Review: NOOKcolor

This post is more than 2 years old.

About a week or so I was lucky enough to be given a NOOKcolor (thanks Ted!) and I thought I'd give my opinion on it. I started using the Nook with some initial assumptions.

  1. While I really like what's going on with tablets lately, I'm probably not the ideal customer for one. I've got a killer desktop for my 9-5 and at night I sit next to a killer laptop. I do a lot of nighttime work (mostly for fun and mostly because TV is crap) and want a 'real' machine at my disposal at all times.
  2. I love books. But I've been blessed by readers visiting my wishlist to the point now where I've got - approximately - two years worth of books. I never buy books anymore. I will, from time to time, pick up the latest book in a series that I'm really into (most recently that was After America), but for the most part, I just don't buy books.

So over all I figured - I'll like this device but I'll put it aside after a week or so. I was completely wrong.

First off - the screen on this thing is amazing. I stare at computer screens probably 90% of my day and get used to my eyes feeling a bit strained by the time I hit the sack. But this thing is like butter for the eyes. Crystal clear, warm (not sure if "warm" is appropriate, but it seems to fit), and bright, I could almost read the text from a few feet away. It weighs a bit more than you would think by looking at it, but nothing that would really impact a normal session of reading. The Nook comes preloaded with two children's books (more on that in a minute) which are simply gorgeous. I also tried an 'adult' book (Stephen King's latest) and the text was both crisp and easy to navigate. I do wish the Nook shipped with one less "baby" book and had selected a more adult item. Perhaps a classic work of literature. I'm not quite sure why two kids books were necessary. That being said, it's easy enough to purchase books and magazines (some of which come with free trials) and every bit of written work I've seen so far looks beautiful on the display. I also tested a few PDFs, including the ColdFusion documentation and the new, and very excellent, Flex 4 in Action. Both rendered perfectly. I mean - it looked exactly as it would have on my computer screen. The text was a bit small, but you can pinch and zoom to get rid of any margins on the side.

Of course, it isn't just a reader. The Nook comes with extras including a few games (the Sudoku game seems brutal), a music app, a contacts thing (not quite sure how I'd use it - the Nook can tie into your Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts, but it has yet to read in any of my Google contacts), and even Pandora. Pandora is a bit buggy though. Once you start the application you can't stop it unless you log out. To be clear, you can stop the music, but the application continues to run in the background. There should be a way to stop the application without having to log back in. There is also support for music and video. The music player acts like pretty much any other - you get basic audio controls and the album cover is displayed - but it looked really nice on the Nook. Video is... incredible. I've been using my phone for the past few years to watch movies and TV on airplanes. It's gotten to a point now where I look forward to flights as a way to catch up with stuff I haven't had a chance to see yet. Sure it's not as good as a big screen TV but it's a great way to make time pass on a flight. I loaded up Handbrake (see my tip at the end) and converted Empire Strikes Back. I copied it over to the Nook (one other little oddity is that when you connect the Nook to a PC, it must be in USB mode and cannot be used for anything else - that doesn't make sense) and played it. Wow. I cannot describe how fracking good the video looked. While still not as good as a 'real' TV, I can see completely skipping my phone for movies on the next trip and just using this. Not only was the video extremely clear, it was easy to zip back and forth within the file as well.

The Nook has a built in browser that works pretty good as well. It does not support Flash but I've been told this will be corrected in an update in 2011. I tried my web site, Slashdot, and a few others. GMail's mobile reader works very good as well. I found the standard Gmail a bit small but their mobile version worked perfectly. Unfortunately you have to 'fake' you way into it. Google doesn't provide a nice way to load the mobile version. If you try to hit it via the mobile URL you basically get an ad telling you to hit the page with your mobile browser. I googled a bit and found the right URL. Once I had that I simply bookmarked it. I mentioned above that I've got a laptop by me at night. I'm now using the Nook more for email than the laptop. The keyboard is very responsive and works great.

