The 7-inch Nook from Barnes & Noble ($49.99) is the least expensive Google Play-compatible tablet you can get with in-store service and support, and that’s going to matter to a lot of people. The Nook has a lot going for it software-wise, with a clean installation of the relatively recent Android Go 8.1, giving you access to the Google Play app store. Just don’t expect strong performance on the hardware side, from this or any other $50 tablet.
Support and Design
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.
For your $50, you get a nicely branded tablet in a classy box. The Nook measures 7.4 by 4.2 by 7.0 inches (HWD) and weighs 8.6 ounces. The front houses a 1,024-by-600 LCD plastic with a big bezel. The back is a soft-touch dark blue plastic with the Nook logo. It’s not waterproof, given that it has a microSD card slot in the side without even a cover over it. It’s also not that rugged, but given that nothing here is glass, it probably won’t break that easily.
Screen and Multimedia
The Nook’s 7-inch, 1,024-by-600 screen is poor. It’s very reflective, though not terribly dim, with a maximum brightness of 326 nits. Our testing showed it to be very bluish, and you can’t alter the color settings. The plastic screen looks greasy when viewed at an angle. That said, you will not get much better on a $50 tablet.
Ditto for the cameras. There’s a 2-megapixel camera on the back and a VGA camera on the front, and they are not good at all. In lots of light, they take fuzzy photos and jerky videos, at 7 to 13 frames per second. In poor light they basically don’t work at all.
The tablet has a single speaker on the back, which isn’t that loud—77dB at six inches of distance in our tests—and very tinny. But there’s also a standard headphone jack, and one of the advantages of a straight Google Play tablet is that it will handle all of your music and video services.
Battery life is also poor: We got only 2 hours, 53 minutes of power watching a YouTube video over Wi-Fi, with the screen at maximum brightness. Double that with the screen at half brightness, and you still have a tablet you can’t use all day long; you’re going to use it for a few hours, and then hopefully remember to plug it in again.
Software and Performance
Setting up the Nook is simple enough; just enter your Google details. The device connected just fine to our 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks, and I’m happy to see 5GHz Wi-Fi support at this price level.
The Nook runs Google’s Android Go 8.1 with some B&N preloaded apps and a few widgets thrown onto the home screen. While you can use it as a Barnes & Noble ebook reader, you absolutely don’t have to; you can load Kindle, Kobo, or Marvel Unlimited on it instead and it will be just as happy as if you were reading B&N books.
Benchmarks aren’t awful, but performance is hurt by the slim 1GB of RAM. The 1.3GHz MediaTek processor in here, the same one in the Amazon Fire 7 tablet, scored 3163 on PCMark and 1517 on multicore Geekbench, which is as good as decent, low-to-midrange phones like the LG Q6.
But in real-life usage, performance didn’t measure up to the benchmarks. The 1GB of RAM means you basically can’t switch apps without losing the apps’ saved states. I had serious issues with keyboard accuracy that made it frustrating to type passwords or URLs, too. In reading apps, there was a noticeable pause when flipping pages in graphic-heavy content, like children’s books. The screen is also slightly too small, and too low-res, for comic books (for comics, you’ll be better served by the larger Nook Tablet 10.1″). Text-only books in the Nook and Kindle apps are smooth, though.
This tablet would be great for a simple offline Netflix viewer, as you can store video either in the 12.28GB of available memory or on a microSD card of up to 256GB. About that memory card: The Nook doesn’t support combining internal and card storage, so your individual apps will have to be OK with moving files to the memory card. Some are, some aren’t.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The 7-inch Nook’s major competitors are the aforementioned Amazon Fire 7, the Lenovo Tab E7, and a bunch of off-brand tablets that you buy on the endcap of a Walgreens aisle. None of these options are great; they’re all frustrating in basic ways, mostly because of a lack of RAM. But at least the Nook has full access to Google Play, unlike the Fire, and more storage than the Lenovo tablet, which is why we’re giving it 3.5 stars.
If you’re looking for a basic music and video player to be used with headphones, or a tablet for a toddler to play Toca Boca games on, the 7-inch Nook is better than buying a no-name tablet, especially if you want or need support. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, the $79.99 Amazon Fire HD 8 has a better screen, longer battery life, and more RAM, which earns it our Editors’ Choice for low-end tablets.