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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good ebook reader. Mediocre tablet, January 1, 2012
This review is from: Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet 16gb (Color, BNTV250) (Personal Computers)
Synopsis: Good ebook reader. Mediocre tablet that is decent for media consumption but is limited at media creation. Limited Out-of-the-box functionality because it seems to have been designed to require third-party apps. Total Cost of Ownership is $400.

I readily admit I am not the target user Barnes and Noble (B&N) had in mind for the NOOK Tablet. I spend a lot of time flying for work and my needs were for a supplement to my laptop. Tablets, including the vaunted iPad, are meant for enjoying media (music, video, casual games, reading) and not for editing or creating new content. The 7" tablets are even more hampered by their limited screen space. So why did I choose a 7" tablet instead of an iPad or 10" competitor? Price. The large tablets start at $600 and after adding peripherals your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is $900 - $1000, which is the same price as a good laptop that does everything...except run on battery for a 6+ hour flight.

After a lot of online research, I settled on the NOOK Tablet. B&N has a 14-day return policy so I put the Tablet through rigorous functionality testing to determine whether to keep it or not. As much as possible, I only used the built-in applications and made no changes to the hardware or software. I will not discuss the hardware because you can find dozens of reviews online. These are my results.

Reading books. Naturally, the Tablet excels. My concern was that it be able to remember bookmarks on multiple books and PDFs even after powering off and/or removing the SD card. Verdict: PASS

Reading magazines. B&N tells you up front that you have to cancel your emagazine subscriptions and use their web store. I tried reading PDF versions and online subscriptions through Zinio's website (which supports everything except NOOKs). There just is no easy way to read multi-column magazine articles on a 7" tablet. This is too bad because my second reason to get a tablet was to stop carrying around 15 pounds of magazines. Verdict: FAIL

Reading and editing MS Office Documents and PDFs. This is 70% of my job and the primary reason for purchasing a tablet. The Tablet has a lite MS Office reader and a PDF reader. Both are good at reading documents. Neither allow editing or adding notes to documents. For about $20 you can buy excellent third-party apps that allow editing both types of documents. (Note: Animations in PowerPoint do not animate so the Tablet is not suitable for showing animated presentations.) The virtual keyboard is the biggest limitation. Most internal apps do not support rotation so the keyboard is not much wider than a smartphone keyboard. You have to type with your index fingers to keep from hitting numerous keys. Where the keyboard totally fails is a lack of cursor keys. If you have a typo in the middle of word, there is no way to move the cursor to the exact letter you want it on. Retyping entire words is not uncommon. Verdict: FAIL

Email. The Tablet has email capabilities and works really well with GMAIL accounts. However, security is appalling. Once your enter your account and password you are never prompted for it again. This means if someone picks up your Tablet they can read your email. The settings can be changed to require a password to compose email, but it does not appear to work. Enabling the 4 number passcode on the Tablet is the only security you have. Because of this, I have not tried connecting to my work MS Exchange server and probably never will. Verdict: FAIL

Web Browsing. The Tablet has a good web browser that supports Flash Video, which means you can watch YouTube videos. You can keep bookmarks and open HTML pages stored on the media card. The primary browsing limitations are the screen size (and obviously need for a wireless connection). Verdict: PASS

Calendar and To-Dos. There are no built-in apps for either of these, which seems unthinkable. Even a basic smartphone has these. You can download free ones from the B&N app store. Verdict: FAIL

Note Taking. No built-in app for writing notes! The Tablet has a microphone, but you can't even create audio notes. Note taking is the one killer app I wanted for home use. I write notes everywhere to the point of being buried by them. Third-party apps saves the day. Evernote works great with the Tablet - and supports audio notes and keyboard rotation. Verdict: FAIL

Music. The music player is absolute garbage and there is currently no third-party alternative. The first week the music player would skip a lot and even crash the Tablet when playing MP3s from the SD card. Recovery was horrible because the Tablet wouldn't shut down and then wouldn't power up without being connected to the power cord. Fortunately, a firmware update solved the instability problem. Despite four ways of sorting music, finding and playing music in the order you want is terrible (see comments on audiobooks). You can pause and resume a song but you cannot stop. There is no stop button. The speaker on the Tablet is lousy. My two-year old Blackberry phone has a better speaker and it's 1/3rd the size of the Tablet. The speaker is very loud though so will fill a hotel room with mediocre sound. Surprisingly, the speaker sounds no worse even though covered up when the Tablet is in a carrying case. Verdict: FAIL

Audiobooks. You would think an ebook reader would also have good support for audiobooks. The internal memory and media card have folders for specific media types. You can even create your own folders on the SD card. However, no matter where you put your media, the Tablet finds all of it and dumps it into either the music player or the media player. There is no way to separate audiobooks from music. Where the music player completely fails is playing audiobooks in sequential order. Most software applications sort by reading a filename from left to right and sorting on the first character difference it finds. The music player apparently looks at the first few characters and then the last characters and ignores the middle ones. For example, an audiobook with multiple discs and chapters should sort by discs first (1, 2, 3) and then by chapter (1,2,3). Instead the Tablet sorts by placing all the chapter ones together and then all the chapter twos and so one. The file manager sorts alphabetically so you have to open the media card file manager and play audiobooks from there. Verdict: FAIL

Pictures. The Tablet is a pretty good electronic photo album with all the pinch-and-zoom features you expect. However, like the music player, there's no way to segregate pictures into albums. I loaded a document with a ton of embedded images and they ended up in the media gallery as well. You can delete images from the gallery...except the sample pictures for some reason. Verdict: PASS (but hoping for a feature update or third-party alternative soon)

Video. NetFlix and Hulu work good over a wireless connection, but you may get lower resolutions due to the bandwidth limits of a wireless connection. Playing stored video files requires using the media player. Even though the web browser supports Flash video, the media player does not. As long as you convert your videos to .m4v format, you can put anything on the Tablet (Handbrake or RealPlayer is perfect for converting video on a PC/Mac). The image quality is great, although I seem to notice a slight flicker in converted Flash videos like they are playing at 28 frames per second rather than 30. The media player does not support scene selection/jumping to chapters in movies and has no bookmarking feature. Unlike the music player which will play in the background, you cannot multitask. If you leave the media player to use another app, your video will stop. Unfortunately, videos get lumped into the media gallery with photos and the thumbnail appears to be a random still image from 1 minute into the video. Verdict: PASS (it's a book reader, not a movie player)

Total Cost of Ownership. Currently, the Tablet costs $250. For something designed to be used on the road, you will need an extra power supply ($25) and protective cover case ($35). The $50 extended warranty is a requirement since the Tablet will probably be dropped and crushed frequently. To install more than a few books, documents, and media files will require an SD card ($20 - $35). Add another $30 to purchase third-party apps to add functionality and you have around $400 invested in the Tablet. Purchasing ebooks and emagazines is an optional ongoing expense.

Final Verdict. As much as I tried to only use built-in apps during the trial period, when I could not get the functionality I wanted from them I was able to download a number of free or inexpensive apps. These allow me to do the basic content creation and editing I need on the road. A B&N employee flat out admitted the Tablet was rushed out the door with only NOOK Color functionality so was not being fully exploited yet. The firmware update proved B&N is committed to making the Tablet live up to its promise. Realizing that no tablet can yet replace a laptop, and the functionality and ubiquity Evernote brings, convinced me to keep the Tablet.
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