Barnes & Noble Nook Color
Last week, CNET broke the story that Barnes & Noble would be introducing a $249 Android-based color e-reader for the holiday buying season. That product, the Nook Color, has just become official, with Barnes & Noble showing off the new device at a press conference at its flagship Union Square store in New York City today.
After a picture of the Nook Color was leaked to CNET, the biggest mystery surrounding the product was what type of screen it would sport. As we anticipated, the screen is a 7-inch touch-screen LCD, and not something more exotic like a color e-ink or a Mirasol display, which won't be available until next year. Barnes & Noble told CNET that this is a next-generation LED-backlit display supplied by LG, which is bright yet energy efficient. The product's designers added a special layer of laminate to the glass that covers the display to help cut down on glare and improve off-axis viewing.
A lot of people wondered whether this would be classified as an Android tablet, and while the device does run on Android 2.1 (it will be upgradeable to Android 2.2 next year) and offers additional functionality such as Web browsing, audio and video playback, and some basic games, Barnes & Noble is spinning it as a "reader's tablet." The Nook Color has built-in Wi-Fi but no 3G, and comes with 8GB of internal memory, plus the capability to expand capacity via a microSD expansion slot tucked into the bottom of the device near its "corner slot."
Here are its key specs:
- 7-inch VividView color touch screen (1,024x600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi; more than 16 million colors)
- 8.1 inches by 5 inches by .48 inches (HWD)
- 15.8 ounces
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Runs on Android 2.1 (upgradeable to 2.2 in 2011)
- 8GB of built-in memory, plus microSD expansion slot for adding more memory
- Supports PDF and ePub files, as well Word, Excel, and PowerPoint using built-in Quickoffice software
- Image files supported: JPG, PNG, GIF, and BMP files (use personal photos for wallpaper)
- Video playback via Android Media Player
- Sealed-in battery delivers eight hours of continuous reading time
- Pandora preloaded
- Web browser (no Flash support in Android 2.1 but will be added in 2.2)
- No Android Market, but Barnes & Noble will sell some apps through its own store
- Integrated social-networking and LendMe apps
- Price: $249
- Ship date: November 19
- Available in Barnes & Noble stores, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Books-A-Million
We got a chance to see a demo of the Nook Color in action, and all in all we were impressed. The unit is a tad heavy, at nearly a pound, and some will undoubtedly complain that the eight hours of battery life (continuous reading) is less than ideal for an e-reader. But the device looks sleek--sort of like a poor man's iPad, though not as functional.
It was hard to tell if the capacitive touch screen was as responsive as the iPad's, but it seemed to function smoothly and switching between applications was zippy (much zippier than with an e-ink display anyway). We also liked that the designers included a physical home button--it's the "N" at the bottom of the device--rather than a virtual one. The hard button makes going back to the home screen easier and it's well placed.
That home screen is different than the ones found on most Android tablets we've seen. You can drag and drop items you want to have quick access to into the middle of the screen, then navigate by touching menus on the bottom and side of the screen. We expect to see some tweaks and bug fixes moving forward, but anybody who's used the iPad knows there are big advantages in moving to a touch-screen interface, especially when it comes to e-reading (you can highlight passages with a finger, look up words in the dictionary by tapping on them, and so forth).
Along with its large selection of e-books (Barnes & Noble says it offers 2 million titles in its "newly expanded" Nookbook Store), the company is making a bigger push into kids' content with its new Nook kids brand that features 130 "digital picture books" designed to take advantage of such color devices as the Nook Color and the iPad. At the same time, the company is highlighting how well the Nook Color handles periodical content, particularly magazines (one of the featured partners is National Geographic but Barnes & Noble is also offering subscriptions for plenty of other titles). "Periodicals, available by subscription and single copy, will continue to become even more interactive next year," the company says.
Another big push is into the social-networking arena, as the Nook Color makes it easy to share content on Facebook and Twitter through an integrated app that allows you to tell the world what you're reading--or just call out select passages (this is being branded as "Nookfriends" technology). Also, the LendMe feature, which permits you to lend certain e-books (the publisher must allow this feature to be activated) once for up to 14 days, is now integrated into the Nook Color's reading app. You can set up a network of friends on the device and share content, though the aforementioned restrictions apply.
It will be interesting to follow consumers' response to the Nook Color. A lot of readers love e-ink because there's no backlighting and the screen is viewable in direct sunlight. However, when we spoke to Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch, he said the company had done extensive research on displays and discovered that eye-strain with LCDs was not the huge issue many people were making it out to be. He was confident people would be comfortable reading on the Nook Color.
It also appears evident that Barnes & Noble thinks e-readers are headed toward color. While it will continue to sell its e-ink e-readers, the Nook Wi-Fi and Nook 3G--and will soon offer a firmware upgrade to improve page-turn speeds and other enhancements--it plans on supporting the Nook Color with a major marketing effort that includes redesigned Nook Boutiques in all its stores.
B&N also will sell a number of accessories for the device, such as covers and charms to attach to the device's corner slot. In case you're wondering about the thinking that went into that slot, Lynch told CNET that the Nook Color's designer, fuseproject, felt strongly that the device should have a signature design element. Fuseproject also designed Aliph's Jawbone headsets.
We'll reserve final judgment for our actual, hands-on review of the Nook Color next month. That said, just looking at the features and price point, it seems that the new Nook Color will be staking a strong claim in the sub-$300 category, bridging the "better than a black-and-white e-ink reader, but less expensive than an iPad" space. At the very least, it seems that more expensive color readers such as the Velocity Cruz will definitely have their work cut out for them.