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Barnes and Noble introduce new affordable Android tablets – but you might want to wait for the Windows 8 devices

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Barnes and Noble Nook HD+ and Nook HD readersBarnes and Noble signaled their intent to stay in the race today when they released a set of new aggressively-priced HD Android tablets (surprise, no Windows 8 – yet). 7-inch and 9-inch versions were announced, each with variable RAM configurations. Both are built upon Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and neither is going to disappoint Barnes and Noble fans.

Nook HD

The new Nook HD 7-inch will include a dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 processor clocked at 1.3GHz CPU (compared to Kindle Fire’s 1.2GHz processor), 1GB RAM, 1440 x 900 resolution in a 243 ppi IPS LCD display making it the lightest (at 11.1 ounces) and highest resolution mid-size tablet on the market. The display will provide 25% more pixels than the Kindle Fire HD slate, is 20% lighter, and allows video playback up to 720p. The Nook HD is designed with customized speakers and utilizes SRS TruMedia to create “a wide sound field, deep bass, clear vocals and strong midrange performance”. With a 4050mAh battery, the Nook HD offers up to 10.5 hours of continuous reading and up to 9 hours of video playback. It is available in 8GB ($199) and 16GB ($229) configurations. The device includes a slot for SD expansion (up to 64GB), Bluetooth connectivity, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, and a headphone jack.

Nook HD+

Nook HD readerThe larger Nook HD+ 9-inch will include a dual-core 1.5GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 1080p 1920 x 1280 resolution with 256 ppi density (not too far below iPad’s 264 ppi display) and provides 1080p video playback. As with the Nook HD, the Nook HD+ includes customized speakers and utilizes SRS TruMedia sound. The Nook HD+ 6000mAh battery offers up to 10 hours for reading and video. It weighs in at 18.2 ounces and is available in 16GB ($269) and 32GB ($299) configurations. The device includes a slot for SD expansion (up to 64GB), Bluetooth connectivity, HDMI output, Wi-Fi 801.11 a/b/g connectivity, and a headphone jack.

Both tablets feature Barnes and Nobles’ custom profile capability, similar to profiles on Windows PCs – Nook ProfilesTM.

“New NOOK ProfilesTM instantly transform the device in hand to any family member’s very own tablet. With a quick tap on a profile at the top of the screen, the entire experience magically changes into that family member’s personal tablet as their own content – and personalized recommendations – appear on the display.”

Oh, and both are ad-free (in your face Amazon).

As for appearance and hardware layout, they will come in “smoke” and “ivory” colors and sport soft, rubberized backs with a volume rocker on the top right edge and a power/sleep button opposite it on the left. On the bottom edge will be a custom 30-pin charging connector and a microSD card slot covered with a small, rubber door. In middle of the bottom bezel is the familiar B&N hardware home button.

Both tablets should tie in nicely with Barnes and Nobles’ newly announced streaming video store – Nook Video. Nook video utilizes UltraViolet, an open digital rights authentication and cloud-based licensing system that it currently used by several video vendors.  UltraViolet technology allows the user to “seamlessly integrate a customer’s compatible physical DVD and Blu-ray Disc purchases and digital video collection across their devices”.

Barnes and Noble was also quick to point out that their tablets support Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync services for corporate email, confirming their close ties with their new partner, Microsoft.

Both tablets will ship in late October. You can pre-order now.

Our take

Our take, these are the best tablets for the buck on the market right now. The mod community will quickly release images for those who wish to root the device and replace B&N’s custom GUI interface with the latest version of Android giving you a very cheap, but high-quality tablet – even better than Amazon’s Fire HD device.  For those that want to stick with the standard Barnes and Noble reader interface, it’s hard to beat B&N’s tablet reading experience and open epub ebook format.

A note on the Microsoft/Barnes and Noble deal – should you wait?

Nook HD and Nook HD+ readersEarlier this year, Barnes and Noble inked a deal with Microsoft whereby MS will invest $300 million up front and $305 million over five years giving them a 17.6% stake in the company (interesting note, this deal was struck after Microsoft “bullied” Barnes and Noble in a tablet patent lawsuit). This deal brings Microsoft technology and engineers into the Nook business and the result will likely be much better devices – powered by Windows 8.

Barnes and Noble already has a 27% share of the United States e-book market. Compared to Amazon’s 60% chunk, that’s not too shabby. Around mid-October, Barnes and Noble is expected to introduce a Windows 8 based reading application (software). When asked by ABC News, whether or not they intended to release a Windows 8 based reader (hardware), they replied rather ambiguously,

“We have nothing to announce today. Increasingly our company is being viewed for doing some innovative things in hardware and it hasn’t gone unrecognized.”

Will a Windows 8 based Barnes and Noble reader ever hit the market? Likely so. Microsoft didn’t just pour a ton of money into Barnes and Noble for nothing and a tablet partnership would be a good move for both companies. Barnes and Noble is struggling to compete against Amazon, who offers not only books but music, video, and everything else under the Sun. Barnes and Noble needs a way to (1) expand their product line, and (2) get those products to market. A partnership with Microsoft gives them access not only to Windows 8-based tablet devices but also the huge Windows desktop market.  A deal also gives Barnes and Noble the capital required to expand internationally (as B&N has indicated they intend to do). Their reader is based on the open epub format which means the Barnes and Noble reader on Windows 8, could become the de-facto standard reader for the Windows market.

Microsoft is struggling too – in the mobile arena. Windows 8 has not been well received and breaking into the smartphone and tablet market will not be an easy task for the Redmond giant. Partnering with Barnes and Noble gives them access to a fairly large tablet market share and a huge book and magazine subscription market. Integrating Barnes and Noble products into the Windows Store will give MS a bump in their ability to provide books, magazines, music, and more to their Windows users.

What will happen to Barnes and Noble Android based readers? They will go away of course. Since product purchases are stored in the cloud, customers will still be able to access all of their media content on a Windows 8 based device. All they will lose will be their Android based applications, a fairly small segment on the Barnes and Noble device.

It’s a win-win situation for both companies and if they play their cards right, could potentially upend the tablet market.  Stay tuned…

Sources: Barnes and Noble, Wall Street Journal, ABC News