All of the above is great and all - but one thing impressed me more than anything else. I had my daughter give the Nook a try. She is 9 years old and has a few intellectual challenges. I loaded up one of the kids books and handed the Nook to her. I didn't tell her how to use it at all. Immediately she put her fingers on it and dragged to change the page. Now of course this is pretty similar to what you would do in real life, but it still impressed me that the Nook was usable by a child with no training at all. I think that was what sealed the deal for me. What's even more interesting is that the Nook has a development platform. From what I know the market - when it does launch - will not be open like on an Android mobile device. Barnes and Noble are really positioning this as a reading device and not 'just' a tablet. Therefore applications will be focused more on reading and books and less on irritated birds. That being said the fact that you can build for the device turns this already incredible device into something even more useful. I'm very curious to see what ends up becoming available.

So as I said - I went into this process thinking I wouldn't like it nearly as much as I did. I also had memories of my Kindle. To be fair - that was from 2 years ago. But this device simply blew me away. I can say that I will definitely be purchasing my books on it going forward.

So now - some links/tips:

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/11/2010 at 2:45 AM

One more thing I forgot. The Nook supports dictionary lookup while reading - but it would be nice if it had a proper Dictionary application. I may want to look up some random word I just heard on TV or something I read online.

Comment 2 by Jon posted on 12/11/2010 at 3:18 AM

I, like you, have not paid for a book in a while. My in-laws give me B&N gift cards for my nook - Black and White version. I love it for reading. I have about 40 books in it and it still doesn't weigh very much. Now that I heard your review, I might have to step up to the color one this holiday season. I heard initially it was not very responsive for turning pages, but that might have been with the initial release. I didn't realize it could do video too, a definate pluse.

Comment 3 by andy matthews posted on 12/11/2010 at 3:29 AM

Really? "Web site"? Two words? What is this, 1998?

Seriously though, good review. My daughter is almost 5 and I can see getting her an inexpensive device like this to use for reading. Thanks for the great review Ray.

Comment 4 by Brian Swartzfager posted on 12/11/2010 at 3:31 AM

Nice write-up, Ray. I also have a Nook Color, but I haven't played around with the "non-reader" features as much as you have.

Even though the screen is beautiful and crisp, I was initially worried that it would still strain my eyes after a while. But I read on it for several hours straight last weekend with no problems.

One of the nice things about the Nook platform is the support for the ePub format, which is one of the formats supported by the new Google eBookstore. Despite's Google emphasis on the idea of storing your ebooks in the cloud, you CAN download an ebook purchased from Google onto your Nook using Adobe Digital Editions (a free download). So us Nook users can get our books from either Barnes & Noble or Google.

Comment 5 by Phillip Senn posted on 12/11/2010 at 4:26 AM

Wow! I had no idea.
We have a Kindle 2, but this is a whole new ball game.

Comment 6 by Ryan Anklam posted on 12/12/2010 at 12:42 AM

Good write up Ray, definitely swayed me to get rid of my e-paper nook for a nook color. Have you tried to look at any technical documents on it yet? Like say, the ColdFusion developers guide? Reading that on my old nook was difficult at best. I'd love some screenshots showing how it renders code samples and diagrams.

Comment 7 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/12/2010 at 12:47 AM

The CFML Reference was a bit small. You can zoom easily enough. It's not "ideal" but more than usable... as a reference. I didn't try the Developers Guide which is more like a 'regular' book.

The Flex 4 book though was great. Again - a bit small compared to the real books you buy, but I think definitely acceptable. Graphics and code looked darn nice.

I get free books from ORO for blogging reviews (I'm hoping to review a JavaScript book next week). Next time I get one from them I'm going to see if they have an epub format instead of PDF.

Comment 8 by Kerr posted on 12/12/2010 at 2:30 AM

Thanks for taking the time to write up this review. I've been following tablets quite a bit lately, as it's likely our technician workforce is going to move from touchscreen based laptops to some sort of tablet.

I must disagree with the categorical "TV is crap" assessment.
Mad Men
Boardwalk Empire

Comment 9 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/12/2010 at 2:31 AM

@Kerr: True true. Not _all_ TV is crap. Just most. ;) My definition of 'good' TV is a show that makes me put down my laptop.

Comment 10 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/12/2010 at 2:31 AM

@Kerr: True true. Not _all_ TV is crap. Just most. ;) My definition of 'good' TV is a show that makes me put down my laptop.

Comment 11 by Kerr posted on 12/12/2010 at 2:33 AM

Oh, I just saw the dictionary lookup comment... that's an awesome feature.

Comment 12 by Kerr posted on 12/12/2010 at 10:48 PM

Oh I'm definitely the same way. My laptop is oftentimes my primary focus while TV is on in the background.

