I am a true-blue, dyed in the wool Apple iOS device supporter. I have had an iPhone since day one, and I own and work with iPads and Mac computers every day. But I have to tell you, right here: I am seriously, significantly impressed with Barnes and Noble’s new Android-based nook Tablet. Wow.

Opening the now-familiar nook-style packaging, I felt something I’ve only experienced with the Apple design-centric packaging before – a sense of familiarity and comfort. I’ve owned a nook since the very first eInk device they released in November of 2009, and have upgraded since then to a nook Simple Touch eInk reader. Each iteration of the nook device has been boxed in a similar solid feeling cardboard box. These boxes are easily opened, with the cord and power plug in a separate bottom section, the device itself snugly ensconced in the top. Lifting the lid on the nook Tablet was like coming home, and my inner geek squee-ed a bit.

The device itself is beautiful – looking almost exactly like last year’s nook Color (which I skipped since, well, I *have* an iPad) except the shade of grey of the frame. The screen is a long 8.1 inches by 5.0 inches, and the whole device feels solid yet intimately holdable, with a weight of 14.1 ounces and a thickness of just shy of a half an inch. At first, I thought using it in landscape orientation, especially while reading, would be awkward. After several days of comfortable before-bed reading, I can say that it excels as an e-reader in either orientation.

Speaking of reading, as a long time B&N account holder, I already have about 40 books that I’ve either purchased, sampled, or gotten for free through the in-store promotions over the last couple of years. It’s a joy to turn on the nook Tablet, log in to my B&N account, and have most of my preferences and books ready for download to this specific device. This is cloud-based heaven for book and content lovers. Even my social network preferences were filled in from the one account log in. Brilliant!

Reading books is as fantastic as ever. Tapping on words and passages brings up a host of options, including an onboard dictionary look up feature as well as an easy social network sharing ability. The LCD backlit display isn’t the way I want to read all my books all the time – I’ll save my nook Simple Touch eInk reader for that – but it’s very usable, allowing me to adjust brightness down in a dark room with a fairly low glare screen. Good stuff when I only have the one device.

But I didn’t pick this one up to be my eReader. The nook Tablet has a 1 GHz dual core processor with 1 GHz of RAM (twice that of the competing Amazon Fire). The onboard memory is 16 Gb (with an unfortunately under explained 1 Gb only reserved for user owned and ad hoc data – more on this in a tic) with an micro SD slot to expand that with up to an extra 32 Gb of storage space.

Barnes and Noble doesn’t talk up the walled memory approach it’s taking with the nook Tablet. Essentially, users have only 1G of onboard memory allowed for their own non-B&N content. The rest of the 16 G is reserved for B&N content, which will include some reported third party media partners soon, as well as their own movie rental service. Add that kind of data, as well as the larger sized magazine content already available, and that “only B&N content” section will likely fill up fast. I was initially disappointed that this was the approach, but so far have not had an issue with it, and don’t expect to.

The app store approach here is similar to Amazon’s – Barnes and Noble curates their own version of the Android app store to provide an easy of entry to neophyte potential customers. While I still plan on rooting the device at some point to make te entire Android experience available on my new tablet, I sincerely appreciate this approach when I consider my parents or other family members who might want to dip their toes into the water of downloading apps without having to manage the chaos that is the Android app marketplace. Even with my technical savvy, I have to say I enjoyed the hand-holding.

The app store on the tablet itself is well laid out. Pressing the ‘n’ button at the bottom of the device brings up the navigation buttons, which include home, library, shop, search, apps, web and settings. Tap apps and get the currently installed apps on the device. This can be laid out in two styles: a grid/bookshelf type view in either a general or alphabetized flavor and a list view with app icons to the left, descriptions to the right. At the top of any of these views, a SHOP NOW link is present. Tap it and go directly to the apps portion of the B&N online store, provided the nook is connected to the internet via WiFi. Categories are perhaps more fine grained than what I’m used to on the iTunes App Store, with each large category further refined with smaller subcategories. For example, the Education and Reference category has Children, Dictionaries, Special Education, Medical, Encyclopedias, and Legal subcats. Granted, many apps in each of the subcategories seem spurious (why is Amazing Zen Quotes in the Special Education category?), just having more specificity is truly wonderful. I look forward to more apps and better categorization in the near future.

Searching for apps is another matter, however. When searching for a specific app, I found that the results include books and magazines that match the search term as well. This is no way to run an app search. A search for ‘IM’ brought up IM+ (for $9.99 – ugh), but only after five books with the word “I’m” in the title. I’d like to see a separate search for apps that does not include books, even if the app offerings are currently slim.

Which, interestingly, does not seem to be the case. I’m tempted to say that the app store on the nook Tablet feels more populated than the Nintendo DSi online store felt when it was first launched, but I don’t have any hard numbers to back that up.

What doesn’t this tablet have? Well, a camera, 3G, GPS, or Bluetooth. That’s a lot of missing stuff to make this a full tablet experience. However, is this such a bad thing? This is a new tablet category, as can be seen with the competitor, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which doesn’t have these things, either. No, what this new type of tablet brings to the party is a sweet little consumer level device at a great price point. What swayed me to the nook side of town was the extra & expandable storage, the fact that I am already a Barnes & Noble customer (my purchased books are now available on both my nooks and my computer), and the local presence of a B&N store in my city for warranty or other tech support. That being said, this is a fairly user friendly device – folks new to the tablet or the eReader scene will be able to use the nook Tablet right out of the box. To me, that’s a big mark in the nook Tablet’s favor.

Overall, the nook Tablet is a fine entry level device for media consumption, book reading, and basic internet functionality, like email and web surfing. It’s not an iPad killer, nor even much of a competitor. It’s in fair competition with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and – I believe – is the better of the two devices on specs alone. Of course, not having a Fire to back that opinion up is something that I’m willing to change, if I end up with my hands on a Fire. For now, though, I’m glad for the purchase of the nook Tablet, and look forward to taking it with me to places that the iPad might be a bit of an overkill. Man, I love the future.