Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review: Nook 10.1 Tablet (Secret Productivity Machine?)

Let's talk about the Amazon-sized elephant in the room. Why pick up a Nook tablet when someone can get a Fire tablet, usually cheaper when it's on sale, which is often?

I've always liked the $50 Nook tablets as gifts, and said for years to grab one of those over Fire tablets. And hear me out, I tried to like Fire tablets. I really did. I've owned the 7" and Fire HD 8 and gotten rid of both. That's because FireOS sucks. The Amazon app store is no good. I know the Google Play Store can be side loaded. Let's be honest, for regular people that' too complicated, and no one want to be the tech guru helping a family member try and get their favorite app on a tablet. And in my experience, side loading was always a big buggy. It's not a particularly smooth experience.

Nook tablets use Android, and my god that is just so much more convenient. Just sign in and have all the apps you want. For the same price, less headache.

One disclosure, I don't play games on my tablets, so I don't view these things as game machines. I have a custom PC and a PS4. I'll play games on those. I like watching YouTube videos and trying to work on tablets.

Let's talk about the 10.1's downsides first. The wireless receiver seems to lose signal about 3 to 5 feet before my other devices do. The processor is a MediaTek, so it's not very powerful. I found enabling developer options and cutting the animations in half seems to help out quite a bit. The cameras are awful, so stick with your phone. And the speaker could be louder.

On the cusp of being good and bad, the backlight for this thing suffers in direct sunlight, but I can turn it completely down inside and have more than enough light. That's good on battery life too.

The MediaTek chip isn't powerful, but there are 2 gigs of ram in the 10.1, giving is the breathing room is needs. My Surface 3 had 2 gigs of ram as well, and I always found that fine for what I needed. The chip is actually solid in benchmarks for the 7" tablet, but that's because it's only pumping out to half the amount of pixels, so that makes sense.

What's going to sell you on this device is the screen, and boy does it ever. This is a full HD display and it is good. I initially loved the look of the screen when I first got it. YouTube videos looked great! Text is also another big thing. With a bigger screen, the text can be increased while plenty of words are still visible.

A few days later, the screen grew even more on me. having a tablet on my nightstand was perfect to end the night or wake up to in the morning. Checking my RSS reader, scanning for any important emails over the night, and watching a video to help me wake up. It did it all so well and so comfortably that I started to like this tablet more. In two days the $130 price tag fulfilled itself.

Let's talk Barnes & Noble software. There's not much to speak of, while what is on here performs very well. I don't use Nook audio books, so I'm going to pass over it.

Books. I've talked about how I left Kindle be

Browsery is a great little app Barnes & Noble developed. it's format is questions and answers, so a user can ask or answer book related questions. Looking for a very particular kind of story? Ask and someone can help recommend something similar. I've added quite a few books to my backlog through this app. It's cleaner, more focused, and seems to be more polite than Goodreads, so I would recommend checking it out on your phone and see if it helps you.

That's going to be the end of the tablet section. That's because not everyone is going to try and use this device as a productivity machine next. As a tablet only, it's very good. There are some downsides, but they are the kind of downsides given the price point. Processor, camera, and speakers are going to suffer. In return, it's one of the best looking screens around, has two gigs of ram to allow multitasking, and has the ability to transform into a laptop. All for $130, you can't beat that value.

This is the productivity section, where we view this tablet with the keyboard case attachment.

When we discuss tablets, we have to consider the iPad as the gold standard. I don't mean it as the greatest tablet ever. I mean it as the standard which we compare everything else. Other tablets have to be as good or better than the iPad.

Take Microsoft's Surface line. The form factor of a tablet with all the power of Windows as a desktop. Great computers, great value. This passes the standard. Now the iPad Pro. Bigger screen, equivalent power of a Mac. This passes the test.

When we talk about Android tablets, most are happy just being okay tablets. They don't offer anything greater or comparable to iOS. This is where the Nook 10.1's POGO pins come into play. This transforms a regular Android tablet to the functionality that the Surface keyboards have.

I wanted the Nook and it's keyboard to use as Chromebook-like laptop. A productivity machine to use Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive, have some good apps, and basically use the web browser. If paid full price, $130 for the tablet and $40 for the keyboard, then the Nook offer a ton of functionality at $170 that Chromebooks offer at $400-$500. The real trick is in how the Nook actually functions in reality.

A Chromebook has a touch pad, a Nook uses touch. Both Chromebooks and tablets have better battery life than traditional laptops. The Google Play Store offers more functionality if needed. The idea is compelling.

In the world of keyboard cases, we need to keep the 2-out-of-3 rule of thumb. Like food, we can have cheap, good, and convenient, but only two of those three. Cheap and convenient probably means it's not good for you. Good and convenient means the food is priced higher. Same thing for keyboard cases.

Keyboard cases can have quality keyboards, protective cases and good viewing angles, but we tend to see only two of those features in the wild. A quality keyboard with good viewing angles probably means it's a cover and not a full case. A protective case with a quality keyboard probably means you're stuck with one viewing angle.

Sometimes we can get all three, but that's difficult to find and usually pretty pricey. The Nook's Smart Folio does all three pretty well, and it's about $40. The case is a deep blue with speckles the covers the entire tablet, giving good protection. The POGO pins allow for instant connection and typing. The back flap acts as the hinge, allowing the user to pick the best viewing angle that they want.

The keyboard is a bit cramped, but that is to be expected given the 10.1 form size. The keys are plastic, but respond well. No backlight to be had. The top row are function keys, which are very handy for multitasking. The keys themselves respond well. I've written quite a bit and haven't had any complaints about hitting a key and receiving no response.

I wrote nearly all my books on a Surface 3 keyboard, so size isn't a big issue for me. I can see myself writing thousands of words on this keyboard. My right pinky and ring finger have some typos because of the size, but that has been adjusted for with practice.

There are some nitpicks with the case. The magnetic connection with the keyboard can sometimes lead to the tablet coming loose and dropping out of the case when opening. It really holds tight, so be careful with how you open it. What is known as "Lap-ability" of laptops shows up here. The Nook is better than most, but the keyboard may require some adjusting depending on the angle. A good/bad thing is the stiffness of the hinge when adjusting viewing angles is very stiff. Great for keeping it in one place, but can be annoying when making minor adjustments on a lap.

My final verdict is only up from the tablet section. Where the Nook is very good as a tablet only, it's great when viewed alongside the keyboard. This is the Chromebook I always wanted. $170 is a great value for this machine. A similar iPad or Chromebook is going to run double, at least.

If you're on a budget and don't mind some of the trade-offs, the Nook 10.1 is something that you must look into.