Comment 13 by Gary Funk posted on 12/13/2010 at 6:04 AM

I like that. TV is mostly background noise for me.

Unless it's Holmes on Homes.

Comment 14 by Debbie posted on 12/13/2010 at 6:43 PM

Good to see the positive reviews! I got a b/w nook for Christmas last year and love it...hoping Santa upgrades me to the color version this year. :-)

According to the website, your contacts list can be used for borrowing/lending books: "See something on a friend's bookshelf that you've been meaning to read? NOOKcolor makes it easy to borrow books from friends for up to 14 days. Just pull up your list of contacts, then browse a friend's NOOKcolor library to choose the book you want to borrow. Within seconds, NOOKcolor will send an email to your friend with a request to borrow that book. Once they give the ok, the book will appear right on your NOOKcolor in seconds ready for you to download and enjoy."

Comment 15 by Mr. Michael Santoroski posted on 12/13/2010 at 7:16 PM

Some of the things you complained about, apps running in the background and USB having to be in disk mode, etc. are just part of Android. I don't know what version this is running but 2.2 does a very good job of cleaning these up as needed.

Comment 16 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/13/2010 at 7:49 PM

@Santoroksi: It's Android 2.1.

Comment 17 by Damon Gentry posted on 12/13/2010 at 9:59 PM

I got a Nook Color this year as well. Like you, I've found the device more useful than I originally anticipated. I especially like the fact that you can order books from more than just a single supplier. For example, you can purchase ePUB formatted books from O-Reilly that are slightly less expensive than the same titles from BN.

Comment 18 by JC posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:07 AM

Nice, Ray. :) I'm pretty happy with my e-paper Nook, but then, it saved me the trouble of carting a few hundred books down to my new job. And I already had a few hundred epub files laying around that I'd been reading on my iphone. But I got tired of interrupting my reading, and being unable to read and chat with someone online at the same time, so... Nook.

If you want a really nice, high quality cover, check out I've been using their products since about 1996 (journal, planner, wallet, checkbook, bookmark), and giving assorted friends their refillable journals as gifts for years. I ordered a Nook cover for myself for Christmas. They're gorgeous, thick, hand-tooled leather. I'm doing bold celtic to match all my other stuff, but they were kind enough to let me do it in chocolate brown even though they don't offer that design in that color for the nook, because it's what I have on all my other stuff from them. :)

Comment 19 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:10 AM

Wow, that's some epic covers. I really, really, _really_ need a cover as I'm concerned about my Nook getting scratched. Will need to wait for the new year though (all $$ gone to kids for XMas. ;)

Comment 20 by Brian Swartzfager posted on 12/14/2010 at 12:30 AM

@JC: Those covers are really nice. I wanted to get one the same day I got the Nook, so I bought the Vasco Cover model from B&N. The front flap uses two magnets to stay closed (no need to fiddle with an elastic band), and it folds over to the back quite nicely for reading.

Comment 21 by Mike posted on 12/14/2010 at 1:15 AM

I took a look at the nook (more for rooting and just using it at as a android tablet ) then I ended up picking up the Archos 101 tablet, its android 2.2 plays flash (another feature because my phone is too slow to play flash so I cant do any AIR or flex dev for it) as well as HD vid etc even has HDMI out ,anyhow its only 299 for a 10.1 inch android 2.2 tablet you should take a look at that as well. Just thought Id throw my 2 cents in ;)

Comment 22 by Mr. Michael Santoroski posted on 12/15/2010 at 12:07 AM

I looks like the NookColor is getting Android 2.2 and market in the next update. That makes it a pretty sweet $250 tablet.

Comment 23 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/15/2010 at 12:08 AM

The NookColor is NOT getting the Android market. I've got 100% confirmation on that. It _is_ getting a market of it's own.

Comment 24 by AndyC posted on 12/24/2010 at 8:53 AM

I cant seem to locate the Handbrake tip
Good review. I've just laid out the cash

Comment 25 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/24/2010 at 7:17 PM

Shoot - I forgot the tip. So - if I remember right, I started off selecting the iPhone/iTouch preset. I then increased the size to match the resolution of the Nook. This created a nicely sized version of the movie.

Comment 26 by Raymond Camden posted on 4/25/2011 at 6:27 PM

FYI, the "big" update came out today: