Tablets are a slowly dying form factor, but for many, a cheap tablet is a fantastic option for getting things done on the go or just consuming media. Not everyone wants to spend hundreds on a tablet, though.

About a year ago, Amazon stepped in to fix that problem by debuting a 7-inch Android tablet that cost just $50, and wasn’t just total crap. However, there were still some big caveats aside from the specs. The tablet ran fine and the software was OK, but its performance degraded over time and the lack of the Google Play Store was a pain.

Then, things all changed when Barnes and Noble, seemingly out of thin air, introduced the NOOK 7, another small Android tablet with Google Play, decent specs, and a price tag of just $50. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks testing it out, and I’ve been pretty impressed.

The best gifts for Android users

Update: There is a potential software issue on this tablet. We suggest holding off your purchase until things have cleared up.

Hardware

When it comes to hardware, Barnes and Noble has managed to create a pretty solid Android tablet, all things considered. The tablet is made from plastic which has a soft-touch finish on the back and sides. The front has relatively minimal bezels and the entire tablet feels pretty good, especially when compared to the competition.

The NOOK 7 is noticeably thinner than the Amazon Fire Tablet and feels more premium compared to the frankly disgusting hard plastic on the Fire.

The buttons are also worth noting on the NOOK, namely because they are pretty good. The placement is perfect for a 7-inch tablet which you’re going to use in portrait mode most of the time, and they provide tactile feedback as well.

Display

When you’re buying a $50 piece of tech, you should never expect much. That said, the NOOK delivers a decent enough experience with a 7-inch, 1024×600 display. Sure, the resolution is poor and colors are a tad washed out, but viewing angles are decent and overall, I didn’t find myself wanting more for the price.

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Software & Performance

Easily the best aspect of this tablet is the software. It runs Android Marshmallow out of the box with no skin at all ─ seriously this is basically a Nexus ─ and very minimal bloatware. Google’s suite is pre-loaded along with B&N’s collection of apps, but all things considered, it’s pretty light.

Using this tablet feels great because everything is how it should be. Unlike with Amazon’s cheap tablets or even those from Samsung where a heavy skin bogs down performance or makes the UI confusing, the NOOK just makes sense. Better yet, that lack of a skin helps with performance, and that’s a good thing considering the minimal specs on this tablet.

I’ve mentioned this to my colleagues here at 9to5Google a few times, the NOOK doesn’t feel like a regular tablet, from a software perspective, it feels like the cheapest Nexus of all time. However, that doesn’t apply to things like software updates or security patches. While I won’t say that we won’t ever see this tablet get a significant update, I don’t think it’s likely.

As for the actual performance of the tablet, it’s nothing incredible. You’ll notice plenty of hiccups throughout the experience, regardless of how long you’re using the tablet. Though, that’s to be expected with low-end, no-name processors and minimal specs. Over the period of about two weeks, I never ran into any serious performance issues, and things didn’t degrade over those couple weeks, which is a great sign.

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Battery Life

One massive perk to these cheap, low-resolution and low-specced tablets is great battery life. Due to the low power requirements of the components, we can usually squeeze days of use out of these devices. However, that’s not quite the case with the NOOK. 2-3 hours of use will drain the battery by around 40-60% depending on what you’re doing, and standby time isn’t too hot either. It’s not bad battery life, but it’s not great either, and the Amazon Fire Tablet definitely has a leg up here.

Additionally, the NOOK 7 ships with a power brick and a USB cable (microUSB) which is fantastic to see. It doesn’t have fast charging, but plugging it in overnight will give it a full charge for sure.

Cameras

No. They exist, and that’s about it.

Speakers

One use case I actually have for cheap tablets like this is to use in bed. I love to read a few pages in a book and then fall asleep listening to music with a sleep timer. When buying the NOOK, I actually intended to use it almost entirely for that purpose. However, the speaker is just way, way too bad.

The rear-mounted mono driver doesn’t produce anything in the realm of respectable audio quality, rather producing audio that sounds terrible at low volumes, and like a dying animal when turned to maximum (which is surprisingly loud). Do yourself a favor, if you’re going to play music on this tablet, use headphones…

Final Thoughts & Where To Buy

There’s a lot of good, and a lot of bad about the NOOK 7, but when you factor in the extremely affordable price tag of just $50, this is undoubtedly one of the best tablets in its price point on the market today. While there are a lot of aspects I prefer on it’s competitor, the Amazon Fire Tablet, I can say that the addition of Google Play and the fantastic overall software makes this a worthwhile purchase.

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Currently, and for the foreseeable future, the NOOK 7 is on sale only through Barnes and Noble. I don’t see that changing at any point either. Luckily, you can order online or pick it up direct from any Barnes and Noble location.

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