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Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-Reader

Posted by tomwiles at 10:03 PM on May 31, 2011

Over this past weekend I ended up purchasing a $250 dollar Barnes & Noble “Nook Color” e-reader from a Best Buy store. It has a very bright, clear 7” diagonally measured widescreen capacitive glass touch screen display.

Barnes & Noble ships the Nook Color with a specialized, tightly locked-down version of Android that promotes access to the Barnes & Noble store content. It includes the Android web browser, along with a couple of games and the Pandora music service app. With the latest 1.2 version of Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color Android, they also give access to email and currently about 170 or so apps that can be purchased from the Barnes & Noble app store.

I’ll be perfectly honest here. What persuaded me to buy the Nook Color was watching a number of different YouTube videos of Nook Color units that had been hacked to run different versions of Android. As it turns out, the Nook Color is a very hacker-friendly device. The Nook Color’s WiFi radio contains Bluetooth, which Barnes & Noble’s Android does not yet take advantage of, though alternative versions of Android can and do enable Bluetooth on the device.

The Nook Color is manufactured by Foxconn, the same Chinese manufacturers that make the iPad, iPod, and many other modern consumer electronics devices. The Nook Color is a very nice piece of hardware. It has a 1.1 gigahertz Atom processor that’s backed down to 800 megahertz in order to help conserve battery life. Also when the unit is asleep very little battery power seems to be consumed.

There are several different approaches to be taken from outright replacing the Barnes & Noble Android, rooting it to allow the full Android store, to running alternative versions of Android from the included Micro-SD card reader slot built-in to the unit, leaving the Barnes & Noble Android intact.

After a weekend of experimental hacking, here are my conclusions. Though the Barnes & Noble Android is fairly limited, it offers quite a nice experience. I’ve determined that I want to keep that Barnes & Noble Nook Color experience untouched. It is quite valuable as an e-reader that offers multimedia functionality.

I can, and am, experimenting with a couple of different versions of Android running directly from a couple of different Micro-SD cards. I have a Micro-SD version of Android 2.2, as well as a version of Android 3.0. The Nook will automatically attempt to boot first from the Micro-SD reader, so when I want to boot into the built-in Barnes & Noble Android, I simply turn the unit off, eject the Micro-SD chip, and turn the unit back on.

While searching the Internet for information, I came across a website (http://www.rootnookcolor.com/)that is selling pre-configured Micro-SD chips running either Android 2.2, or Android 3.0. I ended up ordering a 2.2 version, which I won’t receive for a few days. These pre-built versions contain a boot loader, which allows the user to select which operating system to load without having to eject or insert the Micro-SD chip each time.

I am perhaps more of a unique case, since I spend most of my time in my truck. I already have the latest version of the iPod Touch, which gives me 95% percent of iPad functionality in a smaller package. When my truck is parked, my MacBook Pro is almost always online. The only use I could come up with for a tablet would be for use as a nice screen to watch video on, or an e-reader, since other uses are already covered between my iPod Touch, my MacBook, and my Sprint Evo Android smartphone. At upwards of $1,000 for a fully-configured iPad 2.0, that’s a price that’s just too steep for these functions. However, at $250 dollars for a very capable piece of hardware that can easily be made to do other things, along with something to experiment with, it starts to really become interesting.

Barnes & Noble should be commended for the Nook Color. As stated before, it is an excellent piece of hardware. It’s been a long time since I was in a Barnes & Noble brick & mortar store, and until now I haven’t felt compelled to buy any e-books from them online. However, now that I have the Nook Color I’ve started out an experimental subscription to Popular Science magazine. So far I’m enjoying the experience. The Nook Color uses the ePub format, and also uses Adobe technology to display color magazine and newspaper publications.

My hope is that since the Nook Color is so hackable, it will act as a doorway to reward Barnes & Noble.