I’ve finally had the chance to get my hands on Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet 7, that chain’s competitor to Amazon’s $50 7″ Fire model. After purchasing one and putting it through its paces, I’m sad to report that it falls short of my expectations. All in all, it’s just too slow and has too little storage space to be useful, even with the addition of an SD card in the expansion slot.
About eighteen months ago, I had high hopes for the Nook Tablet 7. I even went to a local Barnes & Noble store to try it out, and even installed the Kindle app and loaded up a book on the demo model, but I never got to do much with it. $50 was simply too much to spend when I had all my other tablets already.
However, Barnes & Noble recently announced it was discontinuing support for its first-generation Nook e-ink readers, and sent coupon codes to their owners entitling them to half-off a Nook Tablet 7 or Nook e-ink reader. A friend who received the code had no plans to use it, so passed it on to me instead. I bought the tablet, then didn’t get around to opening it until a few days ago. (I had a Kobo Clara to review, after all.) I also ordered a $12 32 GB micro-SD card from Amazon, figuring I didn’t need any more space than that since I didn’t expect to use this tablet regularly.
When I did open the Nook Tablet 7, I found a cheap mini-tablet very similar to the 2015 7″ Fire I already had. The Nook’s bezels are a little thinner, giving it the appearance of being slightly narrower than the Fire, but the 1024 x 600 screen is the same size and shape. It’s got the same 2 MP rear/VGA (0.3 MP) front cameras, and the same teeny little postage-stamp speaker in the back. Both tablets also have similar 1.3 GHz quad-core CPUs, and (ostensibly) 8 gigabytes of on-board storage, expandable with an up-to-128-GB micro-SD card. As far as the hardware goes, there are generally only cosmetic differences from one tablet to the other. The important differences are on the inside.
Here’s a pretty big internal difference: after taking into account the operating system and “shovelware”—the bundled apps that can’t be removed—the Fire 7 has about 5 GB of user-accessible space left out of that 8. The Nook, however, only has 3 GB. It’s so cramped that after you download available updates for the installed software, you start getting “low space” warnings advising that you’ve only got 500 to 900 megabytes of space left—and that’s without even installing any other apps yet!
The Nook does offer the Marshmallow Android innovation of “adoptible storage”—the ability to format an inserted SD card so that it acts like an extension of the device’s own internal memory. I assigned my 32 GB card to the tablet as adoptible storage. However, I subsequently learned that adoptible storage isn’t perfect. For whatever reason, the apps will continue to install to internal storage; you have to move them to the card manually one by one, or download and use App Mgr III to automate the process.
But even when you do that, not all apps can be moved, and even the apps that can be moved don’t go in their entirety. Depending on app size, you’ll be lucky if you can install a dozen or so more apps before you run out of room in internal memory—even if your mostly-empty SD card is staring you right in the face. Of course, this is also a problem the Fire 7 has, but it’s got two more gigabytes of internal wiggle room, which adds a lot more space for additional apps.
And then there’s the matter of performance. When I used Antutu to benchmark my Fire 7 and Nook Tablet 7, the Nook beat the Fire by about 10%, with a benchmark of 22707 to the Fire’s 20676. I’m not sure that tells the whole story, though. Breaking down the benchmarks into subcategories, the Fire gets a higher “CPU Multi-Core” score, and a big chunk of the lead seems due to the Nook scoring higher in “Data Security” and “Data Processing.” I’m not sure exactly what those criteria mean, though.
For comparison, my X89 Kindow tablet‘s Android partition rated 52432, my iPad Mini 2 pulled 60803, and my Moto X4 smartphone gets 87584. (I couldn’t get my Fire HD 8 to run the benchmarking app, alas, but it has more memory and runs a lot faster than either 7″ tablet.) In any case, those tablets aren’t all that much more expensive than either the Nook or the Fire, but they score two and a half to three times as high.
Just for fun, I also dug out my old Nook HD with Cyanogenmod Marshmallow installed, and threw Antutu on that to see how it did. It actually benchmarked at 21963—better than the Fire, and almost as high as the Nook Tablet 7!
As far as actual performance goes when I’m working with it, the Nook gives an overall impression of slowness. Apps take double-digit seconds to load. Sometimes it’s hard typing text into forms with the onscreen keyboard due to performance lag. I’ll grant that my Fire 7 is a bit slow, too, which is why I generally use my zippier, roomier HD 8 instead, but even it goes considerably faster than this. Might that crammed-full storage have something to do with it?
This is the first tablet I’ve had in a long time that actually reminds me of my earliest Android tablet experience—the super-cheap, super-slow Zeepad. Just as with that old tablet, the “[App] has stopped responding. Quit or wait?” pop-up is a frequent visitor. I hadn’t thought about the Zeepad in forever, but suddenly it was just like I was back there using it again!
And I dug out my Nook HD with Marshmallow installed and tried it out for comparison. I already noted that it benchmarked in the same range, but I found it also performed better and less sluggishly than than the Nook Tablet 7 did. So how about that? A tablet several years older that had to be hacked to load it in can still run Marshmallow better than Barnes & Noble’s very latest model.
As already noted, the Nook Tablet 7 comes with an effectively bog-standard installation of Android Marshmallow. The OS is getting a little long in the tooth by now, but at the time the tablet originally came out it was new and current. And it’s still a pretty good flavor of Android all in all.
One fairly big bit of news around the time it came out was that the Nook Tablet 7 was among the devices affected by the ADUPS spyware that infested a lot of cheap Android phones and tablets. ADUPS was a sneaky bit of malware that surfaced in late 2016, secretly sending user data including contacts, call logs, text messages, GPS location, and so on back to its servers. However, as soon as this news came out, Barnes & Noble announced it was updating the tablets’ OS to remove the spyware.
