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I’ve wanted a Nook HD from the moment they came out. The reviews of the hardware were great, but I swore after I sold my first tablet, a Nook Color, that I’d never buy another crippled device again.

The Nook App store is just terrible, and while I tried to make my Nook Color work as a tablet (including buying an N2A card), it was never quite satisfying.

I needed to boot to the card to have the apps I needed. But for reading, I’ve always preferred the stock Nook reader, so I spent too much time either being unhappy or booting back and forth. I finally bought an iPad and then a Nexus 7, and those certainly met my needs, though neither of them gave me quite the same reading experience as did the Nook Color.

When Barnes & Noble announced their new update on Friday, finally allowing Google Play on the Nook HD line, I resisted temptation for, oh, about an hour. As soon as I was done with my meetings for the day, I drove over to Barnes & Noble, bought an HD, and raced home to set it up and start playing. I’m going to write a short series of articles discussing the HD from a hardware perspective, and comparing it to the Nexus 7.

My first impression is that the Nook HD will probably become my primary reading device, and it might even be able to replace my Nexus 7 as my workhorse device. I’ll explain that rationale further in the next article.

First though, let’s start with the hardware:

Barnes & Noble has always made beautiful devices, and this one is no exception. I opted for the white version because the bevel is just striking. As you can see from the picture below, it’s just a bit larger than my Nexus 7. Don’t worry, though. It’s well-balanced and light and doesn’t feel larger at all. The bevel is perfect for resting a thumb on while reading, something I wish the Nexus 7 had. I can never quite figure out where to put my fingers while I’m reading on the Nexus.

The back is a soft rubberized material, and it feels good on the fingers and gives an excellent grip. No worries about it slipping out of your hand. When the case I ordered arrives on Tuesday, I’m going to regret covering it up.

The HD runs a modified version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which doesn’t really mean much. No Google Now, basically. Jelly Bean is supposed to be a bit smoother and faster, with some interesting graphic effects, but I’ve not yet noticed much difference between speed on my Nexus 7 or Nook HD.

When it comes to performance, the Nook HD does suffer in comparison to the iPad. I’ve noticed that iOS just seems smoother; it seems to work a bit better. It’s subtle, and if you’ve never used an iDevice, odds are you’ll never notice the difference. Screen rotation, scrolling and other small things just seem better on my iPad, but it’s never been enough to stop me from using my Nexus 7, and it isn’t affecting my current Nook love.

The reading experience, however, is what makes this device shine. I love the stock reader. You can turn off the status bar and completely immerse yourself in a book. There are theme options for background and text color. I like black text on a gray background. You can set margins and text spacing, and it gives you six fonts, including Georgia, my favorite.

Tapping the screen will bring up a progress bar, which includes the number of pages remaining in your current chapter.

The Nook HD doesn’t give you lots of options, but they do offer the important ones, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the reading experience. It’s already become my go-to reader. I like it so much that I’m willing to go through the strip-DRM-from-Kindle-books hassle to read on the Nook HD. (And yes, I did install the Kindle app, just because I could, but I haven’t used it yet.)

I spent about two hours watching Netflix, and playback was smooth. Audio playback is also good. I’m actually impressed by the decent sound from the two rear speakers. It’s not as full as using headphones or an external speaker, but it’s not as tinny as other devices I’ve used. If you wanted to show someone a quick video, they are certainly serviceable.

I haven’t bothered to install an alternate app launcher. I find the stock one to be serviceable. It doesn’t support widgets, and if I decide to make it my workhorse device, I might change that, but for now I’m enjoying the cheery greeting at the top of the screen. I’ve cleared everything from the carousel and left the Home screen uncluttered.

Battery life has seemed good so far. I’m guessing I might see a bit better life than on my Nexus 7, but I’ll have a better idea of that in a few more days.

Enough about the device itself. In the next article, I’ll talk about apps, the Google Play experience and how it compares to a pure Android device.

 
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