Not to be outdone in a year that has seen a series of new tablet devices released by its competitors, Barnes & Noble has unveiled the 7-inch Nook HD starting at $199 (8GB) and the 9-inch Nook HD+ starting at $269 (16GB), a new generation of redesigned, lightweight multimedia tablet readers with sharper, high resolution screens, faster processors and new shopping interfaces and recommendation software. The new devices are available for preorder beginning today in the U.S. and the U.K. for shipping in late October and they will be on store shelves by November.
The new devices also come on the heels of B&N’s announcement of the launch of Nook Video, a new B&N video content service offering movies and TV Shows on Nook devices, and the appointment of Patrick Rouvillois as v-p, managing director-international, to head up its international efforts to market its Nook devices outside the U.S. Indeed these new announcements highlight the transformation of B&N into a technology/media company offering state-of-the art hardware, and digital content to consume on it, to an international reading market.
Barnes & Noble CEO William J. Lynch, on hand at a downtown Manhattan hotel during a long day of media presentations on the devices, said they have a “combination of the highest resolution screen, lightest weight and expansive access to the content rendered in digital quality never before seen." B&N organized a methodically comprehensive presentation on both devices (this reporter was there for over 2 hours) and executives were arrayed at multiple stations around a hotel suite in lower Manhattan to explain and hype every aspect and feature of the new devices.
B&N’s head of hardware development Bill Sapperstein showed off the Nook HD and what he described as the “highest resolution display on a 7-inch tablet,” with 243 pixels per inch and pointed to wide viewing angles on both tablets. Both devices run on a customized version of Ice Cream Sandwich, the Android 4.0 OS optimized for tablets. The devices also just seem to get lighter—the Nook HD is 315 grams and Nook HD+ 515 grams—and more powerful with the NHD offering a 1.3GHZ processor and the NHD+ offering a 1.5 GHZ processor. B&N executives were quick to compare their new devices favorably against their competitors at Amazon, Google and Apple. Although, unlike those tablets, neither of the Nook devices offers a camera, which must contribute to the weight loss and the ability to make the devices even thinner than before.
The new devices are as fast, or faster, than comparable tablets in the market, and software ran very quickly and smoothly and the ability to watch video—the NHD+ displays video at full 1080p HD and the Nook HD support 720p HD--is impressive with screens that are super sharp with rich color display. Battery life is claimed to be 10 ½ hours (NHD+) for reading and 9 hours for HD video viewing. Both devices featured enhanced stereo sound, connectivity is by wi-fi and both devices offer expandable storage.
On the software side, B&N’s Wendy Bronfin and Bryant Brennan showed off the devices’ redesigned interfaces and navigation features and a new personal profile system that allows users to monitor and control what can be done on the device. Multiple members of the same family can use the same device but have access only to their own content. Parents can control access and allow kids to buy books only in the B&N’s kids section as well as only see kids books on the device, while keeping that e-book copy of Fifty Shades of Gray for parents only.
Both devices were said to work better for e-mail, including an upgrade to allow them to work with Microsoft Exchange and Office Suite. Digital director Teresa Horner outlined improved display for visual books, including cookbooks, photobooks and comics—she said B&N has a team devoted to “getting comics display right," including designing its own “panel by panel” viewing function for easier reading. Claudia Romanini, B&N’s director of developer relations and Nook Apps program, said B&N offers about 10,000 apps optimized for the devices through the Nook Store, which has also been redesigned. The Nook Store also unveiled Nook Channels—a new way to offer recommended content based on a users profile, algorithms and “human” input. B&N will offer about 100 Nook channels and add more over time. Magazines and catalogs and other content in the Nook store can also be browsed and placed in a new scrapbook location that allows for later viewing and purchase decisions. The devices also have HDMI outputs (a separate $40 adaptor is required) so video can be easily displayed via TVs.
Both devices will certainly compete on the basis of their polished design and hardware upgrades as well as on their pricing. Over the last year Amazon (Kindle Fire HD), Google (Nexus 7), Kobo (Kobo Arc), Microsoft (the unpriced, unreleased Surface), and now B&N, have scrambled to create the best (and cheapest) tablet device that’s not an iPad. Indeed the pricing on the 32 GB Nook HD+ ($269 for 16GB model), sets a new low price for a high performance full-size tablet. Consumers will face a holiday season offering an embarrassment of riches and selection in a tablet marketplace overloaded with cool digital readers at affordable prices.