December 19, 2010

NOOKColor Combines Specialization, Potential & Android

In a world full of multi-purpose gadgets which ping, beep and blink at you to signal more messages coming your way to demand your attention, there's something remarkably comforting about a device like Barnes & Noble's NOOKColor, which is designed not to distract you with many things at once, but instead, to bring a powerful reading experience. I've been using the NOOKColor as my primary reading device for the last month, and it's easy to see what the product does very well. The availability of instant access to popular titles on demand, color magazines and newspapers, included apps and simple access to the Web if you want to take a break between books has made the NOOKColor an easy add to our house. I am reading more, and saving money as well as bookshelf space by going fully electronic.

Electronic book readers are not new, of course. Amazon's Kindle epitomizes the market, while the NOOKColor is B&N's second go at it, after their first generation black and white device claimed 20% share. The iPad has its iBooks application, and Sony is still somewhere out there with its eReader. But the NOOKColor hits a very interesting middle point of being impressively designed for reading, while building on extras in the background that actually make the device have incredible potential - including apps from their specialized market, and a real Web browser that can tackle even the oddest of page layouts, thanks to its Android core.

My NOOKColor Library, Reading the Big Short

I've long been interested in an electronic book reader device, but none of the Kindle's iterations have been appealing to me - looking like a 1980s throwback with 1950s TVs' color options. The iPad's iBooks application is nice, but the device honestly seems too heavy and cumbersome for long periods of reading. In contrast, the NOOKColor's reading space is about the size of one paperback's page, and is easily held with one hand, flipping pages with the other.

While it can be tempting for Android fans to beg the NOOKColor to add the full Android market and essentially become a low-priced 7-inch tablet, its focus on access to new reading material and having a versatile reading experience define the product. B&N's expertise is in its cultivated lists and access to titles, along with offering WiFi access in every store, along with the ability to preview any book while on their network, just as you could thumb through any book in any retail store. A nice twist.

Browsing On the NOOKColor

One of the reasons I was intrigued by the NOOKColor was its promise to bring interactive children's books that could be read aloud by professionals, and not tired dads. Sure enough, those titles are widely available, with all the bright color imagery in most youth titles these days. But for my age, I was more than happy to pick up the latest Stephen King and John Grisham novels, finally get access to The Big Short by Michael Lewis and yes, even read Decision Points by our 43rd president - something I had no dream of doing in hardcover. Using a fun feature, I was able to post that I'd finished the book to Twitter. You can even post your status mid-way through the book if you want to keep social connections updated.

You wouldn't even know you were running Android 99% of the time you use the device. The home button displays your purchased items, and a second click brings up options for the B&N store, your library, and more. Where Android kicks in are "Extras", which includes some apps, like Pandora and Chess, and "Web". While you're probably not going to make the NOOKColor your primary Web surfing device, it's great to have in the background if you absolutely must check a few news sites, blogs, or even Twitter. As the Market offerings expand with the NOOKColor's growth, I would expect the app experience to play a larger role, of course.

In contrast to my experience with my Android phones (the HTC Evo and the Samsung Epic 4G), battery on the NOOKColor is fantastic. I haven't had it go head to head with the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but all three tablets can go days without a charge, and see several hours of use without decrease.

The NOOKColor can also be connected to a laptop via MicroUSB, to transfer files, charge, or pass over screenshots. I pulled MP3 files from my laptop to the NOOKColor and can listen to music in the background as I read, or I can take pictures of my kids and make them the device's wallpaper. This makes it much more like a simple Android tablet than a simple reader.

I Can Update Social Services With my Reading Status

The NOOKColor is only $249, which is lower than the Galaxy Tab or iPad, and comes with integrated WiFi, but not 3G. The low price is enticing, and actually plays into the same strategy of Apple's iPod, with the device leading to more software sales. I am now buying books for $10 again, when I had pretty much walked away from long-form reading off the Web. You can even buy editions of the Wall Street Journal for a buck, if you like. The device's form factor is sturdy and comfortable and is playing a major role in our home's gadget hierarchy.

You can find out more at Barnes & Noble's NOOKColor site. Sales have been fast and furious, so it's probably too late to pick one up for Christmas, but it should be on your personal list, even if you're not gifting it to someone. It's the best reading device in our house, and it's got a Web browser to boot.