can run anything from the Google Play store, and you can access other applications as well. The Nook HD has the best screen and the best ergonomics, but is the most limited in terms of software (which may not be a bad thing for most people). And the Nook HD has great family-friendly features. I have not tried out the Amazon Kindle HD, but it has also gotten really good reviews (I dropped Kindle readers once they started putting ads on everything - lame). So, any of these tablets are great, but I found the screen and the hardware design of the Nook HD to be superior. For me, I see Android assuming the role that Windows PCs once had in the "good old days" when we all knew was a computer was. After spending a decade neck-deep in the PC arena of building my own machines and tweaking them to death, I switched to Mac in early 2003, almost 10 years ago. And I have not regretted it. For me, yet another reason to stick with the Apple ecosystem.

A word to all ebook sellers

I hope that some point in the future, much like with what has happened with online-purchased music, DRM on eBooks will be dropped, to be replaced with respect for the consumer. Right now that is the biggest problem with e-reading in general, and it will remain so until the publishers and distributers trust their customers. For now, this experience has resulted in one significant change in behavior for me: buy less ebooks, and more tree-books.