Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Review of the Nook Color

Been awhile huh? Well I've got a little writing inspiration in the form of a freshly rooted Nook Color and I'm here to share the journey.

A common practice of computer buyers these days is instead of doing too much research and learning what they need to know, they find the most computer savvy person they know and fling questions at them like a monkey with diahrrea. I know for sure that I get these questions almost like clockwork come Thanksgiving. And I expect to see it later in my life as well. But maybe in the future, I won't be choosing a computer, but instead a tablet device.

While the Apple iPad's sales have been stagnating this holiday season, it is still a desired object by many people. Not necessarily heavy computer users, but more so by the general public and hipsters of the world. I've always wondered where the strange desire comes from. I could never type out anything of value on an iPad, and I still cant. Maybe thats because the length of my index finger is less than 3.5 inches, or maybe the iPad is just too big.

Soon enough other manufacturers began to clone the iPad in their own variations and iterations. Tablet devices have mainly come out of strange unheard of Chinese companies, but there are a few brand name ones from Viewsonic, Archos, and most importantly Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy Tab was Samsung's highly hyped entry into the tablet market. Its advertisements heavily pushed the idea of the Tab's 7 inch screen fitting into the back pocket of some incredibly well endowed pants. It was mostly well recieved as the competition for it was mainly some Chinese knock off and the Apple iPad. But for some ludicrous reason, the Galaxy Tab is priced at 500 dollars with a data contract from Sprint or Verizon. Wheras the iPad is the same price for a larger screen. (At time of writing the Tab has not yet released in its Wifi only version(Still expected to be priced at $500))

For a time the Galaxy Tab was and technically still is the king of the Android Tablet Market. But on October 26th, Barnes and Nobles announced the next iteration of their Nook line, The Nook Color. It did away with the e-ink screen in favor of a 7 inch, 600 by 1024 pixel capacitive touch screen. It's only buttons: Power, Volume +/-, and the n shaped home button. But most importantly? It ran a customized version of Android 2.1.

Was B&N aware of just what they were releasing?

There are no Android based devices that do not have "root*". Even when the manufacturer of other devices had placed restrictions, chips, potential self destruct, etc, etc. The Device gets rooted either which way.

With a 7 inch screen, Wifi, chips from the same line as those in the Droid X and Droid 2, it looked like the hacking community had just found its new favorite toy.

On November 29th, nearly two weeks after the November 16th ship date, the Nook Color was rooted successfully by a man named pokey9000 (not acting alone of course, but he's the most prominent and his name is the easiest to remember XD)

All of a sudden an e-reader just became a really cheap tablet. And a damn good one at that. I've lost the desire to read much of anything but psychology textbook chapters and the old fiction books I keep on my shelves. But I made the trek out on the 26th to return an Ipod Touch I recieved for a Nook Color. Yes, it was snowing. No, I'm sane.

On it's stock firm ware, the Nook Color is an ok device. It has a simple web browser, a chess game, Pandora, sudoku game, and access to Barnes and Nobles ebook library. It also has a LendMe tool to share book with other Nook Color users. The UI is comprised mostly of small book covers which populate your home screens. Though you cannot pinch to zoom in the included browser, you can pinch to zoom the book covers in some sort of strange mishap on B&N's part.

That's it. The Browser has no flash but access to Youtube's Mobile site. The Music playing app is ok at best. It can play videos too, but thats really half baked as well. The reading? It's nice I guess. I'd take an e-ink screen over it for sure but it's a nice attempt I guess.

Physically the device is heavy enough in terms of devices go. It does have some sort of heft to it. I'm not sure if thats intentional or if it's due to the components of the device. The buttons feel strong and have a nice click to them. The entire exterior sans the touchscreen area is made out of a soft touch plastic material. Totally better than glossy plastic which gets fingerprints all over it.

An interesting design choice of B&N is on the lower left corner there is a small sort of hook space that B&N sells accessories and charms for. It's beyond me as to why this was included, but its a unique design choice and I don't think I'd part with it given the opportunity.

On the standard firmware, the Nook Color's battery life without wifi on is about 8 hours. I'd say thats a good estimate b/c I didnt spend much time with the standard firmware.

Boring. Barely worth the 20 bucks extra that was used to cover tax.

But let's be realistic. If you're reading this you know me. I didn't buy this to read books. I got it to hack some shit. At about 8:30 PM after getting home at 6:30 PM, I successfully rooted my Nook Color after some mishaps with a rather small borrowed micro SD card and a very old micro sd card adapter. (Note: Dont try to write an image thats 121 MB to a 120 MB microsd card XD)


I loaded the Android Market application, I loaded in a new launcher, I loaded in Angry Birds, and ironically, I loaded in Kindle too. A few snips, tweaks, live wallpapers, and apps later, I was running a fully stocked Android Tablet.

I can send IM's, play games, read my mail, read news articles, edit documents, listen to radio, see constellations in the sky with Google Sky Map, I can print documents with PrinterShare, play Gameboy games with Gameboid. And that's only the beginning. I'm connecting to my server from a device only meant to read books, editting images with Adobe Photoshop Express, drawing with Autodesk Sketchbook Mobile. This little 7-inch tablet has skewed the line for me between a computer and a tablet. Sure I cant compile code on it yet but with what I can do so far, thats really all that's missing.

Physically nothing changes of course, but the battery life interestingly can be improved throught the usage of a strange trick. For some reason Android is not meant to be run on devices other than phones and as of such there are some lost in translation mistakes. By checking the power usage of the device you will more than likely find that you have a "phone" running in the background. It is taking up power and it can be disabled. Which of course will bump up your battery life.

I personally can get about a days use if I go OD and start Angry Birding like there's no tomorrow.

But I've heard reports that the battery can go 2 days sometimes even 3 with milder usage and no wifi thanks to this trick. According to someone on the XDA forums the battery draw of the device while in standby and with wifi off is 0.02 % which he calculated to result in a 5000 hour battery life. Real? Totally not but that doesnt mean the Nook Color's battery life is bad at all.

But of course having to hack a device to get some form of functionality is not without its downsides. The Google Earth app's opening page is not in full screen (only app so far that isn't), there are no physical back or menu buttons, so sometimes you are stuck in a place that cannot be exited without resorting to a software keyboard replacement. And of course you just might learn a bit about linux terminal, but I'm not sure if thats such a bad thing.

What I will say about the Nook Color is this: It's a great buy if you are willing to hack it and deal with some glitches. Keep in mind, it's only been hacked for about a month. So far, there are plain as in jane versions of Android being developed for the Nook Color. The device is slated to recieve an update containing the Android market from B&N this month, and Cyanogen (a famous modder who creates ROMs for Android devices) has placed the Nook Color on his to-do list. For 250 dollars, I'd say for getting actual work done, this is WAY better than an Ipod Touch. A regifted one at that XD Thanks Dad!

*Root is the most powerful user of a system. In the Android world, this typically means that the person is able to increase functionality of their Android Devices and run programs or tasks or replace files as the highest user in the land.

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