Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 4: B&N Nook HD

The Barnes & Noble Nook HD family is a pair of consumer tablets designed to focus on the eBook reading experience as well as music, magazines, newspapers, TV and movies. They wrap you in an inviting environment that allows you to explore content and make purchases from within the device. The Nook HD+ is a larger device with a 9-inch diagonal display. This installment looks at the smaller Nook HD, with a 7-inch display, specifically as an eBook reader.

The first thing you will probably want to know is how the environment of the Barnes & Noble Nook HD compares to, say, the iPad mini and iOS.

Here's an analogy that shows the difference. Consider a Saturday lunch dining experience at the mall. You wander into the food court, and there are lots of choices. You can nibble here, nibble there and sit where you wish. Change tables if desired. You can even see some of the storefronts out in the mall corridor and ponder visiting. There's a lot going on: lots of loud music, chatter, and the hall is full of energy. That's the iPad mini.

Note, I'm not talking about the quality of the food here.  Just the experience.

The next time, you try a sit-down restaurant. The decor and surroundings don't change much. You have a fixed menu. You stay at the same table the whole time you eat. It's quieter. The server makes a friendly suggestion about dessert. You don't feel constrained because you're reveling in the dinning experience. That's the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Book reading is the Nook's forte.

In other words, the B&N Nook creates a specific environment for you. The device is totally focused on one mission: delivering content from B&N. But the nice thing is that the Nook is a gentleman. It doesn't inundate you with onscreen ads and recommendations. Instead, the philosophy of B&N is acquisition of content via exploration and discovery based on interests. For example, you can chose to tap the "Your Nook Today" button to obtain recommendations. Nook Channels, which I'll talk about in another article, are another way to tap into reader references.

Define your interests.

The company knows that you're not going to spend US$199 on a consumer tablet, and then only purchase one book. So the philosophy seems to be to guide the customer, based on his or her expressed interests. And then, when you do start reading, it's a distraction-free environment.

The visual differences between the Nook HD and iOS come to life when managing the Nook.  It's a charming -- and different -- look.  Here are the settings.

Settings are extensive, on par with iOS

The Nook Experience

Like Apple's iOS, there is a lock screen. But in the case of the Nook, it shows up to six user profiles. The Nook is designed to be used by multiple family members, so each can have his or her profile. However, they can all use the same B&N account for purchases.

Also, those accounts don't have to be on the same Nook. You can purchase a book on your Nook, and if your sister, in another state, has the same account, the book "appears" on her Nook as well. Up to five Nooks can share the same account.

After you log on, there is an expected Home page (one of several you can swipe to) where you can access your content. There is a quasi-cover-flow-like shelf of recent items at the top, and on the bottom are buttons:

  • Library (including personal files)
  • Apps
  • Web (browser)
  • Email (POP or IMAP)
  • Shop

Typical Home page

The idea here is that you are managing content that you have purchased as opposed to managing a device with lots of apps. Again, as a reminder, I'm limiting the discussion here to eBook reading, but I expect to write more about the device as a whole in the near future.

eBook reading on the Nook is similar to the eBook reader app in iOS. (That app is also available for Android.) However, there are some slight differences in layout. Here's a side-by-side.

I think it would be really cool if they were identical. B&N says that in future versions, they will look more alike. I also asked B&N if there are any other eBook reader apps, from different ecosystems, available for the Nook. The answer was "no," and that's reasonable. On a pure tablet, you should be able to install many of them. But when you buy a Nook, you're "buying into the B&N ecosystem on our device", according to B&N. So a competition's eBook reader would be inappropriate.

Barnes & Noble says there are over 3 million books available in their store, but I believe many of those are public domain and/or free and not recent best sellers. The company doesn't break out how many modern, popular books are for sale, but based on other e-stores, a reasonable guess is several hundred thousand.

B&N says that you can fit approximately 1,000 books per gigabyte, and if you run out of storage, you have the option to insert your own MicroSD card, up to 64 GB, in a slot on the bottom to expand user storage. I am told that access from there is just about as fast as from the internal storage.

Like many eBook reader apps, for EPUBs, you can change the font, font size, line spacing, margins and themes. You can highlight set bookmarks, and search for text. A slider at the bottom allows you to move around the book rapidly or use the hyperlinks in the table of contents. There are also some social features: You can like a book on Facebook, rate and review, or post your reading status on Facebook or Twitter. (The Nook HD has a Twitter, Web and email client, but that's another article.)

