It was pretty clear to anyone paying any attention at all that the Nook tablet line wasn’t long for this world.
Sure, Barnes & Noble pulled off some interesting industrial design and innovative software. But in hindsight, the Nook might be less known for its own success, and better remembered for prodding the Amazonian giant into regularly upping the ante with its Fire line.
Yet the Nook legacy lives on.
Last summer, the ailing bookseller announced that it would end in-house production of Nook tablets, only to retract the statement earlier this year. Ultimately, the result was perhaps something of a compromise. With the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook, Samsung is clearly doing all of the heavy lifting (it’s right there in the name, really), though Barnes and Noble would have you believe it is still, at its heart, a Nook Tablet.
Pulling the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook from its Barnes & Noble-branded packaging, I had my fears confirmed. The “Nook” in the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is as much of an afterthought as the product’s name implies. Remember those Eddie Bauer-branded Ford Expeditions from the late 90s? This isn’t that far really — though at least those had a badge from the Pacific Northwestern clothing company on their trunk as some recognition of the partnership.
There’s not a single indication of the product’s Nook ties anywhere on its exterior.
Samsung apparently couldn’t be bothered to extend such luxuries to Barnes &Noble. There’s not a single indication of the product’s Nook ties anywhere on its exterior — not even in the vast white space on the product’s rear. What appears to be a relative lack of impact form B&N and the hardware front means that you’re left with what’s essentially a Samsung tablet — albeit one pre-loaded with Nook software.
That’s not necessary a bad thing, of course. Samsung is certainly capable of making a quality tablet, after all. What it does end up meaning, however, is that you lose out on a lot of the little touches that made earlier Nook tablets such an intriguing proposition. As with the company’s devoted e-reader line (which has also been silent for some time now), the company’s focus on literature always resulted in some nice little reading-focused touches, like an indent for better grippage during long reading sessions.
Still, the 7-inch form factor is pretty much the ideal size for reading. The display affords more real estate than the standard six-inch e-reader, without being overwhelmingly large, while the hardware footprint fits perfectly in one hand, so you can, say, hold a subway pole with the other.
At its heart, the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is essentially the Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 — in fact, straight out of the box, the two devices are pretty much aesthetically identical. On the front, you’ll find a 7-inch 1,280 x 800 display that works out to 216 pixels per inch. Compare that to, say, the similarly priced 1,920 x 1,200 323 PPI display on the 7.02-inch Nexus 7. By that standard the Nook isn’t exactly a multimedia powerhouse — a definite disappointment after Barnes & Noble’s regular attempts to push the limits of screen resolution on budget tablets.
It also bears mentioning — as it always does with these tablet reader reviews — that for pure reading, devoid of all the other multimedia bells and whistles, you really can’t beat an E-Ink display. It’s easier on the eyes, saves considerably on battery life and is far, far more readable in direct sunlight. Of course, it makes it a heck of a lot harder to watch The Lego Movie.
Above the display is a front-facing camera that measures a disappointing 1.3 megapixels. Below is the physical home button, flanked by touch menu and back buttons. Along the right side, you’ll find a power button, volume rocker and a MicroSD slot, which expands the built-in 8GB of memory up to 32GB, a sum that should be more than enough to hold all of those locally stored e-books.
The 7-inch form factor is pretty much the ideal size for reading.
Crack the thing open and you’ll find a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 1.5GB of RAM. Once again, plenty fast for reading, but pretty underwhelming even when compared to fellow budget tablets. You’ll likely notice a lag even when performing relatively simple tasks like loading videos.
Hardware-wise, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is a pretty middling tablet, all said. You don’t have to look too hard for higher specs at around the same price point — or for $20 more, you can pick up the excellent Kindle Fire HDX or Nexus 7. But, then, this partnership was always about the software anyway, right?
So, then, it’s the software that truly makes the Samsung Galaxy 4 Nook a Nook, right? Well, yes and no. Thing is, the whole experience is pretty similar to the standard TouchWiz Android skin. It’s hardly the unrecognizably Android content-centric experience Amazon offers up with Kindle OS — which, for many users, might actually be for the best.
Sure, there are those Samsung-specific touches on top, but at its heart, this is an open Android ecosystem. Barnes & Noble opted to open up the content wall the last go around, and thankfully hasn’t looked back — the last thing consumers need is yet another roped-off ecosystem built on top of Open Source hardware.
The Nook does, however, set itself apart in two ways: Nook-specific apps and free content. Let’s start with the second part first. The company’s official site promises $200 in free content. Not too shabby — that means you’re essentially breaking even on this here tablet, right? Not quite.
You get three free books, including Freakonomics, a “trial subscription” to Nook Magazines and one episode of Veep, Hannibal and Orphan Black. Hardly enough to tip the scales too far in Samsung and B&N’s favor, but it’s hard to look a little free content in the mouth.
The reading app is a pretty standard minimalist affair.
The reading app is a pretty standard minimalist affair. It’s good old-fashioned text on a white background, though there are plenty of settings to futz with, including six font styles, eight font size, six color schemes and different margin and line spacing opens. You can search inside the book, though there’s nothing here quite as thorough as Amazon’s X-Ray, and highlighted text will save both in the devoted reading app and a standalone Nook Highlights.
A strange standalone app, along with Nook Search and Nook Today, offers book recommendations based on your reading and searching habits. At the risk of sounding overly cynical, Barnes & Noble seems to have made a few superfluous features standalone for the sake of building out the Nook software suite, none of which offer a particularly compelling reason to choose this tablet over the competition.
It’s hard not to see the Galaxy Note 4 Nook as last-ditch effort from Barnes & Noble and something of an afterthought for Samsung. Between B&N’s reader-centric innovations and Samsung’s hardware prowess, this team could have designed a killer reading tablet. What we’re left with, sadly, is a middling budget tablet with an uninspired suite of reading apps. Maybe this is just the beginning of a long, fruitful partnership between the two companies, but for now, it feels like Barnes & Noble’s tablet death rattle.
- Low price
- Comfortable size for reading
- Expandable memory
- Middling hardware specs
- Uninspired software offerings