Hands on With the Nook Color’s New Software: It’s the Netbook of Tablets!

By  |  Monday, April 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I’ve been trying the 1.2 Nook Color software upgrade that gives Barnes & Noble’s e-reader access to third-party apps, as well as adding e-mail, Flash, and other features. (The update must be sideloaded at the moment, but it’s a pretty easy install–you download it to a computer, then drag it onto the Nook over USB.)

Some initial impressions after the jump.

  • Angry Birds is $2.99, with no ad-supported or lite version, but…it works! Which proves that the Nook Color is a viable game platform, although I suspect that heavy-duty 3D gaming is beyond its capabilities.
  • There’s some other good stuff among the Nook Apps, including the Pulse newsreader and My6Sense (although the latter’s Facebook integration didn’t work for me).
  • When you’re in most third-party apps, the Nook displays onscreen buttons that let you pull up a menu and go back, replicating features provided by hardware buttons on Android phones.
  • As I explored the apps, I was left itching for a number of specific apps that weren’t there to make their way to the Nook Color–the official Twitter Android app, for instance, Evernote, and Google Maps or a reasonable facsimile thereof. (The Nook doesn’t have GPS, but mapping would still be useful.) The Nook doesn’t need thousands of programs for Nook Apps to live up to its potential, but it does need a quorum.
  • The e-mail app is basic, but not bad; it supports multiple accounts and does full-text searching, and you get alerts of incoming e-mail when you’re elsewhere on the Nook.
  • When you launch the Web browser, it recommends that you set it to use mobile mode. That gets you the same optimized versions of sites such as Gmail and Google Calendar that you’d get on an Android phone or iPhone. But it also gets the phone versions of sites such as the Facebook, NYTimes.com, and TIME.com even though they’re really designed for phone screens and the browser is capable of doing a competent (albeit somewhat slow) job with the full desktop versions. (You can switch back and forth as you move from site to site.)
  • The Shop section lets you browse through apps easily enough, but the search feature only seems to search for the start of product names, not subsequent characters or text in the descriptions. (I searched for “calendar” and got no results, even though there’s an app called Flik Calendar.) Also, if there’s a way to search only apps, not books and magazines as well, I haven’t figured it out.
  • Flash Player on the Nook–as with Flash Player on every mobile device I’ve tried it with–is a mess. YouTube worked some of the the time; other times I got a message that the video couldn’t be played. Amazon Watch Instantly and TIME.com video played at ultra-slow frame rates that made them look like slideshows. Bejeweled Blitz was choppy rather than fluid. Even when stuff worked, the visuals were blocky. Bottom line: Why bother?

Overall, the Nook Color’s books and magazines remain its main attraction. As for everything else…well, except for Flash, it adds up to a nice package of bonuses that makes the Nook a more attractive deal and differentiates it even more from the Kindle.

Should you buy a Nook Color instead of an iPad? Not if you want to do lots of stuff that goes way beyond reading and your budget will let you spend $500 on a tablet. But the small, affordable, and basic Nook does have a niche to itself among tablets from major companies. If the iPad is the MacBook Air of tablets, think of the Nook as a respectable netbook.

It also proves that the notion of a tablet that’s mostly but not completely about reading is intriguing and worthy of further exploration. A “Nook Pro” that sold for a bit more money–say, $329–but had beefier components that could do heavy-duty tasks such as video better might make sense. And if the rumors about an Amazon tablet are true–and they feel like they make sense–it’ll be fascinating to see how it compares to the Nook.

 
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9 Comments For This Post

  1. @JimCanaday Says:

    If you really want to do all that on a Nook Color, I heartily recommend just jumping on to the Cyanogenmod bandwagon. Angry Birds, Flash, YouTube work perfectly. I have no experience with Bejeweled or Amazon Watch Instantly. Yes, the Time video is still choppy for me, despite overclocking to 1100 MHz. But that's the first video I've seen that was choppy – I even checked it on my desktop to make sure it wasn't the source! (It's not.) But, back to my point – Installing Cyanogenmod is easy – there are all kinds of step-by-step how-to's out there. And the darn thing is just about un-brickable. I've heard some claim that there are zero reported instances of bricking a Nook Color.

