Barnes & Noble has been quietly refreshing its Nook hardware

These are strange tablet times we're living in. A few weeks ago Amazon downgraded  their Fire tablet line, making them more affordable and less capable (in particular the screen resolution is quite low).

Now Barnes & Noble, with the help of Samsung, have launched a new Nook, the $250 Samsung Galaxy Tab E Nook. First of all, this is the stealthiest product launch I've ever seen. VentureBeat covered it and I saw a few other posts about it, but it wasn't a hot topic in the tech blogging community. Compare that to all the coverage the Amazon Fire tablets got. I guess it's tough to make a splash unless you hold a big press gathering.

The specs for this new tablet aren't anything special. It has the same screen resolution as Amazon's Fire HD tablets (1280x800) with an 9.8" screen, and it weighs a whopping 19.3 ounces (that's so heavy I almost suspect it's a typo). If I were looking for a budget Nook I'd stick with the older Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 7, which has the same resolution but a smaller screen (which will help alleviate issues with the low pixel count), weighs 9.74 ounces, and costs $100 less.

But what did catch my eye is another new Nook tablet that apparently came out a month ago (again, according to VentureBeat), the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Nook. This seems like a nice machine, but I suppose it ought to be for $400. It's an 8" tablet with a 2048x1536 resolution screen, and comes with a generous 32 GB of storage, but it weighs just 9.4 ounces. With Amazon apparently phasing out the HDX line (only the Fire HDX 8.9 is still available) Barnes & Noble may end up as the go-to place for reading-focused tablets with a high screen resolution. And while $400 is a lot, its right in line with, for example, Google's Nexus 9, which has the same screen resolution (in a slightly bigger screen, 8.9") and is also $400.

I had more or less written off the Nook when Barnes & Noble farmed hardware duties out to Samsung, but now it seems like they have an opportunity. Assuming Amazon sticks to their new cheap low-res tablet gameplan maybe, just maybe, Barnes & Noble can carve out a niche on the higher end of things.

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