Nook Color Hands-On

 Posted by at 5:28 AM  Tagged with: , ,
Jan 102011

The Nook Color: not really an e-reader, more of an iPad light.

I recently got a chance to experiment with a Nook Color at a local Barnes & Noble store. As I discussed in my previous post (Nook: Color Me Disappointed), the new $249 device from B&N is a tablet computer marketed as a “reader’s tablet,” with a 7″ IPS LCD touchscreen. While this touchscreen is sharper and nicer than most LCD screens (like the one you’d find on the iPad), and boasts an anti-glare coating, I am still not sold on the idea of reading on an LCD screen; I far prefer an easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screen.

During my time with the Nook Color, I was impressed with the speed and responsiveness of the unit — a nice improvement over the original Nook with the 1.0 software, which was buggy and slow. Some features were definitely cool, like the ability to customize your “home screen” by arranging the covers of your favorite books however you’d like. Of course, certain things are better in color, like the aforementioned book covers, but where I think the Nook Color really makes some sense is as a magazine, newspaper, and children’s book reader.

Magazine reading was similar to what you’d find on the iPad, except with only a 7″ screen (which, of course, helps weight and portability, but makes it tougher to see a full-size magazine page without lots of zooming in and panning around). Yes, everything is in full color and looks nice, but I just haven’t fallen in love with reading magazines on e-readers yet (mostly due to the aforementioned zooming and panning, which is annoying even on the iPad’s 9.7″ screen). On the plus side, page navigation is pretty good, with a scrollable thumbnail view of the pages along the bottom that pops up when you use it, and the “article reader” mode, which formats the text of an individual article into a single, easily-readable column with adjustable text, is a must-have feature.

Unfortunately, e-magazines and other digital content (like newspapers) are crippled by publishers’ insistence on overcharging for them: while customers understand that digital distribution costs less than physical and want to buy content once and read it online, on a Nook Color, and on an iPad, publishers insist on charging separate subscriptions for print, online, and iPad or Nook Color subscriptions. Even worse, the digital subscriptions are often the same price or even more than the physical version, which must be printed and shipped.

Since I don’t yet see the appeal of digital magazines and newspapers (until they get some pricing and delivery issues worked out first), and I’m not the target market for children’s books, I look at the Nook Color mainly as an e-reader. And, for that purpose, I find the Nook Color about the same as an iPad: so-so. It has a smaller screen and less battery life, but is a little less heavy and costs only half as much. But my Kindle 3 still blows it away for pure fiction reading: smaller, half the weight, much longer battery life, added 3G connectivity, $70 cheaper, and much easier on the eyes.

On the other hand, as an Internet machine, the Nook Color’s LCD screen makes it far more useable than the Kindle, which doesn’t handle Internet browsing well. It also includes a couple of interesting apps, like Pandora radio, which the Kindle doesn’t have. The Internet worked pretty well on the unit I tried, with pages looking pretty good, within the confines of a 7″ screen, anyway. I certainly wouldn’t replace my 21″ monitor at home, but it works on the go.

One other aspect to note: the Nook Color is a fairly powerful tablet computer than runs on the Android operating system, with a layer of B&N software over it that locks out certain Android applications and focuses it on reading. However, tech-savvy users have started rooting their Nook Colors, bypassing B&N’s software and thereby running any Android app they want, including games and even the Kindle for Android app! This means — if you’re OK with reading on an LCD screen — you could use a Nook color to read books from both B&N and Amazon (and Kobo and anyone else with an Android app).

My final recommendation still is dependent on what you’re looking for: if you want an e-reader and plan to spend most of your time reading fiction novels, I can’t recommend any LCD-based tablet computer, including the Nook Color. However, if you (a) like reading on an LCD screen, (b) are really interested in magazines, newspapers, children’s books, or Internet surfing, or (c) are looking for an inexpensive Android tablet computer, the Nook Color may be worth a look, as it’s snappy and seems to function well.

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