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Nook Color Ebook Reader (CM7) – forget the books
Oct 25, 2011 01:25 PM 4491 Views
(Updated Nov 11, 2011 09:02 AM)

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In the Indian subcontinent, from where most mouthshut users are from, Barnes & Noble(B&N) is a brand that hardly registers a click. And with good reason too. They are the biggest brick-n-mortar bookstore, with an increasingly electronic distribution of literary content in the US exclusively. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t disembarked on Asian soil yet. In a nutshell, in addition to selling books they also sell devices in the EBook Reader category, and competes with firms with their own online ebook distribution services such Amazon(Kindle) and Sony(Reader).

The Nook Color uses a glorious 7” 1024 X 600 IPS LCD panel, has a 800Mhz CPU(with a dedical OpenGL 2.0 compliant GPU), 8Gb Built in Mem and expandable to32GB and that’s the part where the device enters tablet territory.

Physically, the device is rather pleasing to behold. The front of the device is consumed by that brilliant screen along with a hook shaped home button and a nice loop around the lower-left edge, which also hides the recessed MicroSD slot. The edges and sides of the device are coated in a near-matte finish, charcoal-colored plastic, while the back of the unit is smooth, soft rubber, that’s very pleasing to the touch. In terms of buttons and interfaces it’s very minimalistic, and the buttons are recessed and blends nicely into the design. . The left edge has the power, the right has the volume, the bottom has a microusb type 2 port and a 3.5mm headphone jack adorns the top edge. It’s build quality is exceptional, but suffers a major shortcoming. Like an iPad, the battery is not meant to be user replaceable, but if you can get a spare battery, you can probably follow a DIY web guide or a YouTube video to replace it yourself. I got my NC right after they were launched in the US(Dec ’10) and haven’t had the need to change.

Now I wont go into the details of the stock software, which provides a reading app that supports the .ePub format(but not .mobi which Amazon’s Kindle uses), and others such as PDF. It also supports specially formatted illustrated and narrated children’s books in glorious colors. It came with a default Android browser, which in it’s first iteration did not support pinch zoom, even if the device itself was capable of the same( subsequent OTA firmware updates from B&N rectified that). It also supported other features such as gallery and a media player for audio and video. It came with some basic games such as Chess(jeez!) and Soduku(Gimme a break!). The stock Nook in my opinion for a non-US customer is a colossal waste of money. The real fun started for me is when I rooted it. Rooting means opening up the restricted parts of the customized Android software, which then allowed me to install Google apps(Gmail, Maps, Calendar, GTalk etc) and the crown jewel, the Android market. That pretty much lets you install and use any android app(with a few exceptions). I installed Amazon’s Kindle app, and smirked at the irony of it all.

It is important to note that the stock software was based on Android 2.1(Éclair); rooting added an Android Launcher(ADW) on top of the original Nook Menu, which can be accessed by touch a crescent key at the bottom of the screen. An important addition was the On-screen softkeys, as the device itself does not come with Menu, Home and Search Buttons, unlike other deidicated Android tabs.It offered very a very good browsing experience with pinch & zoom capabilities and fast page rendering. Although Angry Birds ran just fine, more demanding apps such as H.A.W.X HD, a nice combat sim game, was laggy. The stock video player was grossly inadequate, and couldn’t play anything other than MP4 files(with a limited range of resolutions) but the excellent Rock player resolved all that. The Nook Color also threw a world of possibilities for modders, and soon, the device was tweaked to run Froyo, Ubuntu and even an experimental version of Honeycomb. You can probably see where this is going. You need to mod and exploit this potential of the device if you were to own one.

For the regular non-geeky user however, the most viable mod is Cyanogen Mod 7 which is essentially a custom android install based on Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread. You have the option of either wiping the original stock software, or running it from the MicroSD. Being the risk averse types, I opted for the latter option. After I’d followed the web guides, downloaded the firmware, wrote the image onto the SD, and booted my Nook Color my jaw hung in disbelief. Here was an incredibly snappy OS, which pretty much make the nook color do everything a dedicated android tablet could. Games were a lot more snappy and menu scrolling was much more smoother than the original rooted stock version. The battery sleep life did take a small hit, but the benefits greatly outweighed this minor flaw. Furthermore, the mod also unlocked the Bluetooth capability which had been disabled in the original version. It probably was cheaper for the manufacturer to disable the hardware than to remove it altogether. The Bluetooth radio distance is rather limited, but atleast it works for file transfers, BT keyboards and tethering. You also have the option to overclock the stock CPU clock from 800Mhz to a max speed of 1.3Ghz, and it would be faster than a Galaxy Tab. I couldn’t get swype or swiftkey to work with the original root, but it works like a charm in the CM7 version, and I am never going to use the default gingerbread keyboard again J. I think I’m about ready to wipe the original stock software(thus voiding all warranty), as it will entail me to get a 20% performance boost of over the sdcard version. For most regular folks however, the sdcard version works well enough as long you stick to the latest CM7 builds(or nightlies as they are called) and use a Class 4 card. There could be certain trials and errors, during the modding process, but the sdcard install ensures that the device will not be bricked. It also nice to know that you can easily upgrade to the latest stable version of Android(Honeycomb for example) whenever the modder community releases them.

I can now wholly recommend the modified Nook Color over other low cost Android tablets such as the Reliance Tab or OlivePad. Most low cost Tabs have terrible resistive screens, and their resolutions are usually limited to 800 x 480(max). They also suffer from horrid build quality and battery life. The Nook color on the other hand shines in all those departments, and the inclusion of a camera would’ve truly added a lot of value; Not that I feel the need for one. The problem for Indian customers however is getting one at the US price. If you have friends or family, who can get you one, look no further, Purchasing one through ebay or an Import site such as 20North however, would add to the costs and then it wouldn’t be that sweet of a deal. Also it is nearly impossible to get a matching case/cover for it anywhere else, so make sure you buy one during the time of the purchase of the device.

All said and done with a modified Nook Color, there will be some compromises over a full fledged 7”Android tablet like the Dell Streak or the Acer Iconia, but at the price point, those are easily overlooked, and you will bound to get noticed with the smart Nook Color in your hands

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Nook Color Ebook Reader