We have to admit to being a bit surprised when Barnes & Noble invited Pocket-lint to a recent briefing in London to see its new product range. As we explain in our hands-on with the Nook HD, we didn't expect one tablet from the company this year, let alone two.
However, not only is the US bookseller unleashing its Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with GlowLight eBook readers on to the British market, but it's decided to launch 7-inch and 9-inch tablets in the US and UK simultaneously in time for Christmas.
The Nook HD+ is the larger of the two, coming with 9-inch Full HD 1920 x 1090 LCD touchscreen, with 256ppi. Like its smaller brother, the Nook HD, its display is set directly behind the front panel, and the absence of air between them helps provide sharper, more saturated images than we've seen on other tablets, that's for sure.
Bar the size and superior resolution, the Nook HD+ is very similar to the Nook HD. The software is identical, being based on an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich infrastructure, but heavily layered with a Barnes & Noble user interface.
It also features the cunning, family-friendly Nook profiles, with which up to six people can share the device and be presented with their own content and homescreen layout when logging in (kind of like Windows profiles, but good). And there are plenty of other cunning proprietary software nuggets that help make a user experience as intuitive as possible.
However, what will probably convince customers to opt for the 9-incher over the 7-inch device in the range will be its ability to handle media on larger real estate.
One thing that's dissimilar between the devices is the processing power. Where the Nook HD has a 1.3GHz processor, the Nook HD+ has a 1.5GHz one, with 1GB of RAM to boot. On the brief play and demonstration we've had with the tablet so far, it's hard to see where that will make a significant difference, but the larger of the two is capable of playing back Full HD video content on both its screen (in its native resolution) and through the HDMI output to a compatible TV.
The extra screen size will also help with reading magazine content without having to zoom into text too often - one of the reasons Barnes & Noble opted for a bigger tablet in the first place. The 16:9 screen is also perfectly sized for comic book reading, which has perked up the ears of one or two Pocket-linters considerably.
Such content will, naturally, be available from the numerous Barnes & Noble store portals, including movies and TV shows through the soon-to-be-launched Nook Video, and as a bookseller at heart, it will naturally be pleased if you purchased a novel or two. However, unlike other devices out there, there are no adverts hoiked onto you. And you can also load the Nook HD+ with files of your own.
The application store is a locked-off domain, with B&N telling us that it won't feature hundreds of thousands of apps - "just the tens of thousands that actually matter" - but that's hardly surprising, especially when you consider the price.
Not only is the Nook HD+ lighter than an iPad, at 515g in comparison to the Apple tablet's 652g, it's also considerably cheaper, and that will make it very attractive to a family that wants to bring a second screen experience into the home.
The 16GB Wi-Fi version (there is no 3G or 4G model) will retail for £229 (£170 less than an equivalent iPad), while the 32GB Wi-Fi model will cost £269 (£210 less than an equivalent iPad). They're very attractive propositions in a time of austerity.
You'll have to wait for the extensive Pocket-lint review to see how attractive, but you shouldn't have too long to wait as the Nook HD+ and Nook HD tablets will hit John Lewis, Argos, Blackwell's, Foyles, Currys, Dixons, Waitrose and Sainsbury's in mid-November. Pre-orders will start in October.
Incidentally, we don't know what the hole in the bottom left-hand corner is for either.
Will Barnes & Noble's aggressive pricing strategy allow it to get a foothold in the UK or US tablet markets? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...