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I recently purchased a Barnes and Noble Nook Color and turned it into a “no frills” Android tablet.

For anyone unaware, the Nook Color is a 7” eReader sold by Barnes and Noble in the US. Unlike the other Nooks, the Color uses a 7” IPS touchscreen in place of an eInk screen. The default software is a heavily modified version of Android 2.1 Eclair. As it is designed to be primarily and eReader, the Nook Color is missing a camera, microphone, and GPS. Sadly this means no voice/video chat. It does have bluetooth and a microSD slot, as well as a speaker and headphone jack. It is also missing the standard 4 Android buttons (Back, Home, Search, and Menu) and simply has a single “Nook button” which is mapped to Home by default. It does not have any 3G connectivity, but I was only interested in a wifi tablet anyway.

The Nook Color was heavier than I expected, notably more so than my Kindle. The screen is very bright and vibrant, and has great viewing angles, but I found it a little less accurate and responsive than my Nexus One. Anyone expecting Apple-esque screen performance will be disappointed here. The battery life is not terrible, but it’s not great either. I haven’t used it enough yet to know quite how far it will get me, but it’s definitely no iPad here either. One other notable drawback is the need to use the B&N official charger. Although the Nook Color charges from a microUSB port, standard chargers will only trickle charge the device. In fact, they’re so slow to charge that using it while plugged into one will actually still decrease the battery, albeit slowly. Apparently the official charge cable has some extra pins to carry more juice.

The Nook Color retails for $250 but is only sold in the US. I was able to pick one up on eBay for less than $275 Canadian. Beyond the price, the NC offers the advantage of being incredibly easy to hack. In addition to sporting an unlocked bootloader, the NC will first attempt to boot from the microSD card, meaning that even if you screw up the software, you can simply boot off a recovery SD card. In fact, if you wish you can install a bootable version of Android to an SD card and never touch the internal storage.

You can root the version of Android that comes on, but that is kind of a waste in Canada. The B&N Android has some nice reading enhancements for Americans, but they’re useless in Canada, and the modified version of 2.1 feels clunky and slow to me, having used newer versions of Android. I replaced it immediately

The NC is heavily supported by the development community. There are a lot of custom ROMs available, including a version of Honeycomb. Unfortunately the Honeycomb ROM is based on a preview SDK and is very glitchy and unstable. Until Google releases the Honeycomb source code a decent port is impossible. In the meantime I installed CyanogenMod 7. CyanogenMod is a very popular and well-built custom ROM which supports the NC. CM7 is based on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and includes several “tablet tweaks” including soft buttons which stay on, and the ability to move the notification bar to the bottom of the screen. I also changed NC so that other software sees it as the similarly spec’d 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab.

I found CM7 infinitely better than the B&N software. It’s fast and offers a very complete and polished Android experience. The soft buttons are very effective and fully compensate for the lack of hardware buttons. I didn’t experience any real bugs in the software. The only notable issue is a few apps (Google Reader and Engadget are two of them) which don’t open in full screen and instead only open in a small part of the screen. There are also a few obvious places where the CyanogenMod team left some unnecessary system apps. With no camera or 3G connectivity, the NC probably doesn’t need the phone or camera apps ;)

Every other app I tested seems to work perfectly. I particularly appreciate the ability to stream from my SlingBox via the mobile app. By changing my NC to appear as the supported Galaxy Tab, I can also stream MLB.tv games via the At Bat 2011 app. However, my favourite part is web browsing. CM7 supports Flash 10.2. Flash games are laggy and slow, but Flash video plays nicely.

Pros:
Cheap ($250 USD)
Very active developing community
Flash

Cons:
No camera, microphone, or GPS
No standard Android buttons
No Honeycomb (yet)
Needs B&N charger
Mediocre battery life
No 3G

Despite the much longer list of cons, I’m very pleased with the result. For $100 less than a wifi Galaxy Tab, the NC is more than worth the lack of features for me. The NC performs very well, and CM7 is definitely a winner. This is likely only a holdover for me, until Honeycomb tablets are cheap. In the meantime, it does pretty much everything I expected and does it quite well. The only major detriment for me is the inability to use a standard microUSB charger, of which I have a million. I would definitely recommend this over the multitude of cheap Android junk tablets. As long as you can do some basic computer troubleshooting, it’s really easy to setup.
 

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Excellent post Colin.

