I recently picked up a Nook HD+ for Christmas, as I’ve mentioned before. The idea of grabbing a 9-inch, 1920×1200 Android slate for $150 was too good to pass up. Sure, the reviews criticized Barnes & Noble’s weird manufacturer skin, but that wasn’t an issue for me. Rooting and installing CyanogenMod was always the plan.
In theory, this is a sweet deal. You won’t find another tablet with 9 inches of screen, 16 GB of storage, and room for a microSD card for such a low price. With Cyanogenmod, it should be perfect. Right?
I spent some time with my new Nook HD+ with CyanogenMod to see if this could offer something to other Android geeks like myself. Is it worth buying one of these things over a new Nexus 7?
We’ll start with what works. Barnes & Noble put some nice hardware into the Nook HD+. It’s got a soft-touch case that holds up well against scratches and fingerprints.
The screen, conversely, attracts smudges like crazy. By the end of the first day my tablet looked like a mob of schoolchildren had smeared McDonald’s all over it.
But that’s not important. What is important is that the screen really is every bit as awesome as it sounds. You get 9 inches of brilliant LCD display at 1920×1280, and it looks amazing.
Videos look amazing on the Nook HD+. Netflix and my own local copies of Attack on Titan popped off the screen. Colors are luminescent and render content beautifully.
The tablet’s resolution and pixel density fall short of the record heights of the iPad Air and 2013 Nexus 7, but you still won’t see a pixel on this screen. It looks good.
The screen is also the Nook HD+’s primary advantage over the Nexus 7. I prefer the Nook’s larger, iPad-like size over the Nexus 7’s smaller form factor.
The screen is the primary reason to buy this tablet. It’s large and in charge, offering a whole lot of content at a size you normally have to pay hundreds more to get.
The screen thankfully doesn’t kill the battery. I’ve been playing music and watching Titan episodes for several hours now and I’m down to 60%.
Every other part of the hardware works fine, although Barnes and Noble made a few baffling decisions that thankfully do no detract from the experience.
The company stuck an n-shaped home button at the bottom of the screen, but nothing else. I have since learned to ignore it in favor of CM’s on-screen navigation keys.
The bottom left corner has a small metal ring punched through the corner. What am I supposed to do with this? Use it to attach a 9-inch tablet to my keychain?
And lastly, Barnes & Noble felt the need to include a proprietary connector reminiscent of the old iPhone 30-pin plugs. Thanks, guys, I was just thinking that I didn’t want to be able to use my phone charger with my Nook.
The Nook HD+ begins to show its issues when you start poking around the operating system.
Despite being labeled as the “stable” candidate, CyanogenMod 10.1 persistently lags by a quarter-second or so. It’s not annoying, but it made me feel like I was using a resistive touchscreen at times.
Performance tends to be weak as well. Jumping between apps and navigating the launcher is slow. The Nook uses an older dual-core processor and 1 GB of RAM. It shows.
The OS is a major weak point of the Nook HD+. A small but dedicated group of enthusiasts on XDA develop for the tablet, but CM 10.1 (equivalent to Android 4.2, Jelly Bean) is the latest ROM that qualifies as stable.
Buying a Nook HD+ means staying well behind the curve on new versions of Android, where a Nexus 7 will get those updates almost immediately.
I’m OK with not getting updated. I keep my phone current, and plan to use the Nook as a device for consuming content. If that means reading my ebooks on 4.2, so be it. As long as it’s got the screen size.
However, staying current is a major factor in tablet choice for most Android enthusiasts. If updates are a must-have for you, don’t bother with this tablet.
The tablet also lacks a camera, notification LED, and external light sensor. This breaks auto-brightness, Lightflow, and Skype. These are not qualities which matter to me, but they do to others. Consider if you can live without them.
Is It Worth It?
The most important question here for Android enthusiasts is, “Why should I buy this when I can get a Nexus 7 for another $80?”
First, the Nexus 7 doesn’t have an totally-not-useless loop at the bottom for attaching your tablet to your keychain. I can’t believe Asus forgot to include this.
The only serious reason to get this tablet is for the screen. If, like me, you find a 7-inch tablet too similar to your 5-inch phone and need something larger, the Nook HD+ works.
The tablet’s significant drawbacks make it a hard recommendation, though. Can you live without updates? With persistent touch lag? With a limited ROM selection?
I don’t regret buying the Nook. It plays Netflix well enough, and content looks fantastic on that screen. The screen really is something.
If you want an awesome looking screen at a low price, consider the Nook HD+. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.
Updated Feb 9, 2015: Corrected the screen resolution.