Friday, February 10, 2012

My Nook Color

Around a year ago I got a tablet - a 10" G-Tablet from Viewsonic. When it came out it got fairly bad reviews, mainly because of the way that Viewsonic changed the Android interface. I installed a custom ROM and was quite happy with it.

There were some drawbacks to the Viewsonic. The custom ROM gave me access to the Android Market but many apps do not work on it and some break it (good thing it supports backups). As time went on, other apps stopped working. Any time I used the Google Market it downloaded an update that refused to run. More recently Google Talk stopped working. I never use this but it is also needed for GMail which I use all the time.

Some of the hardware the Viewsonic is based on is out of date. The ROM I was using was based on Android 2.2 but some of the drivers had not been updated since 2.1 which is probably what caused the problems. This means that the problems in the tablet are not going to get any better.

I had a coupon for a Nook Color for $150 so I decided to switch. I got the Color instead of the Nook Tablet for two reasons - one was the price. The Nook Tablet is still $250 and I don't think it offers enough additional functionality. The other reason is that the Color supports dual boot so all it takes to transform it into a full Android tablet is a memory chip with the right files on it.

I used my wife's Cook Color for a while before getting one of my own. Between that and playing around on my own Color I have a good idea of its usefulness. I wrote about this a week ago so some of this is a review.

The Color was meant to be an ebook reader with tablet capabilities added later. The current release is a big improvement over the previous one but still has some annoyances.

The biggest is the lack of a consistent "back" button. This is probably the most used function in android but the Color has a haphazard implementation of it. Sometimes it is a button at the bottom, sometimes it is at the top. Often it is completely lacking which means you have to use the Nook button (which functions as a Home key in the current release) then restart whatever you were doing from scratch.

The next complaint is a relic of it being an ebook reader first. Tablets work best in landscape mode but the Nook home screen and other functions are portrait-only. Barnes and Noble has a full line of covers and most of them are not suitable for landscape mode. I went with a protective sleeve instead of a cover.

Finally, their app store leave a lot to be desired. It is poorly stocked and charges for many apps that are free elsewhere. You can't even get a passable, free live wallpaper. The native email application is very limited (it does not work with Exchange) and there are no improved apps, even for sale. They are also missing the native apps for GMail and Facebook.

As an ebook reader, it is fine although I would recommend the Simple Touch if all you want is an ebook reader. The Touch is smaller, lighter, works in bright sunlight, and has great battery life.

So, that is how the Nook Color comes from B&N. But, if you install a memory card with the dual boot then things change dramatically. What you get then is a slightly customized version of Android. The one I have is still running Android 2.2 so I may have some hard choices when Ice Cream Sandwich become more common but for now everything works.

Except for rendering pages with heavy Flash, the Color makes a perfectly usable Android tablet. I found every app I wanted and they all work (with one exception noted later). I can still read my Nook books plus Kindle and EPUB books. YouTube through the browser can be choppy but the YouTube native app works great.

I do have to zoom on text fairly often which I didn't have to do on a 10" tablet but otherwise the 7" size is much handier. It is much lighter and easier to carry around.

My only complaint is that it does not recognize the USB cable when running straight Android and the Android partition is not recognized when it is in Nook mode or when the SD card is plugged into my PC. I got around that with a product called AirDroid which lets me move files over WiFi.

So, what is the app that doesn't work? Ironically, it is the Nook app. Older versions work fine through release 2.6 but after that they refuse to run. From the comments, this is a common problem that B&N has yet to fix. Fortunately, the 2.6 version works so I can still use it as an ebook reader without having to reboot. Synchronization is spotty but it supports landscape as well as portrait.

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