Review: Nook HD+ with Official Google Play (Video)

Nook HD+ with Google Play

First and foremost, it should be noted that this article is more of an addendum to my initial review of the Nook HD+ that was posted back in November when the device first came out rather than a completely new review. I’m not going to cover any of the hardware details or any specific Nook features since that was all covered in the first review.

Overview

This review is going to cover all the new details and features added after what happened last week when Barnes and Noble decided to issue a software update for the Nook HD and Nook HD+ to add support for Google Play and Google apps.

I was as shocked as anyone when the announcement was made; I never expected B&N to make a move like that. I thought maybe they’d bring back the option to sideload Android apps from outside the Nook appstore like the Nook Tablet used to be able to do when it was first released before B&N closed the door with an infamous software update, but I never thought B&N would partner with Google and start shipping their tablets with all of the core Google apps pre-installed, including the competing Google Books ebook app.

Apps

Here’s the total list of Google apps that come pre-installed on the Nook HD and Nook HD+:

Google Play (most apps install without issue)
Chrome Web Browser
Gmail
Google+
Google Voice Search
Google Settings
Google Maps (with Street View)
Play Books
Play Magazines
Play Movies & TV
Play Music
Google Talk
YouTube (HD mode looks good and runs smooth)

You can also install various other Google apps from the Play store, like Google Earth, Calendar, Currents, etc. And the fun doesn’t stop at Google apps either. That’s the main advantage of having Google Play access is that you can install pretty much any Android apps that you want, even ereading apps like Kindle and Kobo. There are no B&N imposed restrictions at all. And there are tons of free games, like Temple Run 2, Jetpack Joyride, Angry Birds, and Dead Trigger.

Basically the software update took the Nook HD and Nook HD+ from having a selection of about 10,000 apps to install from the Nook appstore, to over 700,000 Android apps from Google Play.

More Content and Customizations

And it’s not just about getting Android apps either. Google certification grants the Nook HD and HD+ access to content from Google’s MP3 music store, Google’s selection of movies and TV shows, magazines, and even ebooks too.

One thing I was interested to find out is that you can even install alternate launchers for different homescreens and further customization. I tried Nova launcher and ADW launcher and both work well. The only caveat is the Nook’s modified operating system is still present with the custom header and footer bar, along with the other OS tweaks like the recent apps list and modified menu layout. Because of that alternate launchers don’t have quite the same feel as on other tablets, but widgets, shortcuts, and folders still work like normal so it’s pretty close to an open tablet feel.

New Software Tweaks

I, for one, actually like B&N’s homescreen. They updated it to support widgets now, so all the usual Android 4.0 type widgets work. B&N’s homescreen also has a carousel widget that I like for showing a list of recent ebooks. You can remove the carousel if you don’t like it, and customize it to show just ebooks or apps or other content, which is a great idea and is something Amazon should offer on the Kindle Fire.

One thing B&N forgot with the homescreen is the ability to create folders. Another thing is they left the option to add bookmarks from the web browser to the homescreen, except it no longer works because B&N removed their custom web browser in favor of Google Chrome with this update, and bookmarks from Google Chrome don’t show up on the list.

Speaking of web browsers, I’m probably one of a few that isn’t too happy with Google Chrome replacing the stock browser. The stock browser had more features, like offline reading and an article view that formatted web pages nicely for reading. Chrome is a competent web browser but it’s so bare bones I can hardly stand using it anymore, and I especially hate how it insists on loading mobile versions of web pages by default. At least there are plenty of other options in Google Play, just not the stock browser…

Other than the loss of the stock web browser and the addition of widgets on the homescreen, nothing else about the Nook interface has really changed with the Google Play update. All the Nook features still work the same, the user profiles are still around, and the Nook appstore is still in business. Yep, you can still get apps from B&N if you choose (don’t forget the free app every Friday!).

So far, all my B&N apps are integrating nicely with Google’s. The way you can tell a B&N app is it has a little “n” icon in the upper right corner. The only thing is that whenever there is an update, Google wants to update the Nook app, so that changes it over to Google’s affiliation.

Negatives

One interesting detail I noticed when trying to install an app via Dropbox is that the Nook HD/HD+ still cannot sideload Android apps (not directly anyway; there’s always been the complicated ADB method for sideloading without rooting). This is a small detail given the fact the Nook can install pretty much anything from Google Play, but if you wanted to install the Amazon appstore for instance to take advantage of their free daily app, you would not be able to because it is not available in the Google appstore.

