When Microsoft and Barnes & Noble abruptly ended their legal spat in April and reversed course, announcing a sweeping partnership in which the bookseller and tablet maker licensed Microsoft’s mobile patents, many assumed that a future NOOK tablet would be based on the software giant’s Windows RT system. But this week, Barnes & Noble announced an overhaul of its NOOK tablet lineup, and Windows RT is nowhere to be seen.
Instead, the new NOOK tablets are based on Google’s Android system, as before. Two new models have been introduced, a new 7" NOOK HD that will compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Google Nexus 7, and a new 9" NOOK HD Plus that will take on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and Apple iPad. Both devices are well-priced: The $199 NOOK HD matches Amazon’s lowball pricing, whereas the $269 NOOK HD Plus sets a new low for full-sized tablets, undercutting the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 by $30 and Apple’s infamously expensive iPad by $230. Yes, the NOOK HD Plus is roughly half the price of the least expensive iPad.
From a hardware perspective, the new tablets take a few leaps over the competition. The 7" NOOK HD offers a screen resolution of 1440 x 900, besting the 1280 x 800 display on the Google and Amazon devices. The NOOK HD is also 20 percent lighter than the curiously portly Kindle Fire HD, and Barnes & Noble claims that its graphics performance edges that of the Kindle Fire HD by 80 percent. The NOOK HD offers microSD storage expansion, too.
That said, the Kindle Fire HD offers 16GB of storage for its $199 version, compared with just 8GB in the entry-level NOOK HD. And Amazon’s content stores and services are far more voluminous and desirable than what Barnes & Noble offers.
The NOOK HD Plus also offers some interesting advantages. Its display taps out at 1920 x 1280, a curious resolution that just barely edges out the Kindle Fire HD 8.9’s 1920 x 1200 display. Barnes & Noble accurately notes that this display rivals the so-called “resolutionary” screen of the iPad, but in a device that's more than 20 percent less heavy and nearly half the price.
Both the NOOK HD and NOOK HD+ are available for preorder now, Barnes & Noble says. The devices will ship in late October and be available in the firm’s retail stores in early November.
Barnes & Noble also announced a new video store that will provide TV and movie streaming, rentals, and purchases to NOOK users, but it’s unclear why such a service was necessary, given the competition in this market and the availability of relevant apps on Android. (Barnes & Noble didn’t license another firm’s video store, as it might have done in partnership with Microsoft.)
So where was Microsoft in all this? You might recall that as part of its new partnership with Barnes & Noble, the NOOK business would be spun off into a new company of which Microsoft will own 17.6 percent. It’s a bit hard to imagine Microsoft selling Android devices, given its recent advances with Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone, and the pending sale of its first PCs, the Surface tablets.
Barnes & Noble will be releasing a NOOK app for Windows 8 and Windows RT, the firm revealed, sometime before the end of 2012. This app will provide a “best-in-class reading experience” for NOOK’s lineup of books, catalogs, and magazines. But as for a Windows RT-based NOOK? Barnes & Noble says it has “nothing to announce today.”