A Word of Caution About Buying a Nook Tablet

Nook Tablet

I’ve had the Nook Tablet for over two weeks now and there are a lot of things I like about it, but there’s one nagging detail that makes me uncomfortable to recommend it.

It was a mighty fine Easter egg when it turned out the Nook Tablet could install Android apps from outside the Barnes and Noble Nook appstore without rooting, but what if Barnes and Noble decide to close the loophole that allows this?

If so, the Nook Tablet would instantly go from being awesome to super lame. Having the freedom of being able to load Android apps and alternate launchers from Amazon’s appstore and other appstores and websites makes the Nook Tablet a real tablet.

If we are forced to rely solely on the Barnes and Noble Nook appstore, which only has about 1500 apps with very few free apps, the Nook Tablet is more of an expensive color ereader than a tablet. B&N doesn’t have the content to pull off a true tablet experience, not even close. The best they can do is offer apps for content through third-parties like Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora—all of which are available on just about any tablet.

Another issue with the Nook Tablet is that it has a signed bootloader. That’s dev talk for “it’s nearly impossible to crack”. The custom Android ROMs and N2A cards that were so popular on the Nook Color may never happen on the Nook Tablet because of the signed bootloader. B&N put a major lock on the Android development of the Nook Tablet. That hasn’t stopped developers from rooting it and installing the Android Market, at least, but it has majorly slowed things down.

I wonder if B&N intentionally left the Nook Tablet open to allow the installation of third-party apps. It seems like a big detail to overlook, especially when the loophole that allows it can probably be closed in about 5 seconds by someone who knows what they are doing. Maybe they decided to let advanced users have that option instead of closing the door entirely. That way the Nook Tablet’s B&N features are still at the forefront instead of being hidden like they are when using ROMs.

Hopefully B&N will continue to allow Nook Tablet owners to install third-party apps without hacking, but you never know. I guess we’ll have to wait until the Nook Tablet gets its first firmware update to know for sure. One thing to consider, the Kindle Fire openly allows users to install third-party apps. If B&N were to remove this hidden feature from the Nook Tablet, it would be a big win for Amazon. I don’t think B&N is that stupid, but then again they are dumb enough to insist on using their own ePub DRM, thus locking out all the millions of potential customers with Sony Readers, Kobo Readers, and all the other ePub-supporting ereaders from buying ebooks from them.

15 Responses to “A Word of Caution About Buying a Nook Tablet”

  1. B&N has been experiencing some major financial issues that might eliminate this third-party feature. As execs contend for the direction Nook will go, we will see either big improvements, or poor decisions. For anyone who wants to read a great article on the internal war at B&N, Google “The Billionaire & The Booklover” and check out the details.

    Barnes & Noble started the Nook’s life on the wrong foot, rushing the release of a sub-par original Nook. Their data rights requirements have been harsh since the beginning. Unless B&N adds an incredible amount of apps and content to make up for the loss, it really wouldn’t be worth it to buy the Nook “Tablet.”

    • You make some good points, Andrew. And that is exactly why B&N should drop their ePub DRM in favor of regular Adobe DRM. Just think of how much more money they could instantly start making by selling their ebooks to anyone who owns an Adobe-DRM supporting ereader. They are going to pay dearly in the long run for insisting to use such a closed-in system.

  2. I’m assuming that if B&N does a firmware update that prevents sideloading that the fellows over at XDA will update the directions for rooting the device. I haven’t done the root as sideloading works well.

    Am I overly optimistic? Should I go ahead and root now while it is a fairly open system, or is it safe to wait?

    • I’d say it is safe to wait because those guys at XDA always figure out something. I too am happy without rooting as long as the sideload method continues to work. That’s why B&N would be wise to leave it.

  3. Nathan–this post makes me glad I just bought a reconditioned Nook Color for $119. (Thanks for posting that deal in your Black Friday/Cyber Monday coverage!)

