Over the past couple of years, tablets have become less and less relevant. The form factor which once offered a great entry point into the world of Android has since been replaced with fantastic smartphones which are getting larger and much, much cheaper. Then, Amazon changed the game with its $50 Fire Tablet, which for the price, was passable. However, that cheap tablet’s biggest flaw (of many) was the lack of Google Play. That’s where the NOOK 7″ looks to improve.

The best gifts for Android users

So what’s the big deal about the NOOK 7″? Essentially, not all that much. On the surface, this more or less what you get from the Amazon Fire Tablet at the same price. But with better hardware, better software, and access to Google Play it becomes a whole new class of product. I’ve only been using the NOOK 7″ for a matter of hours so far, but at this point, I’m pretty impressed. We’ll have a full review after a couple of weeks to “break in” the tablet, but for now, let’s take a look at the NOOK 7″.

Software – This Is Basically The Cheapest Nexus Ever

There are two big perks to the software on the NOOK 7″. First of all, it’s nearly stock Android. It comes out of the box with a mostly unadulterated version of Android Marshmallow which only includes a few barely noticeable tweaks. The biggest difference you’ll find is on the launcher where the app drawer has inexplicably been moved to the right side of the dock. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Needless to say, that’s absolutely fantastic. There are very few options on the market today for a tablet with a stock version of Android, much less so for just $50.

Best of all, Barnes and Noble doesn’t cheat with the price by forcing ads down your throat (**cough Amazon**). So far I’ve yet to see a single ad on the device nor any evidence that I might see ads down the road. There’s just a handful of pre-installed NOOK apps for buying books and magazines, undoubtedly Barnes and Noble’s reason for selling these tablets at razor thin margins, if any.

Google Play Makes A Big Difference

The solid software is a welcome change compared to the Fire Tablet, but the big story here is Google Play. Where Amazon kept users locked in to its limited collection of Android apps, NOOK buyers have full access to Google Play and its ever-growing collection of apps. Further, Google Play and Google Play Services opens the door for the rest of Google’s ecosystem including Google Drive, Google Photos, Hangouts, Maps, and much more.

Hardware VS Amazon Fire Tablet

When it comes to the hardware, this tablet is significantly better than what Amazon offers at the same price point. Where Amazon’s Fire Tablet brings a slippery matte plastic build which feels super cheap, the NOOK offers a soft touch plastic that both looks and feels great.

The details are also better on the NOOK. It’s bezels around the screen are smaller, the tablet as a whole is noticeably thinner, and most importantly (at least to me), the buttons are in the right place.

Being a 7-inch tablet designed for reading, this tablet and the Fire are really best used in portrait mode. On the Fire, however, the buttons are all located on the top, best used in landscape mode. Barnes and Noble gets it right on the NOOK, placing the power and volume buttons along the right side of the device. On both tablets, you’ll find the headphone jacks and microUSB charging ports up top.

Should You Buy It?

After using the NOOK 7″ for just a little while, I can say that I’m fairly impressed. Barnes & Noble has created a tablet that battles the Fire Tablet on every front and improves on its biggest flaws. However, the question remains if this will stand up to the test of time. Amazon’s Fire Tablet holds up after a couple of weeks, but there are noticeable slowdowns. I plan to use the NOOK over the next 2-3 weeks to better judge it.

That said, in the meantime, I can definitely say this is a tablet worth checking out if you’re looking for an inexpensive option. It’s a solid piece of hardware and for $50, it makes a great gift. You can buy it both online and in-stores from Barnes and Noble.

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