The Updated Nook HD+ Is Still Fighting The Tablet Wars

The Nook HD+ came out last December to mixed reviews. The device had a great screen but problematic bugs caused laggy performance and low scores. The company has come out with an updated version and we took a look.

The 9-inch Nook HD+ is a Retina-quality tablet with a very simple mission – it wants to replace the iPad in the entry-level tablet market. It runs an acceptably fast 1.5 GHz processor that powers a 1,920×1,280-pixel screen. This means images are exceptionally bright on the device and video is more than acceptable. When we first looked at the HD+ in December on Fly or Die, I gave the HD+ a fly even with its limited functionality at the time and its lack of a camera.

The B&N party line is that this device is updated and I suspect there’s a reason they are running through these with a new round of reviews. Because I didn’t write a formal review when it first came out – I was far more impressed by the Nook HD – so it’s worth revisiting this tablet.

As it stands, the Nook HD+ is primarily a “dumb tablet” with a few smart tablet features. You can run a number of apps and games and view Nook Video alongside other video from providers like Crackle and Ultraviolet. This update also improves the speaker (it’s still mono) and improves performance.

Sadly, the quirks that plagued the original HD+ are present here. When turning on the device, for example, you see a brief “scrambled” picture that suggests a problem with either the backlight or the LCD. This “fuzz” appears sometimes while moving through apps and screens but it doesn’t show itself when you’re reading a book.

In terms of absolute performance the Nook suggests solidity but not pep. Switching between screens, at least while reading, is acceptably fast and much faster than it was in the initial launch. As for general app performance I saw a bit of an improvement over the previous software iteration but nothing to write home about. The HD+ is awful in direct sunlight, so don’t even think about going outside with it. This is an indoor ereader.

I think, sadly, the 9-inch tablet market has been flattened by the phablets and 7-inchers of the world. That said, the form factor is still good for folks looking for more screen real estate or larger fonts. For those customers, the HD+ excels. It is almost half a pound lighter than the iPad and even lighter than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch. At $269 it’s priced just about right and, for a brief period, you could get a Nook Simple Touch for free with purchase. That promotion is over but you do get a $50 credit from Barnes & Noble for books and content.

So here’s what worries me: the ereader world has been stagnant since the holidays and the two-for-one deal, while generous, didn’t seem to bode well for B&N. This very slightly updated HD+ is a solid piece of hardware but it’s still not quite up to, say, the standards of similarly outfitted – but not similarly priced – Android tablets. The Nexus 10, is $100 more than the HD+ and, by all metrics, a better device. The iPad with Retina display is a bit more expensive, to be sure, and may not be exactly the device the novice, ereading user is looking for. However, the performance and build quality is far superior.

So who should get an HD+? I think folks who love to read on bigger screens. While there is a plethora of video content available, that’s not the draw here. The three main draws are, in order, price, price, and price. If you’re already a Nook user and you’re looking for a bigger reader, this may be the model for you. If you’re looking for a real tablet, you may need to look elsewhere.