March 23, 2023

State of the Art: Presenting the Nook HD, iPad Mini and Windows Phone 8 — Review

Hollywood studios try to avoid opening big movies on the same weekend, to avoid diluting the buzz and the press coverage. “Oh, no — we can’t open that day,” one might say. “ ‘Titanic II: The Return’ is opening that weekend.”

That’s usually the way it works with the tech companies, too, especially as the holiday shopping season begins.

This year, though, a barrage of huge tech announcements all landed within about a week. Windows 8. Microsoft Surface. The iPad Mini. Google Chromebook. The Barnes Noble Nook HD. Windows Phone 8. A 10-inch Samsung tablet and a new Google phone.

All right, tech industry. You want splintered news coverage? You got it. You get to share this column: one-third of a column each for the three big touch-screen headlines of the week. Meet the iPad Mini, Nook HD and Windows Phone 8.

The iPad Mini

The rumors were true: Apple now has a smaller iPad.

The iPad Mini is half the weight of the big iPad (0.7 pounds versus 1.4), thinner (. 28 inches versus .37), shorter (7.9 inches versus 9.5) and narrower (5.3 inches versus 7.3). Those specs add up to one towering meta-change: you can comfortably hold this iPad in one hand. It’s still too wide for a blazer pocket, alas, but it’s certainly purseable and overcoat pocketable.

It’s available in white-and-silver and black-on-black, both with metal backs, both gorgeous.

Apple’s masterstroke was keeping the screen shape and resolution the same as on the iPad 2 (1,024 by 768 pixels). As a result, the Mini can run all 275,000 existing iPad apps unmodified, plus 500,000 more iPhone apps. The text and graphics are a little smaller, but perfectly usable.

Sadly, the Mini doesn’t gain Apple’s supercrisp Retina display. Nobody’s going to complain about the sharpness — it packs in 163 pixels per inch (ppi) — but it’s not the same jaw-dropping resolution as the big iPad (264 ppi). Gotta hold something back for next year’s model, right?

You pay $330 for the base model (16 gigabytes of storage, Wi-Fi connections). Prices run all the way up to $660 for four times the storage and the option to go online over the cell network.

By pricing the Mini so high, Apple allows the $200 class of seven-inch Android tablets and readers to live (Google Nexus, Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD). Those tablets also, by the way, have high-definition screens (1,280 by 800 pixels), which the Mini doesn’t.

But the iPad Mini is a far classier, more attractive, thinner machine. It has two cameras instead of one. Its fit and finish are far more refined. And above all, it offers that colossal app catalog, which Android tablet owners can only dream about.

Over all, the Mini gives you all the iPad goodness in a more manageable size, and it’s awesome. You could argue that the iPad Mini is what the iPad always wanted to be.

Barnes Noble Nook HD

The redesign of this $200 e-book reader/video player focuses on the three things that matter most in a hand-held e-book reader: weight, size and screen clarity.

In those ways, the Nook HD trounces its nemeses, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and Google’s Nexus 7. The Nook is lighter (11.1 ounces, versus 12 on the Nexus and 13.9 on the Kindle) and noticeably narrower, despite the same-size screen, because it has a far slimmer bezel. You can wrap your hand around its back, even if you’re dainty of hand.

And the screen is much sharper: 1,440 by 900 pixels (versus 1,280 by 800). At 243 dots ppi, the Nook’s screen comes dangerously close to the iPad Retina’s 264 ppi. Wow, is this screen sharp. Movies, books and magazines pop.

Whites are so white on this screen, it could be a Clorox commercial; the Nexus and Kindle screens look yellowish in comparison. (A 9-inch, $270 version, the Nook HD+, is also available.)

The software continues to improve. You can now create up to five accounts, one for each family member, each listing different books and movies. (It doesn’t remember where each person stopped reading a given book, but BN says that’s coming soon.)

The base-model, $200 Nook comes with only 8 gigabytes of storage — half as much as the Kindle; on the other hand, it has a memory-card slot, so it’s simple and cheap to expand. The Nook includes a wall charger (it can’t charge from a USB jack), which the Kindle doesn’t. And the Nook doesn’t display ads, as the $200 Kindle does.

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