When I got the tablet, the first thing I did was hook it up to my computer and follow instructions for using an ADB-debug-mode package manager to look for the relevant ADUPS packages. They weren’t there, so apparently Barnes & Noble did its job in that regard.
The Nook Software
The Nook Tablet 7 comes with a launcher called Launcher3, which seems to work all right but isn’t really anything to write home about. It did come with a big widget on the homescreen offering me access to my Nook library, though! But fortunately, since this is plain-vanilla Android, I could (and did) immediately install my old standby, the Google Now Launcher, easily enough.
The e-reading mainstay of the tablet is, of course, the Android Nook Reader app, which I reviewed a couple of years ago and it doesn’t seem to have changed much since. When I checked the Nook store version of So You Want to Be a Wizard in it again, there was still nearly no indentation, and no way to configure it to be more pronounced. For reading ebooks I’d created myself or reformatted in Calibre, it seems to work well enough, but for preference I’d probably use Google Play Books or eReader Prestigio to read EPUBs instead—or the Kindle app for reading titles I bought from Amazon.
The tablet also includes separate apps for Nook Audiobooks, the BN Readouts short audiobook sample offerings, the Nook ebookstore, and Barnes & Noble itself. There’s also a “Current Read” icon that takes you back to the book you’re currently reading in the Nook app, as opposed to the “Nook Home” icon that takes you to your Nook library.
The Google Shovelware
As for non-B&N-branded bundled stuff, there’s lots of Google stuff. All the usual Google Play standards, like the Google Play Store, Google, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play Games, Google Play Music, Hangouts, and so on. YouTube is there—and also a separate YouTube Kids app. There’s also Google Keep, which I’m not sure why I’d even really want to. Because all these apps are included, the Google Play Store app can proudly display a “Certified” mark on its settings screen. You need not worry about registering this tablet with Google to use the Play Store.
Absent from this list (until and unless you install them yourself) are Google Inbox and Google Play Books. I’ve seen speculation that Google may be abandoning Inbox and rolling its features back into Gmail, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it wasn’t included. As for Play Books, even though it used to be on the list of apps that were required for official Google device certification, apparently it isn’t any longer. (But then, that list also used to include Google+, and who uses that anymore?) Perhaps Google just isn’t interested in trying to push its ebook store anymore?
In any case, every one of those pre-installed apps is on the tablet permanently, taking up space you can’t ever reclaim. If you want to get rid of any of them, as I did Google Keep and YouTube Kids, all you can do is uninstall the updates and disable the app to keep it from auto-updating again. That doesn’t get you the space the app itself uses back.
By comparison, the Fire 7 also has its share of undeletable branded shovelware (though no Google stuff unless you install it yourself), but they pack into considerably less space than all the stuff the Nook came with. It’s still somewhat cramped, and I don’t have room to install all the stuff on it that I keep on my HD 8, but I could still get by with enough stuff that I could use the tablet as my main tablet for a while if I needed to.
On top of the issue of available space, I found that when I tried to install my favorite apps on the Nook Tablet 7, some of them just wouldn’t work. The regular Facebook Android app won’t run at all; I ended up having to go with Facebook Lite. The Facebook Messenger app didn’t run either the first time I tried it, but I eventually got it to work. (Which is good, because the Facebook Messenger Lite app said it wasn’t compatible with my device, so I couldn’t install it anyway.) And after I installed only a dozen or so of my favorite apps, even with the use of App Mgr III to move them to the SD card, I simply didn’t have any internal space left to install anything else.
It put me in mind of the ridiculously small smartphones that used to be available, like the LG VM720 smartphone I once had that came with 4 GB of space, 1.29 GB user-available. There wasn’t enough room to do much of anything.
One bit of “shovelware” the Nook Tablet 7 doesn’t have is Amazon’s “Special Offers,” the lockscreen ads that you either have to pay $15 to remove, or else ask Amazon support very nicely to disable for free. The Nook Tablet 7 has plenty of B&N-branded software, but doesn’t have any intrusive advertising at all. You might think you come out ahead with the Nook for not having to add that extra cost for a device that has the same overall specs, but I think that the extra money Amazon gets (either from that $15 or from the advertising dollars) goes into keeping FireOS current and better-tuned rather than dropping in a two-releases-old version of Android and calling it a day.
As previously noted, the Fire has a lot more free space for adding apps, and since it’s one of Amazon’s flagship products the company is definitely going to keep it current with security patches. The Nook, on the other hand, is a generic release to try to reach the same price point with an older operating system, from a company that has announced it isn’t even going to be making its own devices anymore. And who knows how much longer B&N is even going to be in business?
Just Not Worth It in the End
All things considered, the Nook Tablet 7 just isn’t worth $50—not when there’s a $50 almost-Android tablet that runs rings around it in every way that matters. A Fire 7 with the Play Store added and the Google Now launcher installed will be a better Android tablet in nearly every way that counts.
I’m saddened to come to this conclusion, as I had hoped to be able to recommend this as a good, low-budget plain-vanilla Android tablet that people could use if they wanted to get in on the cheap tablet craze without dealing with Amazon. I had hoped to find something as good as a Fire, but with recourse to various genuine-Android features that the Fire doesn’t have yet, like a more refined sharing interface. Unfortunately, the Nook Tablet 7 just comes up a little short.
If you could get this tablet at a discount, like the $25-off deal I got, it might be worth picking up to play around with and see if you come to the same conclusion. If you don’t intend to do many “tablet” things with it, it might be okay as just a plain e-reader. But if you’re looking for a good cheap Android tablet, get a Fire 7—or better yet, a Fire HD 8 or HD 10. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t some kind of special deal on them come Prime Day July 16.
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