The tablet field is one of tech's hottest battlegrounds, with new players and new devices popping up every week. The latest is Barnes & Noble's new Nook HD line, which offers beefed-up hardware and a new 9-inch tablet size.
The 7-inch Nook HD starts at $199 for a 8 GB model, and the 9-inch Nook HD+ starts at $269 for 16 GB. Both tablets begin shipping in late October and are slated to hit store shelves in early November. (Nook's older 7-inch Nook Tablet recently had its price tag cut to $179. The company's black-and-white Nook e-readers sell for $99 to $139.)
New features include a Nook Video streaming service, a "scrapbook" feature that lets users save content like magazine pages, and the option to create device profiles for different family members. The Nook HD line runs on Google's ( Android operating system, and its homescreen design is much more streamlined than that of the previous Nook tablet. )
Barnes & Noble ( took shots at two of its main tablet rivals, Apple and Amazon, in its press release announcing the HD line: "[The HD+ is] nearly half the cost of the leading large-format tablet, [and] both products deliver an amazing value for customers, with no annoying ads." )
That "leading large format tablet" is of course Apple's ( 9.7-inch-screen iPad, which retails for $499. The "annoying ads" tablets are )Amazon's ( )Kindle Fire line, which offer a price discount to customers who agree to get ads on some screens. (The Kindle Fire price tag runs from $159 for a 7-inch version to $499 for an 9-inch 4G LTE tablet with HD.)
Barnes & Noble has fallen behind both rivals. Apple captured more than two-thirds of the tablet market in the second quarter, according to iSuppli's most recent data. Amazon took the No. 3 spot, behind Samsung, with 4%. Barnes & Noble came in at No.5 with 2%.
"No one can ignore what Apple does," Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch told CNNMoney this week. But at a pre-announcement demo with journalists in New York City on Monday, it was clear that Barnes & Noble is aiming squarely at Amazon's Kindle Fire -- especially the newly announced and similarly named Kindle Fire HD.
Staffers used the Fire to extol Nook's virtues, setting up side-by-side comparisons on screen, size and weight: "See how [Fire] casts a sort of shadow over the screen?"
"Feel how much heavier and wider [the Fire] is," another suggested. "It's much tougher to hold."
Lynch took his own shot at Amazon. "Jeff [Bezos, Amazon's CEO] says the Kindle Fire is the best media tablet at any price, which is a joke given the specs," he said.
Barnes & Noble aimed to improve those specs with its own Nook HD. At first glance, the most obvious enhancement over the older Nook line is the HD's crisper screen. The 7-inch Nook HD features a screen resolution of 1440 x 900 and supports 720p video; Barnes & Noble says that's 25% more pixels than the Kindle Fire HD. The 9-inch version of the new Nook is 1920 x 1280 (which falls short of the iPad's resolution) and plays 1080p video.
To take advantage of the improved screen resolution, Barnes & Noble is launching Nook Video. Users can buy or stream content in either HD or standard definition, and a representative said the prices will be "comparable" to other a la carte services. Nook Video will also be available as an app for use across several devices.
As before, the Nook HD features a "curated" app store and access to Barnes & Noble's catalog of more than 3 million books. The 7-inch Nook HD weighs 11.1 ounces, and the 9-inch model is about 7 ounces more. Each supports microSD card expansion up to 64 GB.
Unlike many of its rivals, the Nook HD doesn't have a camera. Lynch shrugged that off in this week's demo.
"When you're making a device light and inexpensive, you have to make decisions," he said. "We felt like 99.9% of people who own a tablet will have a smartphone in their pocket with a better camera."
Lynch also talked up Barnes & Noble's retail advantage: It can display the Nook HD in its 700 bookstores and at several stores owned by its big-box retail partners like Best Buy (, )Target ( and )Wal-Mart (. Amazon, on the other hand, has tons of website traffic but doesn't own any bricks-and-mortar stores. Target and Wal-Mart recently announced )they won't sell Amazon Kindles anymore.
Barnes & Noble may have Amazon squarely in its crosshairs, but Amazon and Apple aren't the only tablet makers in town. Samsung is comfortably ensconced in the No. 2 tablet market spot, and Google began shipping its Nexus 7 earlier this summer. Microsoft is pushing the Windows 8 on its own Surface tablet, and several of its hardware partners are expected to create devices that run on the Windows 8 operating system.