- Chuck Gray
In the past I have lambasted Barnes and Noble's Nook products for a number of reasons, but none of them have to do with device itself. I dislike how eBooks purchased from B&N are encrypted with the credit card number used to purchase them (don't forget that number!). I dislike how stripped-down the app selection is. I dislike their severe lack of media offerings. But the device itself? It's got good specs! Nice HD screen, decent processor speed, expandable storage, slick design—it's got all the makings of a great tablet, save for the fact that it has been tethered exclusively to Barnes and Noble's horrible business practices. But that has now changed with a significant price drop and the addition of the Google Play app store. If you're on the fence about a tablet purchase, I now have to actually, grudgingly recommend the Nook HD over everything else!
Barnes and Noble's sales of both Nook eBooks and hardware have been quite disappointing for the company, particularly when compared to Amazon's Kindle Fire, Google's Nexus tablets, and of course Apple's king-of-the-hill iPads, expensive though they are. Barnes and Noble has tried and failed miserably to create a unique ecosystem of apps, eBooks, and media offerings to meet or beat those of its closest rival, Amazon. With these dismal sales in mind, Barnes and Noble is making a last-ditch effort to save their Nook HD tablet line—they've added the Google Play store and knocked the price of their base model Nook HD down to $150.
This is fantastic news for consumers looking for a nice, cheap tablet. Google Play is, without a doubt, the single greatest source of not only apps but also music and videos for Android-based devices. Its addition to the Nook HD means that you will have access to pretty much every Android app available, which is a lot more than Barnes and Noble could ever lure to their side. I think my favorite thing about this development is that Barnes and Noble is finally giving consumers an easy way to put the Amazon Kindle app on their device, and it's no secret that I recommend Amazon eBooks above all others thanks to their cheap prices, large selection, and responsive customer service. The Nook HD also becomes far superior to the Kindle Fire in terms of app offerings, though it still won't offer the same great integration of Amazon media services that Kindle Fire users enjoy. However, save for the lack of an Amazon Instant Video app for Android, there are free apps on Google Play to reproduce all the other Amazon offerings and apps such as Netflix, Hulu Plus—and Crackle will do a decent job of making up for the loss of an Instant Video app.
All this is less-than-fantastic news for Barnes and Noble, however. It's a sign that they're close to throwing in the towel with their Nook business. At a $150, they are more than likely selling their tablets at a sizeable loss. Also, they will not receive even one cent of the money made through items bought from the Google Play store. This is a Hail-Mary play to drum up enough interest in Nooks that maybe, just maybe, they might be able to stay in the eBook game. I have to say, I sort of doubt they'll be able to pull this off. The buzz online is that Barnes and Noble could shut down its Nook product line sometime in 2014 and that Microsoft has made a bid to purchase the Nook business outright, hoping to get into the eBook business themselves (far too late to possibly make any difference, but that's their mistake to make).
So the time to get a Nook HD is now. If they're discontinued, well, so much for that! If Microsoft buys Nook from Barnes and Noble, you can bet your life they will strip the Android operating system and replace it with some mutation of Windows 8, making the Nook a better cutting board or even a better screwdriver than a tablet (yes, a better screwdriver, you read that correctly).
Here are a couple of things to consider before making this purchase. First, if the Nook business is discontinued or purchased by Microsoft, there is almost no chance that the Android operating system running the Nook HD will ever be updated. That's not such a rare thing though. Very few tablet manufacturers ever update the version of Android their devices ship with. Also, any Nook eBooks you purchase from Barnes and Noble might not be viable, again, if the Nook business is shut down or purchased by Microsoft. I can't guarantee that possibility, but it's a very real danger, which is why I recommend using the Amazon Kindle app on the Nook and getting all your eBooks from Amazon. And finally, given all the same conditions, you probably won't be able to get the same kind of in-person support you get now from Barnes and Noble staff.
If you can live with those hypotheticals, the Nook HD is a nicely-specced and cheap tablet. If I had the spare cash, I would be out getting one right now, that's how good this news is for potential tablet purchasers. $150 tablet with Google Play? Forget the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7—go get yourself a Nook HD while you can!