I just recently acquired a NookColor and rooted it using AutoNooter. Since I have a Froyo tablet already (Archos 70it), I didn't see the need to go the CM7 route with the NC. Having read your post, I may reconsider.

One thing to note, compared to any budget tablet out there, this thing has serious build quality. As you note, it appears it will support Honeycomb as well once released.

The one question I have for you is the reading experience running CM7. I love the native B&N app and have been a little reluctant to go CM7 and lose it. How are you finding the reading experience and what software package(s) are you running (B&N, Kindle, Kobo, Adliko, etc?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
To be honest I've never used the Nook reading software. I own a Kindle 3, which I love for eReading. I put the Kindle Android app on the NC, but I will probably very rarely use it.

I know there is an Android Nook app, but I've never even looked at it. I've read a lot of people saying the NC software is much better than the app, but apparently there is some kind of excellent in-store experience which would obviously be useless in Canada. I'm not sure what else is different between the two. To be honest, my eyes kind of glaze over when I read about the Nook software, since I'm pretty well hooked into the Amazon ecosystem.

My advice is to install CM7, or another 2.2 or 2.3 ROM onto a microSD card and then try running that. As long as you're careful not to install to the internal memory, you can try other ROMs risk free.
 

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Great review TOC. I definat low budget option. i have seen some 99$ tablets over at tigerdirect.. but it sounds like developers like this product..

It really like the fact that you can boot to SD. That dual boot option is priceless. I really wish my desire would boot from SD then i could install memory that wont get full in a few days. why the internal memory of our phone is so low is beyond me.. :)
 

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TorontoColin said:
One other notable drawback is the need to use the B&N official charger. Although the Nook Color charges from a microUSB port, standard chargers will only trickle charge the device. In fact, they’re so slow to charge that using it while plugged into one will actually still decrease the battery, albeit slowly. Apparently the official charge cable has some extra pins to carry more juice.
The micro-USB charger issue is the same problem as with some other brands of smartphone and tablet. If a person doesn't have a B&N Nook Charger the solution is to purchase a typical, cheap USB charger that outputs from about 800mA to 1200mA, connect the inner-two of the cable's four electrodes with a 200Ω resistor, and the output immediately jumps to full blast so that the low power issue is solved. :)

BTW, this is not because B&N chose an oddball setup. The official USB standard specifies the 200Ω resistor type of charger for high power devices, yet the marketplace seems to not make such USB chargers commonly available at Canadian Tire, The Source, etc. etc. My Nokia N900 caused a couple of cheap USB car chargers to melt down until I found the technical documents. Don't try this with a computer's USB connection though.
 

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< 1200mA is pretty low energy so I don't think a fire risk is likely! :D Nevertheless it is a hardhack that might help some folks who are trying to keep their budget low.
 

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My new Nook Color

I too bought a Nook Color from E-bay Canada as B&N is unable to ship to this country. I also purchased a 16GB MicroSD Android gingerbread for Nook Color. However, before I received the latter, I down loaded lots of books and games and active wallpaper, apps etc. I then tried the nook with the MicroSD (without any user's manual). I have yet to figure out if I can retrieve my books and games without having to remove that tiny card all the time. I'm sure it will get lost. It is also difficult to find apps as so many are not available "in your region" or " you have no devices". At this point Nook Color realistically provides 90% of my needs.

The ultimate solution is to have a 'Dual Boot' SD. Then I could enjoy the best of both worlds. Is it possible to convert my single boot MicroSD to a Dual Boot with a download fix or must I purchase another card.

I really like the Nook Color, David
 

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I thought I'd update this thread with my experience. I just went from simple "nooting" my Nook to a full-on tablet conversion. I took a slightly different route than Colin by using Phiremod 7.1, a derivative ROM of CM7. I also did what did just above and made it dual-boot.

Just to echo the sentiments above ... I now have a fully functional, full-featured, Android tablet. Also works fine as an ereader using the Kindle/Kobo/Nook/Google reader apps as well as Aldiko.

One thing that I would add is Colin pointed out the lack of 3G. I have no problem tethering the tabletized Nook to my Android smartphone (SGS2). Where I don't have WiFi, it's pretty easy to get 3G in any event.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I took the plunge yesterday and installed an early nightly build of CM9 (Ice Cream Sandwich). There are some wifi issues and a couple of bugs here and there, and video won't play properly, but otherwise it runs like a dream. ICS is infinitely better than Gingerbread for tablet use, since apps will properly display in tablet form now.
 
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