Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor, the first full color ebook reader, presents a series of dilemmas for interested buyers. B&N referred to it as a tablet, but NOOKcolor is really more like half a tablet. It literally is a read-only device. It displays text, PDF and Microsoft Office files, plays any MPEG-4 video (no Flash), plays MP3 and AAC music, plays animations. It surfs the Web using the Android browser (which means you can access and view your Netflix content), has an accelerometer so all content can be viewed in either orientation, has 8 GB of built-in memory, a microSD slot, and WiFi. But you can’t create anything in it such as creating email or word processing, except for book-related Facebook and Twitter posts.
It’s got an eight-hour battery life, compared to the battery life of monochrome ebook readers measured in weeks. An iPad, with its 9.7-inch screen, can play far more demanding video files for up to 10 hours. It’s priced at $250, a little less than half of an iPad, which obviously does nearly everything NOOKcolor does merely lifting its little finger (if an iPad had limbs), plus a lot more leisure and productivity activities.
NOOKcolor is a superior ebook reader. Its bright 7-inch screen makes text jump off the page. It introduces a level of text readability contrast unmatched on any gray monochrome E-Ink ebook reader. And seeing illustrations, maps, diagrams and photos in their natural color state is a relief after suffering through a flat 16 layers of gray on the regular Nook and Kindle.
But if you can afford $250 for a color ebook reader, might you not also be able to afford the far more versatile iPad or one of the similarly-sized and more versatile 7-inch tablets coming in the next few weeks and months?
Let’s Get Physical
At 15.8 ounces – around half a pound lighter than iPad – the charcoal gray NOOKcolor is around three ounces heavier than its monochrome sibling, and feels a lot more substantial. It measures 8.1 x 5 x .48 inches, a hair taller and thinner than its predecessor. Its 7-inch LCD screen is larger than both the 6-inch E-Ink screens on both the previous Nook and the Kindle, but its colorful brightness makes it seem even more copious. Behind the 1024 x 600 pixel IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, its 8 GB internal memory is enough to hold 6,000 books (or or a combination such as 1,000 books, 25 full-color magazines, 10 newspapers, 50 kids’ books, 500 songs and 150 photos), augmented by a microSD card slot for up to 32 GB more space. Inside a Barnes & Noble store, you can use the WiFi to read books for free, just as if you were sitting on the floor pulling real books out of the stacks, you cheapskate. There’s no 3G.
We didn’t really get a chance to play with NOOKcolor at it’s introductory even. Demonstrators carefully kept their few samples in their own grip, letting go only to let us heft it. But we did get guided tours.
Maybe it was because I was experiencing it cold, but NOOKcolor’s GUI has a lot of, maybe too many options, found in a variety of content screens and menu bars and pull-up and drop-down menus and…well, I found it all a bit daunting and overwrought, which means less tech-minded folks may find completely bewildering. For instance…
There’s a home screen that’s like a desktop. Underneath is a finger-scrollable “Daily Shelf” bar, containing up to 50 available items – books, magazines, newspapers, PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, etc. You can drag an item from the Daily Shelf to the home screen “desktop” or tap it from the Shelf to open it. An icon moved to the desktop can be pinch-zoom resized – but I really didn’t grok the whole logic of resizing an icon or moving a content icon someplace else when a tap opens it from where it already is, but maybe I’m missing something. On top of these two options, there’s also a drop-down More menu with a list of everything you’ve been recently reading.
Under the Daily Shelf is a “quick navigation” arrow that opens a menu bar with further options: Library (which contains all your items), Shop, Search, Extras (Nook Android apps), Web and Settings. There’s also a separate lending library window with books you’ve bought that you’re allowed to digitally lend.
Inside a book
Once inside a book or magazine, there are further menus, including tapable options arrayed across the top such as found on an Android phone, and another pop-up menu bar with even more options, such as Share. Share lets you cut-and-paste sections of a book and post them with comments on Facebook or Twitter without opening up a separate app.
Inside books, publishers can place MPEG-4 videos and animations, what B&N calls “Alive Touch,” which allows children to touch an illustration and see it come to life. In fact, Nook Kids allows kids to see large colorful illustrations and parents can boost text-size for reading. Parents also can read or have their child read, or have the NOOKcolor read via its text-to-speech capabilities.
This all seems to be an awful amount of effort just to read a book. But as noted, you can do a lot more with NOOKcolor than just read a book.
More intruiging is NOOKcolor’s social networking capabilities. You can clip a line or two or three from whatever you’re reading, book or magazine, then paste the lines and jot an accompanying not and post your missive via integrated Facebook and Twitter forms.
If NOOKcolor was $199, it’s a somewhat easy call. But at $250, NOOKcolor’s value versus the iPad becomes an almost impossible determination.
NOOKcolor is definitely cool and vastly improves readability. But the iBook app on iPad provides the same high level of readibility, plus – well, it’s an iPad, for chrissakes. It’s also more than twice as much as a NOOKcolor. I’m gl
ad I don’t have to make this decision.