Other than a few random app crashes, the only other negative that I’ve encountered is battery life seems to have taken a slight hit. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been downloading a lot more things and using the Nook HD+ more, but it just seems like I’m having to charge it more often than before. B&N quotes 9-10 hours of usage. Seems a little less than that now.

Conclusion

To wrap things up, I think that adding Google Play to the Nook HD and Nook HD+ was the best thing that Barnes and Noble could have done to make their tablets more appealing to customers. B&N’s content is still front and center, but instead of being locked into B&N for apps and other content, now customers have the option to access all the resources available on most other Android tablets. Combine that with the Nook’s high quality screen that’s perfect for reading and the low price, and now suddenly the Nook HD and Nook HD+ are stiff competition in the marketplace.

Before the 2.1.0 update, and in my initial review of the Nook HD+, I had trouble referring to the Nook HD/HD+ as full tablets because they couldn’t do many of the tasks a cheap $99 Android tablet could do, but now they are both much more versatile devices.

The update did not provide them with any cameras or a regular HDMI port, however, and they are running an older, modified version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich instead of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean like some newer tablets, so they still have a few negatives to consider before going out and getting one. I would say that Amazon suddenly has good reason to worry, though, because if I had to choose between the Nook HD/HD+ and the Kindle Fire HD, I’d probably have to go with the one that offers Google Play and a microSD card slot.

Nook HD+ with Google Play Video Review

P.S. The Nook HD and Nook HD+ are on sale through May 12th for $50-$100 off the regular price, making the Nook HD $149 and the HD+ $179.

49 Responses to “Review: Nook HD+ with Official Google Play (Video)”

  1. Nathan,
    Will the Nook HD+ be able to load Firefox instead of Chrome?
    Doug

    • Yep, you can load whatever web browsers you want. The Nook’s web icon on the homescreen will still always direct to Chrome but you can just use the app icon instead.

  2. I bought the HD today for my wife as an early Mother’s Day present. I was tripped up at first since I knew the Google Apps were loaded, but they didn’t show up. It turns out that you have to logout (for lack of a better word) from your profile and then log back in after adding a Google account in settings.

    Also, while the HD does have all of the Google apps, it has helpfully chosen to Disable most of the Google content apps (Books, Magazine, etc) along with any apps that conflict with built-in apps. So, I can use the GMail app if I search for it in Play and then choose Open, but it doesn’t show up in the app menu and I can’t add it to the home screen.

  3. Hi Nathan what is the name of the launcher you featured in this review thanks

  4. Don’t forget to load on Google Voice app(different from voice search). You can get a free phone number in your local calling area which allows you to receive phone calls and text messages and to make free phone calls in the US and Canada as well send free text messages to US and Canada mobile phones. So if you go outside the US you can communicate from outside the US for free back to the US or people can call/text your domestic Google Voice number.

  5. So, I just installed this a few days ago and have been tooling with it. Really, it’s turned my Nook HD into pretty much a full blown Android tablet. With the exception of sideloading and the cool 4.1/4.2 enhancements, this really does trump the N2A cards. Zinio in particular runs faster and smoother. Apps run and load more quickly from the Nook’s internal memory than from any type of SD card. Given that fact and that I can now install a 64GB card without killing access to the Android apps I use, I can now have my 32GB nook and a ton of file storage. About the only thing I’ve lost is about three apps I have through the Amazon app store. And I might just sideload those as the spirit moves me, using the complex method above. So my Nook is LEGITIMATELY a Nook, Kindle, and Kobo, now… Cool.

  6. Hi if you figure out how to download the Amazon Appstore please let us know. Thank you

    • Rooting is probably the only way that is ever going to work because even if you sideloaded the Amazon Appstore with ADB apps still won’t install from the device itself without somehow enabling 3rd party installs.