All in all, because the EPUB book format is so versatile, especially when it comes to increasing the font size, it's very easy to read a book on a 7-inch display -- one that's also very easy to hold in one hand.

Loading Your Own Books

The Nook has the ability to read the EPUB and PDF eBook formats. The way to load your own books is to use the included (proprietary) USB charging cable to connect directly to a Mac or a PC. In the case of a Mac, the first thing you'll see when the Nook device is mounted is an HTML file that needs to be tapped and launched.

Tap this .webloc file to get started.

That takes you to this page where you can download an app for the Mac that can mount the Nook as a file system. You'll download a .dmg.zip file that when unzipped mounts a DMG volume. Inside is an installer you can run. I'm told this is a simple, harmless driver and is easy to delete (with an included uninstaller) if need be. It worked fine for me in Mountain Lion.

Once mounted on desktop, you can start to drag files in and out.

Once you install that app in /Applications on a Mac, whenever you connect the Nook to your Mac, you'll see a volume icon appear on your desktop (if you have that Finder option on). You can then drag unprotected PDF and EPUB files into the Nook's folder: My Files -> Books. (By the way, that's also how you can drag screen shots off the Nook over to your Mac.)

Partial screen shot, upper half of file system seen on Nook HD.


This article is all about book reading, and I'll look at the Nook from another more inclusive perspective later. But because there's a buying decision involved, I should point out that magazines are not always in EPUB format. Rather, many are in PDF format because the publisher is simply transferring the printed version to digital. (And missing an opportunity to engage the digital realm more energetically.)

PDF creates a fixed relationship between the elements on the page, and so it's not possible to change the font size. Here's a screen shot from a issue of Car & Driver on the Nook HD I was sent.

Some magazines can be hard to read on 7-inch display.

As you can see the font is rather small. You can zoom in, but then you may lose the sense of the entire page and have to jump around.

In my experience, magazines need at least a 9-inch screen in order to take in a whole magazine PDF page at a time, and that may affect your buying decision if you plan to exploit a Nook for other media besides pure eBooks.

Final Observations

Those who have many years experience with PCs, Macs and iPads will have a certain level of expertise and be accustomed to having a considerable amount of discretion in the management of those devices. However, there are also many, many people who just want to read books and do a few other modest things, like watch a movie, read a magazine or newspaper or listen to some music. They don't want to get involved in hundreds of thousands of potentially complex apps or worry about backups. They just want a friendly device. This Nook is designed for them, and that's an important consideration when giving as a gift or buying for yourself.

Speaking of backups, there is no formal mechanism provided. Everything you buy from the B&N ecosystem is stored in a cloud. If you have moved some personal eBook files from a Mac or PC to the Nook, presumably they are backed up there. The scope of the Nook is such that if it totally fails, out of warranty, you can buy a new one and reconnect to the B&N cloud. Almost nothing will be lost.

This Nook HD grew on me because it knew very clearly what it was all about. When the scope is limited, the philosophy and the focus of the developer shines through better. I started by referring to the restaurant experience, and that's the key here. You know where you are and you know just what to expect. You live in a very, very walled garden (to steal a phrase), but it's a pleasant one. Everything caters to your love of books (and TV, music, movies). Other functionality is merely in support of that endeavor. That's why one can consider it a consumer tablet, not a pure tablet. For example, you won't be able to run Skype or image processing apps. Or engage other ecosystems.


For reference only, here's a brief physical comparison. One should not select between these devices on specification alone.  It's intended simply to give you a visual feel for the two devices.

iPad mini is only slightly wider, but looks wider thanks to thin side bezel.

  Nook HD iPad mini
7.7 x 5.0 x 0.43 7.87 x 5.3 x 0.28
Weight (oz.) 11.1 10.9
Resolution 1440 x 900 1024 x 768
Pixels/inch 243 163
Construction Plastic Aluminum
Speakers SRS TruMedia Stereo
Internal Storage
8 or 16 16, 32 or 64
Additional storage Yes (64 GB MicroSD) None
Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Yes/Yes Yes/Yes
Colors Smoke, Snow Black/Slate, White/Silver
CPU Dual Core Dual Core
Cameras None Front & Rear

An 8 GB Nook HD sells for US$199. A 16 GB model is available for $229. There are lots of cases to chose from at Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Articles in This Series


November 28: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 1: Introduction"

November 29: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 2: eBook Types"

December 4: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 3: Apple's iPad"

December 12: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 4: B&N Nook HD"

December 18: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 5: Google Nexus 10"

December 21: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 6: Amazon Kindle Fire HD"