    I notice that the Nook Color is now on firmware 1.3 There seem to be some issues about rooting a Nook Color with firmware 1.3 I’d love it if you would make one of your terrific videos showing, step by step, how to root a Nook Color with firmware 1.3

    (In your copious free time, that is! 🙂

    Thanks for your excellent coverage of the ebook readers.


    • There’s no need to root the Nook Color unless you are really advanced. You can run custom ROMs and N2A cards off a microSD card without rooting or changing the Nook in any way. B&N should be releasing the 1.4 update soon as well.

  4. Full disclosure, I work part time for BN and I own a nooktablet, but previously had a nookcolor. I upgraded yesterday and while I’m toying with the idea of doing the nonroot, root, I don’t have a big issue with the size of the app store that BN currently has.

    BN is creating a very curated experience (like the nook UI) and as far as I’ve seen the apps that have come out of the nook appstore have been similar and in some cases superior to what exists elsewhere (one example is the evernote app, which looks remarkably different on the nook than it does on my android phone, not sure if it looks the same on other tablets, but…). I didn’t root my NC for the same reason, I’m happy with the apps I’m able to download, the only app I want that doesn’t exist in the Nook app store is Plants vs. Zombies.

    I think what it comes down to is what do you want to do on the device?

    Yes the NT is a tablet, but its a tablet built with a consumer of digital media in mind. Be it, music, video AND book. To do that they’ve gone out to some of the best (and will be adding more in the future): Pandora, Mog, Grooveshark, Netflix, Showtime, Smithsonian Channel, Hulu and have given those to the reader for their enjoyment. I have about 15 apps outside of the already installed apps and do I plan to get more, probably not, but if they offered something I thought I would use, sure. But with hundreds of thousands of apps, who’s going to download all of those onto a tablet?

    Choice you say, really? What about too much choice? I’m willing to wait for better built apps and more partnerships instead of slapped together apps that could damage my unit.

  5. My personal opinion (and it is just that) is that I will keep my Nook Color for reading and lite web surfing/email. At the new lower prices it is a great deal and works wonderful for those applications. I have no interest in the Nook Tablet as tablet prices seem to be dropping overall and there are very competitive tablets on the market that are just as good as the NT (at least on paper), but are built on more open Android platforms. As a media device the cheaper Nook Color fulfills most of what one could want…unless you want a real tablet experience.

  6. BTW, I am really looking forward to your Nook Color VS Nook Tablet review to directly compare the two devices.


  7. I bought the Nook Tablet the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I played with it and left a four star review which they decided to block due to offensive language. I lamented that there were Nook books I could not purchase directly but that I had to go to the Publisher (www.baen.com).

    I also added a 32gb Micro SD card which caused it to not want to power up. Tech support told me the micro SD card was drawing to much energy preventing the device from powering up. Their suggestion was to remove the card before booting and then to plug it back it. I returned it to the store I purchased it from.

    Before I bought the Nook Tablet I purchased the Kindle Fire which I returned. Now I have the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus which I prefer over all. I would like to see a better Kindle app similar to what ships with the Fire. The Nook app is very similar to the one included with the Nook Tablet.

  8. @Black Velvet
    My interest is in the Android VIDEO app… Kindle Fire offers offline viewing of video, but none of the B&N apps allow you to purchase a movie, say before a flight, download it to the device, and then watch it on the plane. It’s all streaming video only. Android Video app allows the offline portion.

  9. I was debating between Nook Color refurb or a Kindle Fire and opted for a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7″ refurb, which I previously owned.

  10. The options started out pretty bad. Either buy a Kindle and do without Nook books, or buy a Nook and do without Kindle books. Things improved with the arrival of the N2A cards. You could buy a Nook Color, then root and install the Kindle app. Access to both major ebook sources on one device.

    I think maybe poster “Bill Karoly” has the smartest solution to the turf wars: pay a little more, get a Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus (with dual cameras), and load all the ebook reader apps you want.

    Nathan: Do you think the new Nook Tablet will get the N2A booting option, if nothing else? How difficult are bootloader files to hack? I’ve heard of them in the Windows environment, but not in Android.

  11. I added a 32 GB Transcend microSD card to my Nook Tablet, and it operates just fine.