  7. I’m seriously considering a new Nook HD… How is the touch screen response? My nook color doesn’t respond real well sometimes… My son gave me his Kindle fire to play with, not great either sometimes and no sd card option! Which is good for my crafty videos!
    Also, how does the size of the 7″ Noon compare to first kindle fire? And the Nook HD Plus to the size and weight of original iPad?
    Thanks!!! I love your reviews! kathyo

    • Never had any issues with touch responsiveness other with the notifications bar, but they’ve seemed to have fixed that. The HD has the same size screen as the Kindle Fire, but with higher resolution so everything is sharper and clearer. The HD+ is quite a bit narrower and lighter than the iPad.

  8. Great review! I just got my 9″ Nook HD+ shipped today. So excited to get it. Its replacing a lost Kindle Fire HD and looks to be way better,cheaper with a card slot too! What’s the best comic reader in the Play store? How does the new Marvel Unlimited app look on this refreshed Nook HD+?

    • I don’t read comics much so I’m not the best person to ask, but in the initial review I did show comics from B&N and they looked absolutely fantastic, kind of makes me want to read more comics.

    • i read comics on the NOOK all the time.
      The comic reader on the nook (if you buy through Barnes and Noble) is great. Other than that, COMIXOLOGY is now available on the nook. see which pricing you like better. BN has begun reducing comic prices after a month or so (much like comixology does) so either is a great option.

      Nook Apps for other devices also support comics “guided view”. both are great.

      • He’s talking about the Marvel Unlimited Ap specifically.

        It’s a massive (and growing) catalog of 13,000+ Marvel back issues for 10 bucks a month or 70 a year.

    • It works, but it will not give you full screen images with the Marvel Unlimited Ap.

      I get a 7 inch image on my 9 inch nook. Of course, you can pinch it and custom fit to the screen, but that’s just goofy every time you turn the page.

      I know a friend who has the same issue on his Nexus, but another friend gets a full screen image on his 10 inch tablet (Android Jellybean, forget the manufacturer).

      I think the problem is mostly Marvel Unlimited. Comixology works great.

  9. In regard to the Nook HD+, the touchscreen is very responsive, almost too much so but my hands are dry. As for weight the Nook HD+ feels much lighter than any full size iPad. It also has better weight distribution than the original Kindle Fire.

  10. No function TTS :-(

  11. Do you have any comment on the rumor that Microsoft is in play to buy out Nook Media for $1B?

    http://techcrunch.com/2013/05/08/microsoft-mulling-nook-media-llc-purchase-for-1-billion/

    • I never pay much attention to rumors, even if it is a likely scenario. I don’t trust Microsoft anymore than I trust B&N. Either way the future of Nook hardware looks bleak.

  12. Wmastermatt, I’m interested in the same thing. Nathan must be busy today. My view is MSFT will concentrate on the tablet portion of the Nook to have a version that is driven by Windows 8. I’m guessing a more powerful processor and more memory will be required to support Win 8 versus Android. Also, I’m wondering if the e-ink based ereaders in the Nook line will be “spring cleaned”. It would be surprising if MSFT keeps those.

  13. Is there any way of getting back the original nook browser or downloading it from anywhere?

    • I searched all over XDA but couldn’t find the apk. It seems like it should be easy to ascertain for someone with a rooted HD/HD+ with the older software to the get the apk from the system apps folder, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

  14. Does it come with a flash player?

  15. I installed the Nova Launcher and everything works great, but it leaves the Nook “no recent activity” area still there, which is alright, but when I push the home button on the Nook HD to leave an app it is not listed in recent activity like when using the original Nook launcher. I have no way to swipe these apps closed now or does it matter?
    I am somewhat new to tablets I had a cheapy tablet for a few months before buying the Nook HD a couple of days ago.
    I hope I made myself clear on what I am asking.
    Thank you
    Mark

    • I don’t follow. I don’t know what you mean by swiping apps closed…

      • Mark,

        I’m having the same issue. I rooted my Nook HD and am now booting from cyanogenmod with Nova Launcher. Say, for example, I have chrome open and then press the home button to return to the home screen. When I press the recent apps activity or the recent apps button in the lower right hand corner, it says “No recent activity” even though there are clearly recent apps still open. On stock Nook, when the recent apps is open, it displays the icons of the recently open apps and you can swipe up with your finger (much like the most recent iOS) to close them. But for some reason not working on Nova Launcher!

  16. Nathan, your review is spot on. The Nook person at BN wasn’t even aware that Article view had disappeared from the new version. What’s your opinion of Dolphin as a substitute for Chrome? Or are there better browsers out there compatible with the HD?

