The Hecklers
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference."

Confession: we’re an Apple house.

We know that Apple, as a company, is not infallible. But they do so many things right that it’s difficult not to appreciate their awesomeness. (Yes, I said the ‘A’ word…sigh)

We have an iPad, 1st generation, and it’s quite an amazing device. We also have Macs, iPod Touches, and a couple of iPhones. Yes, we’re hooked!

But the scarcity of the iPad 2 led me to seriously consider alternatives. What’s that you say? There are none? Well, to some degree that is true. Apple has seriously outperformed and underpriced everyone in the tablet arena. If you’ve ever used an iPad, you’ll almost certainly agree.

We’ve used Android phones for the past year (alongside the iPhone), and while they’re very nice overall, they lack the polish of the “Jesus Phone”, as some wags call the iPhone. There is a reason it’s king of the hill.

But back to that iPad 2 supply shortage. With the crises in Japan – and by the way, our hearts really go out to the Japanese populace – that shortage may exist for some time. Time to consider an alternative? For me it was, at least for the short (and possibly longer) term.

The current crop of Android tablets doesn’t exactly inspire in terms of price/performance. The Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy, and others seem expensive and inelegant. Somewhere along the line, though, I’d read that the quiet little Nook Color, a device crafted by bookseller Barnes & Noble, ran Android as its underlying Operating System (OS). Hmm…could its capabilities be extended to do a bit more than advertised? Could it be coaxed into being a useful tablet?

The short answer is thankfully “YES!” Our family also owns a couple of Kindles, and while they are very nice devices for reading, I’ve concluded that no more dedicated devices must enter our premises. No, I don’t load my readers with music, and yes, you can (in quite awkward fashion) surf the web on a Kindle. But when I buy a device, I expect it to be mine. You can jailbreak an iOS device and you can “root” a Nook Color, but what can you do to expand the capabilities of a Kindle?

Anyway, back to the Nook Color (NC). If B&N had crippled the NC so that I couldn’t fully use what I paid good money to use, I wouldn’t have bought it. Hats off to Barnes & Noble for their philosophy, at least thus far: they’ve tailored the device to do one thing exceedingly well: download and display eBooks from B&N. BUT – and here’s the key distinction between B&N and Amazon – they don’t aggressively limit the capabilities of the tablet you buy from them. It’s fairly easy to “root” (so-called because you’re gaining “root”, or super-user privileges over the device) and gain the best of both worlds: a great eReader, and a great Android-based tablet device.

It’s easy to find the resources to root your NC; just head to your favorite search engine and type “Nook Color rooted” and start visiting the linked sites. Of particular interest is the nookdevs site, where they cover almost every topic you could imagine related to this. Kudos for their hard work; kudos also to the folks who created the auto-rooting software; it’s sweet.

This article really isn’t focused upon the “how”, although there are two things I feel compelled to mention: first, you need a Micro SD card to root your NC, and it must be 128M or larger. Second, when it reboots after being rooted, it prompts you for your GMail account/password. Entering your existing one doesn’t work, so you must SKIP THIS STEP. The instructions are a bit fuzzy on that at this point (hope they’re revised soon to eliminate confusion!), but once you’re past that, you can connect the dots by hitting YouTube and GMail from the Extras screen. Life is good.

Now that we’re rooted, here are some observations, in no particular order.

Amazon is missing the boat; B&N=genius

As a huge Amazon fan (go Jeff!), I’m afraid they’re falling down on this one. B&N’s ability to deliver a great eReader that isn’t (really) crippled is so impressive that I find myself browsing their bookstore and buying books there. As someone who has always bought from Amazon – and yes, I have the Kindle app on my NC so I can continue to read those Kindle books I’ve already purchased, and yes, it works very well, thank you – any company that can deliver such a compelling device for such a reasonable price has earned my business. The rooted Nook Color has definitely changed my purchasing habits.

(Side note: B&N software developers, PLEASE add a “night mode” capability (white text on black background). The Kindle app has it and so does Kobo. Please?)

Availability is key

I want an iPad 2, and I hope to still get one…someday. But I walked into my local B&N last Wednesday and walked out minutes later with a beautiful Nook Color. Charging took a couple of hours, and rooting it took perhaps 30 minutes the next evening. Moments later, I was downloading apps from the Android Market. Meanwhile, iPad 2 delivery estimates are 4-5 weeks, at last check. Why wait?

I look at it like this: if I like the NC so well I decide against buying an iPad 2, I’ve saved serious money. A more likely scenario, though, is I’ll get an iPad 2 at some point and pass down the NC to a family member eager to get it…all the while, buying B&N eBooks and sharing them among devices. It’s a great strategy on B&N’s part, and I’m happy that it works out as well for us as it does for them.  :-)

Android vs. iOS

Android is good, but it (and the Android Market) feels like a rowdy kid running a mall kiosk compared to iOS and a typical Apple Store. Apple has polish, Apple has selection, Apple has the best of everything. Android is very, very good…but it’s not quite “there”. I like it, and the tinkerer in me does appreciate the ability to play…but the experiences are very different. If you like the smooth experience of the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, you may find using Android similar, but a bit jarring.

It’s small, but heavy (and other observations)

The Nook Color is a small device, about the size of a large paperback. I bought a silicone wrap-around cover (very nice!) and a neoprene sleeve for it, which seem the best of both worlds to me: I can protect it while reading without worrying about a book flap, yet protect the screen better when not in use. The one downside is that this little dude is heavy for its size. The heft is nice in many situations, but reading in bed when falling asleep can really get your attention when it drops on your face. Or so I’ve heard.  ;-)

Conclusions, disclaimers

My advice is to visit a B&N and give the Nook Color a try. Check out the sample books on it, visit the Extras section and surf the web a bit, and realize that this is just the beginning of the device’s capabilities. If you don’t mind a bit of risk (rooting the NC almost certainly voids the warranty), are somewhat tech-savvy, and can follow directions carefully, this $250 device that is available now puts a lot of power in your hands.

Please realize that any good or bad results you may obtain by rooting your Nook Color are yours and yours alone. Please also realize that any company that allows you the choice to take that risk – or not – deserves your business. Thank you B&N!

All the best to you in your technical (and reading!) endeavors,
Mark

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