  2. Carl Says:

    Also remember that the Nook Color is much more portable than the iPad, at about half the physical size. The Nook Color also has MUCH sharper text than the iPad, losing the screen door effect and fuzzy text that the larger device has due to its low resolution screen.

    I agree with JimCanaday that the Nook makes an outstanding tablet if you install a full version of Android on it, especially with Cyanogen Mod. Unfortunately, Cyanogen Mod has a bug that eats the battery (2% loss per hour) on the Nook Color while it’s idle. Developers are working on that issue. Rooting the stock Nook Color install provides many of the same benefits without the battery life drawback.

  3. @louisgray Says:

    There is a temporary bug with Facebook and my6sense right now which we know about and are trying to solve on the NOOKColor. Otherwise, all systems are go. Thanks for the mention, Harry. Hope you like the device!

  4. David Says:

    ????? Much more portable? How do you figure? Do people really take this claim of being "pocket" sized seriously? The iPad is the size of a book( a very thin one) and smaller than a magazine. I've *never* seen anyone with a book go "I really wish this was a paperback."

    It suffers from the same problems as all other Android tablets except it introduces slowness to the equation and even fewer apps since it isn't the full marketplace. And forget about rooting. Most people won't. You may as well as say you can turbocharge any car.

    What's most stunning is that Barnes and Noble also worked "closely" with Adobe and we have yet another device that runs flash poorly.

    If this trend continues(and it will), the iPad has nothing to worry about with respect to flash support. "Stuttery video that crashes the browser sometimes and doesn't work well on many sites" doesn't make a good bulletpoint.

  5. @linnega Says:

    It is almost a pity that CyanogenMod is not the default OS. Anyone with a PC and an micro SD card can install in 15 minutes and have a fully functional stable OS capable of competing with the iPad on all features that matter eBooks, eMagazines, email, web, flash (stable and consistent), streaming video, Evernote, Angry Birds. I bought mine as an eReader and it performs that function admirably. Great having the Kindle app, Nook app and Aldiko for ePubs. Zinio for Android is also available for those that look a little (pity it isn't a standard install for CyanogenMod). All Google apps work perfectly. The battery issue seems to be easily resolved by setting Wifi to "never sleep". Mine was idle for nine days and still had 19% battery. Reading non-stop for two hours left the battery in the upper 60s (although I think it was around 90%) when I started reading. Bluetooth is also enabled with CyanogenMod. The only reason to not go to Cyanogen would be for warranty concerns. Since mine is a grey import into South Africa, my warranty was pretty much dead unless I travel to the US.

  6. Dave Says:

    The Nook color is the best bargain in tablets. You don't even need to root to run Cyanogen mod from an SD card (for full froyo). It's been speed tested against the Galaxy Tab and is faster in most cases. Sure it is not a dual core Honeycomb tablet, but for basic uses, it works great. I say this as an iPad2 owner–which I love except the low rez screen. If I needed a second tablet, this would be it.

  7. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Umm, looks like you "figure" using basic math skills…

    IPad 2:Height: 9.50" | Width: 7.31" | Depth: 0.34" | Weight 1.34 Pounds

    Color Nook: Height: 8.1" | Width: 5.0" | Depth: .48" | Weight .98 Pounds

  8. McFlynn Says:

    Mmmmm, a beefier Nook Pro? I like that. We love our NC and are happy to hear that the issues are being addressed.

  9. csmoorestudio Says:

    You can refine the search feature in the Nook store to only search for apps by typing the word "app" at the end of what you're searching for. For example, if you're shopping for Angry Birds apps and don't want to see books too, type Angry Birds app in the search bar and you'll only get the apps.