Barnes & Noble is hoping to rewrite the future of its Nook business with the launch of its latest reading tablet in partnership with Samsung.
Today at an event in New York, the two companies unveiled the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook — a seven-inch Android tablet running a customized version of Nook software. The tablet is available starting today in black or white for $179 at Barnes & Noble retail stores nationwide and online.
As a quick refresher, the Barnes & Noble-Samsung partnership was announced in June after the bookseller made the decision to stop making its own devices, partly due to the costs involved with hardware production and poor tablet sales. The Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is the first product to come out of that deal.
In terms of physical design and specs, the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is the same as the regular Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0. The tablet offers a seven-inch, 1,280-by-800 pixel touchscreen, a three-megapixel rear camera and front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. It will come only in a Wi-Fi version with eight gigabytes of internal memory, but the tablet does have expandable memory via a microSD slot.
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What makes the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook different, though, is the customized Nook software running on top of Google’s Android 4.4 operating system. It’s not just the Nook app preinstalled on the tablet.
On the home screen, you’ll find a widget that provides access to all the content in your Nook library. Alternatively, you can tap the Reading Now button in the bottom left-hand corner to quickly go to whatever you were reading last. There are also several home screen shortcuts designed to help make it easier to discover new content and make purchases. To entice new customers, Barnes & Noble is even throwing in $200 worth of free content, such as bestsellers, magazines, TV shows and a $5 credit to the Nook Store.
The Nook Store contains more than three million books and access to the top 100 best-selling magazines. In addition, users can purchase or rent movies and TV shows from the Nook Video service. Barnes & Noble also provides a curated list of apps in its store.
But as my colleague Katie Boehret pointed out when she reviewed the Nook HD, the lack of apps was a major downside of the tablet compared to the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad. Barnes & Noble would not disclose how many apps it has in its store, but said because the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook is a fully functioning Android tablet, users now have the option of going to other marketplaces like Google Play to find what they need.
The partnership with Samsung also allows Barnes & Noble to better compete with Amazon, Apple and other Android tablet makers by offering features that make the Nook more than just a dedicated e-book reader.
But is it too little, too late? Jonathan Shar, vice president of Nook Media, doesn’t think so.
“It’s really the first full-featured Android tablet optimized for reading, and it’s an incredible value,” said Shar in a phone interview with Re/code. “The combination of these two things won’t be something people will want to pass up.”