    • I’ve tried a bunch: Firefox, Chrome, Dolphin, the two Operas, Puffin, and some others, but there’s always one or two details that puts me off of each one. Lately I’ve been more fond of the stock Android browser for Android 4.0 and up. When I get sick of it crashing I go back to Chrome.

  17. MrPenguinVlogLife Reply May 11, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Now I’m mad. I thought the Kindle Fire HD was the best choice, because of it’s sideloading apps capability. Now, Nook has Google Play. I had to go through the rooting process to put Google Play on my Kindle Fire HD. But Nook can just use Google Play without effort.

    Oh, well. Nice review Nathan.

  18. Hi Everyone,

    Just be sure you understand why B&N is enabling Google Play on the Nook Tablets. B&N recently revealed they are exiting the Android Tablet business at the end of 2014 so this makes sense since they will not want to continue to support a proprietary app store after they exit the business.

    • your post does not do anything to dampen the fact that I have access to Google Play on my Nook HD+. People have asked for it and it happened.If Barnes and Noble give up hardware does that mean we lose Google Play? Why the post????

      • It’s all just rumors at this point. And today’s new rumors refute the Microsoft rumors. Either way Google Play won’t go anywhere.

        • Has anyone had any issues with Google calendar refusing to work on the HD? I bought this for my son to use as a tool at school for scheduling, but the calendar (including the pre-loaded Nook calendar) refuses to refresh his Google calendar with the rest of our devices. We keep getting a Play Services Error. Everything else seems to work fine, Gmail loads perfectly, but the calendar is the reason I bought the thing.

  19. Nathan,
    You mentioned that one can remove the carousel from the home screen on HD+, but I can not discover how to do that. Would you please tell how to do it?

  20. Have you tried a VPN on your HD+? Would love if a VPN from Google Play worked and could take this overseas (i.e. to countries that maintain ‘great firewall’, etc.). Thanks for this very helpful overview/review!

  21. Also, are you installing any sort of virus protection? (Or is there anything provided?)

  22. I’m thinking of getting either the Nook HD+ or the Hisense Sero 7 Pro.

    Considering that both are $149, what do you think is the better deal?

    The HD+ has a bigger HD screen going for it but the Sero 7 has HDMI, GPS, NFC and cameras.

    Which one has the better battery life? From your reviews I’m guessing the HD+.

    Or do you think it’s better to wait a while before purchasing a tablet? Any other interesting tablet rumours?

    Thanks for the excellent and unbias reviews.

    • That’s definitely a tough choice. Battery life is about the same. I guess it all comes down to if you’d rather have the larger screen of the Nook or the extra features of the Sero 7 Pro. Fall is the season for new tablets so there will be plenty of more choices coming soon too, like the new Nexus 7, Kindles, iPads, etc. Probably less options in the $149 range though.

  23. Anyone else having problems downloading movies to sd card on nook hd. SD card is default storage for videos, but play keeps trying to download them to the device where there is not enough memory.

  24. I’m genuinely recognizing another Nook Hd… How is the touch screen reaction? My niche shade doesn’t react genuine well at times… My offspring gave me his Kindle fire to play with, not incredible either now and again and no sd card choice! Which is useful for my tricky movies!

    Likewise, how does the measure of the 7″ Noon contrast with first arouse fire? Also the Nook Hd Plus to the size and weight of unique ipad?

    Much appreciated!!!

    • Are you on drugs or is this comment spam? I can’t tell. The last few comments from you were much more coherent and relevant. Now I’m starting to wonder if you are just a lucky spammer to get by my spam-blocking force field. Either way I’m removing the link in your name so if it is spam you get nothing out of it.

  25. Hi everybody,
    I have a nook HD and I have a problem watching videos full screen, please help me fix this issue and thank you.
    H. Bouderra.

  26. Hi great reviews. Considering Nook HD+ to use mainly as an ereader. However, read that B&N reserves up to 15GB for it’s own content. I will probably rarely purchase from BN and will be sideloading or downloading mostly pdf docs from the web. BN is now offering to free up space if you bring it in to the store but still I read they only free up to 8GB max. Don’t want to buy another SD card right away. Can you show how to free up all 16GB to use however you want? There must be a way to do it on your own if they can do it in store. Thanks much!