The Nook HD+, a casual eBook optimised tablet

With the future of the Nook brand looking decidedly murky it may not seem like the best time to be investing in one of its tablets. Or maybe it is. With price drops aplenty, Barnes and Noble’s answer to the Kindle Fire represents perhaps the cheapest way to get a high-quality tablet – high-res display, fast performance and full Play store access. It’s also fully hackable, so even if you don’t like the Nook’s UI you can switch it to proper Android.

The Nook HD+, with its nine-inch display, feels pretty good in the hand with solid construction and weighty feel. The design is distinctive in good and bad ways. A large bezel around the screen is not as offensive as it might have been, while the ‘n’ shaped home button gives the tablet subtle branding. On the downside is the weird hole in the bottom corner that serves no apparent purpose. It looks as though you’re supposed to attach a lanyard, but the tablet is far too big and heavy for that to be practical.

The screen is the Nook’s standout feature. With a resolution of 1,920 x 1,280 pixels, a pixel density of 257ppi, it is close to the level of the Retina display on the iPad and is wonderful. Text is sharp and crisp and it is very easy on the eyes. We did fi nd the screen to be lacking in brightness, however. Perhaps this is because the tablet is intended primarily as an eReader and so needs to have less glare, but for general use we had the brightness cranked up to the max, and would have preferred even more.

The software is also built for eBooks. Like Amazon’s Kindle Fire series the bulk of the UI is built around encouraging you to buy content, but unlike with the Kindle you do get the full set of Google apps, and Play store access as well. There are a number of apps pre-installed, ranging from Spotify to Pinterest to a crosswords app, and none of these can be removed. You will need a Nook account before you can start using the tablet, and will also need your Google account details to access the Play store.

With a bit of work you can get the Nook looking pretty much like a normal skinned Android 4.0 tablet. We wouldn’t count on getting OS updates, but it is rootable and there are Jelly Bean ROMs available. There’s a good chance there will be Key Lime Pie ROMs in future too.

The Nook HD+ is a pretty good device. With nice hardware and a good display it’s surprisingly fl exible: you can use it as a casual eBook optimised tablet, for the full set of Android apps, or open it up to hacks and tweaks.