Wednesday, January 5, 2011

B&N's NOOKcolor Does Not Suck

It's my fifth or sixth ebook reading experience. It's got a color display you can see in the daylight and an awesomely responsive touchscreen interface. Right out of the box you can connect to the Internet, provided you have access to WI-FI. With a little bit of tinkering, you can unlock the full potential of the Android operating system and play games like Angry Birds, no problem. (I say no problem, but hey, it is a bit of a hassle.)

I've long maintained that ebook readers suck, but if ever a device could change my mind, it'd be the NOOKcolor. Sure, iPad consumers reportedly love their stupidly expensive, notebook-sized monstrosities (which don't even have micro SD slots, by the way), but the ultra-portable NOOKcolor is an easier transition for bookworms who are skeptical of digital literature. Not just because it's only $250, either.

The screen is small, but not too small for reading comic books. It weighs a little more than you'd expect, but it's more durable than any portable gadget I can think of, a feature I noticed the second I pulled it out of the box. I dropped mine getting out of my car a couple of weeks ago and it didn't even scratch. The forty dollar protective covers, by the way, are worth every penny, though they do advertise to thieves that you're carrying a Nook and they make the web browser's landscape mode a little clumsy. So does the charge cable which plugs into the bottom. Reading in bed while you're charging is uncomfortable because the stupid charge cable pokes your belly, the natural place for the book to rest.

Ah, the charge cable. Yes, it's goofy and the device-side connection is unlike anything you already own. It didn't have to be and fuck anyone who says otherwise. Nobody's going to tell me they couldn't have made it a standard USB connection. Why do manufacturers keep doing this to us? Because they want to force us to buy the same fucking cables we already own over and again. Because of this nonsense, I have three plugs by my bed, when it should have only been one. I think I was unfavorable in my review of the older Nook and Barnes & Noble fucked us again, though not as bad.

Another complaint is the lack of features at launch. After all, it is an Android device with quite a bit of power, but if you want to run Android market apps, you're going to have to root. Why give us so much power and then restrict our app selection to dinky little crossword puzzles and sudoku games? Why give us the power to run Skype, but leave out a microphone?

Did a chairman or something think the device was too cool, that they needed to tame it with a generous helping of suck? What we have here is a potential hot rod with a speed regulator hidden beneath its tamper-resistant hood. If you're not a very technical person, you're going to have to do what all non-technical people do—spend a few hundred extra bucks and get a shitty Apple product. Otherwise, look into rooting the device.

A future software update will unlock some more of the device's power—they're calling it Froyo (version 2.2 of Android), but without the same marketplace available on my phone, I believe they should call it anything but. Why would they do this? Because they're assholes, plain and simple. As is, the NOOKcolor is an awesome budget competitor to the iPad, but a watered-down marketplace means they're going to lose sales to people who don't have the technical confidence to root.

While I'm at it, why can't you bookmark .pdf files? And why can't I turn off the time display? It's like going to a movie theater with a clock in the lower right corner of the screen.

Many of the flaws I've mentioned about previous ereaders remain, too, but Barnes & Noble finally made something with enough pros to help you forget the cons. The screen resolution is more than satisfactory (especially compared to cheaper ebook readers like the Pandigital Novel—good luck reading a comic on that) and the virtual keyboard is, in a word, kind of sweet. And I'm not a guy who likes virtual keyboards.

I used to carry a netbook and a paperback wherever I went, but the color Nook, for me, consolidates the two items. On the other hand, I won't read it in the bathtub and I won't take it to the lake, and while it won't make paper books absolutely obsolete for me, nothing has come closer to making me a convert.

To be honest, Kindle might still be the best ebook reader out there right now, but only because the color Nook transcends the class. Think of it as a tablet that just happens to display books and comics better than anything with e-ink. Is it better than iPad? I guess it depends on what you want, how much money you're willing to spend, and how technical you're willing to get.

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