Review: Nook Color from Barnes and Noble

Hello! Welcome to GadgetReactor. We are a technology blog in Singapore and you read more about us here. As the iPad 2 starts making its launch around the world, an unknown little tablet has grown in popularity and started creating its own waves in the budget tablet department. The Barnes and Noble Nook Color is a 7 inch e-reader, developed based on Android. It has a brilliant display, 16 million colors on a top of the line IPS display, with a resolution of 1024 x 600. It is remarkably similar to the specs of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, differing in the availability of the 3G connection, GPS, camera, and an inbuilt microphone. The caveat is that a stock Nook Color from B&N has majority of the android functions disabled as it is primarily an e-reader, but it can easily be hacked to unleash the full potential. Oh, I also forget to mention, the Galaxy Tab retails at approximately S$988 while the Nook Color can be purchased for US$249 or approximately S$345 with shipping included.

Nook Color Specifications
Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.0 x 0.48 inches
Weight: 422g
Processor: ARM Cortex A8 OMAP 3621 @ 800MHz, Overclockable to 1.1 GHz
RAM: 512MB Ram
Memory: 8GB of Internal Flash Memory, Expandable via microSDHC (up to 32GB)
Screen: 1024 x 600 IPS (169 pixel per inch density)
Connections: WIFI B/G/N, Bluetooth

The Nook has a nice charcoal colored case, that has adequate heft and provides a sturdy feel to the tablet. Even though it’s constructed of plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap. The back of the Nook is made of a soft rubbery material, which gives it some extra grip. The bottom corner is open like a loop, though it is more of a design feature than being useful for anything.

While using it as an e-reader is all fine and dandy, the real fun comes in when you hack the Nook for the full functionality it can offer. First up, there are multiple options available for the Nook in terms of the Android Operating System, ranging from Eclair (2.1), Froyo (2.2), Gingerbread (2.3) and Honeycomb (3.0). I have tried Eclair, Gingerbread and Honeycomb and am now predominantly on Gingerbread. It offers the nice compromise between stability (Eclair) and cutting edge development (Honeycomb). In Gingerbread, the interface has been tweaked and it runs a little snappier. Flash 10.1 is available and majority of the apps in the Android market are available. The current disadvantage is that Graphics Acceleration is still not available on Gingerbread. In comparison, the basic Eclair (version the Nook was developed on) has the full functionality. I am currently running Cyanogen Mod 7, based on Gingerbread 2.3.3 which receives tonnes of developer attention and majority of the new developments for the Nook will be seen here. As we speak, basic hardware acceleration for CM7 is has been achieved and though slow, it is a promising sign that we will see full functionality very soon. Honeycomb is also seeing some promising development, with full 2D hardware acceleration in all applications. Exciting times are just round the corner.

Hacking the Nook Color

There are multiple ways to use a customised ROM on your Nook Color.

The easiest method would be to copy the ROM image to your micro SD card and boot your nook with the mSD card loaded. It is as simple as that. A decent image writer will be the win32 image writer (https://launchpad.net/win32-image-writer). SD images for NC can easily be obtained from XDA Sub-Forums : Barnes & Noble Nook Color. Currently, CM7 (Gingerbread 2.3), Honeycomb (3.0) and Nookie Froyo (2.2) have an SmD boot image for you to experiment the various features and trial the roms before you commit to your preferred version. The disadvantage is that this a rom running off mSD is slow and is not optimised, often resulting in laggy performance.

The next method involves flashing the eMMC, which is the Nook embedded storage.

  1. Extract the ClockworkMod recovery (http://legacyschool.us.to/nookdev/clockwork/0.1-ext4/)
  2. Use win32 image writer to burn the *.img file to the mSD
  3. Put rom zip file (don’t need to extract) at root of mSD.
  4. Put the mSD into your NC. Turn it on.
  5. You should see a screen with a lot of options in text. To select use the home (n) button. To go back/up one menu use the power button. To scroll use the volume up and down buttons.
  6. Navigate to Mount and Storage. format all of the following: data, system,and cache. Each require you to separately navigate down to YES to wipe.
  7. Go back to the home screen using the power button and select install zip from SD card, choose zip from sdcard, select the rom zip file
  8. Go back to Main Menu. Select ‘mounts and storage’ and press ‘unmount sdcard’.
  9. Take out mSD. Go back to main menu again and press ‘reboot into system’. Your device will now reboot with the new ROM boot up.
  10. The first boot up might take awhile, so be patient :)

Update (May 2012): The Nook Color has been replaced by the Nook Tablet, which offers a better processor, more ram, and larger storage. However, android development on the Nook Color is still very much active, and despite the lower-end specs, it is still quite usable in today’s context. CM7 has full features activated on the Nook Color, with full hardware acceleration, bluetooth, video playback activated. With the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich, developers are actively trying to bring a stable version to the Nook Color. The XDA Developer Forums are very active and do visit there for the latest details on how to bring the CM9 and ICS 4 experience on to the Nook Color.

Sean

Sean is a tech geek and star wars fan. He loves playing with new gadgets, writing little code snippets in Python, JS, and dabbling with Android programming from time to time, while keeping a lookout for the next biggest happening in the world of tech!

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