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Tablets

Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet 10.1″

Kids’ books and comics don’t work well on ebook readers and small tablets, so a big, inexpensive tablet might be just the ticket. Barnes and Noble’s 10.1-inch Nook Tablet ($129.99) has the basic performance you need for looking at colorful content on the go, with decent battery life and unusual levels of service and support for the price. Those are all good things, though other tablets offer slightly better value if you don’t need the in-store support.

Design and Support

The 10-inch Nook is a relatively generic tablet. It measures 10.3 by 6.2 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs a pound. The front has a 10.1-inch, 1,280-by-800 LCD. It’s pretty bright at 365 nits on maximum, and its colors tend a little blue, but not nearly as aggressively as the 7-inch Nook’s screen does.

On the sides the tablet has power and volume buttons, a micro USB charging port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a microSD card slot. It isn’t rugged or waterproof, although its plastic build can likely take some minor drops. The soft-touch back has a Nook logo on it.

On the bottom, the tablet has pogo pins to connect to a special $39.99 keyboard case. That’s ambitious, but I think overly so: Pushing this tablet into heavy web browsing or Google Docs work will be frustrating. That’s not a knock on the Nook itself, but just on every tablet in this price range, and the performance trade-offs they have to make to hit their price target.

The Nook is made by Southern Telecom, a New York-based, white-label device maker that also builds gadgets under the Polaroid, Sharper Image, SmarTab, and Westinghouse brands. Unlike random cheapo tablets you’d buy from shady channels, though, the Nook actually has support, including a 15-day return policy and, more importantly, the ability to bring it into any Barnes & Noble to get help. Buying my Nook at a store, for example, I was stuck behind an older gentleman getting twenty minutes’ worth of help setting up his accounts—annoying for me, to be sure, but a sign that the Nook has a level of customer service many notches above some drug store tablet.

Apps and Performance

Setting up the Nook isn’t hard. It connects to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, and boots up with a bunch of B&N apps and widgets on the home screen. You can log into Nook if you want, to read your Nook books and go shopping. Or, you can clear out the widgets, load other apps from the Google Play store, and consume whatever you want. Unlike with Amazon tablets, you get that choice.

Having a full copy of Android Oreo Go 8.1 on here, with Google Play, is a huge advantage over Amazon’s similarly sized Amazon Fire HD 10. Google Play gets you multiple bookstores, including Nook, Kindle, and Kobo; multiple comics stores including Marvel Unlimited; and various third-party comics reading apps. Amazon’s tablets will always try to drive you toward Amazon content, and there’s a lot there, but if you prefer a different content provider, Amazon can make it really inconvenient to install.

Performance benchmarks on the 1.5GHz MediaTek chipset were not great. Surprisingly, they were worse than we saw on the 7-inch Nook, which has a slower 1.3GHz processor. That’s because the 10-inch tablet is pushing 40 percent more pixels on the screen. Geekbench scores of 503 single-core and 1307 multicore are some of the slowest we’ve seen in ages on anything, and much slower than the 1500/3000 we got on Amazon’s Fire HD10. The tablet also has the APIs for GFXBench’s more advanced gaming benchmarks, such as Car Chase, but the frame rates were simply pathetic (1.6fps on the Car Chase benchmark is, once again, the slowest we’ve seen in ages).

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These performance problems show up in the basic UI but not in reading apps. The tablet takes a long time to boot, widgets take visible amounts of time to load, and even screen rotation has a delay to it. At least the keyboard is much more accurate than the one on the 7-inch Nook, and I didn’t have mistyping problems on this one. Flipping heavily graphical pages in the Nook app actually feels faster on this tablet than on the smaller Nook, because this one has 2GB rather than 1GB of RAM, and with things like page flips, RAM really matters.

The tablet is roomy in terms of storage, with 24.65GB available and an easily accessible microSD card slot supporting up to 256GB cards. The external and internal storage can’t be merged, though, so you’re dependent on each app’s settings to know whether you can offload content onto the microSD card.

There are two speakers on one edge of the tablet, which get quite loud: We got about 90db at six inches of distance. The sound is tinny for sure, and you’d almost certainly rather use the standard 3.5mm headphone jack or Bluetooth headphones. But it at least doesn’t sound like a 50-year-old transistor radio the way the sound on the 7-inch tablet does.

The tablet has two cameras, both 2-megapixel, that record 720p video. They aren’t good, but they aren’t useless like the ones on the 7-inch tablet. Still images are at least viewable, and in low light they’re super dim but not entirely blacked out. Don’t record video, though—we couldn’t get frame rates high enough to be truly usable. In good light, we got 15 to 20 frames per second, and in low light we got 9 to 10 frames per second, both of which are visibly jerky.

Battery life isn’t bad. We got 5 hours, 49 minutes of video rundown over Wi-Fi at maximum screen brightness. You’ll probably be able to double that by turning the brightness down to half.

Comparisons and Conclusions

Cheap tablets are not going to perform well. We need to keep emphasizing that: You get what you pay for. If you want a really smooth-performing 10-inch tablet, get our Editor’s Choice, the entry-level $329 Apple iPad. (There aren’t any great 10-inch midrange Android choices on the market right now, which shows how much the iPad dominates this space.) But for reading comics and watching videos, a sub-$200 tablet is fine.

There are a bunch of inexpensive 10-inch tablets around this price, and more if you’re willing to go up to $200. The Nook’s advantage is its in-store support (if you live near a Barnes & Noble). Otherwise, other tablets in this range are probably better deals. The Amazon Fire HD 10 has better sound and smoother performance, though it runs Amazon’s specialized version of Android and doesn’t have all of the apps in Google Play. The Lenovo Tab E10 has very similar specs to the Nook and also comes from a reliable name, but costs $25 less. Unless the in-store support makes a difference for you, either of these can be stronger options.



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