Nook Tablet

Teardown: Nook Tablet

Rumours are sloshing around the publishing market that Barnes & Noble is about to ink a deal that would bring the Nook to the UK. We take a look inside.

If the publishing trade press has it right, the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet could soon arrive in the UK. The corridor gossip is that the US bricks-and-mortar bookseller is in discussions with Waterstones.

So, what could British consumers be offered? If Apple's success with the iPad inspired a host of more conventional copycat tablets, it is Amazon's focus on the Kindle series that has spurred B&N. In fact, in many ways, this Nook (like Amazon, B&N offers a range of devices) is much like its rival's recently launched Kindle Fire. They share the same basic display and touchscreen specifications (and also manufacturer in LG Display), as well as the same core processor (Texas Instruments' OMAP4430). They also share the same main TI power management IC, and the same TI Wi-Fi IC.

"In fact, they look like they both use the same reference design," says Andrew Rassweiler of IHS. "One of the big differences between the two is the inclusion of 16GB of NAND Flash memory on the Nook against 8GB in the Fire. The rest largely comes down to detail and industrial design."

Neither product has yet to launch in Britain, but in the US B&N has been forced to compete with Amazon at a price point that approaches the Fire's $199 benchmark. The Nook costs $249 today. This has something to do with underlying features and costs (more memory, as noted), but the Nook's premium also has a little to do with the business models.

Amazon has a broad array of products that the Fire can be used to purchase from it, allowing the company to subsidise the tablet. B&N has a narrower offering that does not give it the same number of revenue streams to help offset losses (although, unlike Amazon, it does allow users to partition the device so they can use B&N's flavour of the Android OS and one outside its walled garden).

Furthermore, despite working through Chinese giant Foxconn as its contract manufacturer, it's unlikely that B&N has as much supplier leverage as Amazon, thus making the bill of materials slightly higher than that for the Fire.

So from top to bottom, the Nook Tablet follows in the Kindle Fire's footsteps. This means, in the race to the retail price bottom, that B&N has used numerous techniques to keep costs and prices down.

One of these is the use of a 7in display (rather than 9-10in) for which the enclosure elements are mostly plastic and stamped housing components (there is no aluminum unibody, though there is a stamped aluminum frame internally – those tend to be expensive). Beyond that, there is no camera, and no 3G or 4G wireless module. The absence of the latter provides huge savings over other tablets.

Meanwhile, the TI applications processor is also very much a volume device. As well as the Fire, it is present in the Droid Bionic XT875, LG Optimus 3D P920, and RIM PLayBook RDJ21WW. It is a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9, 1GHz processor with hardware accelerator, 3D graphic core and 1080P-2D/720P 3D capability. It is produced in the 45nm process geometry.

The battery capacities of the Nook and the Fire are lower than for a device like the iPad. This is because of the smaller screens, lack of 3G wireless, and extras like Bluetooth. The absence of all of these features allowed the Nook Tablet's designers to go with a 14.8Wh battery. This is only slightly less than the 16Wh equivalent in the Fire.

The Nook then has a fairly low manufacturing complexity as measured by component count. At a total of 636 components (excluding box contents), the Nook weighs in at roughly 40 per cent lower than that for most smartphones and many other tablets. Again, much of this boils down to the reduced feature set – features always drive component counts.

But beyond that, the Nook also has simpler build features, such as the plastic housings. Usually with tablets, there is a kind of a 'two-part' design for the enclosure where the display and touchscreen represent half and the rest is often a rigid, single-piece back cover. However, because of the plastic here, the Nook does also have an internal stamped aluminum frame to provide internal assembly mounting points and more structural strength to the tablet.

At the heart of every tablet, both in terms of user experience and cost, are the touchscreen and the display. The choice of each of these items, and how they are controlled, are key to how well the tablet ultimately works. This is completely the case for the Nook. The 7in LG module is a 16.7M Color IPS/FFS TFT LCD display with 1024 x 600 Pixel resolution.

An inherent feature of FFS technology is its wide viewing angle. The touchscreen comes from Xiamen Litup Optical Technology and the controller comes from FocalTech, a manufacturer also seen in the Lenovo A60 smartphone. 

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