Barnes & Noble Nook Color
Barnes & Noble
Typical Price: $219.95
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.5 / 5
The good: Color e-book reader with vibrant 7-inch touch screen; zippy performance; built-in Wi-Fi; Barnes & Noble Nookbook store; 8GB onboard memory, plus microSD expansion slot; built-in Web browser works well; supports PDF, Word, and ePub files; displays images and some video formats; support for audio and MP3 playback; new Nook apps expand functionality of the device and make it more of a full-featured tablet; Flash support for Web browser.
The bad: Eight hours battery life for reading pales in comparison with battery life on e-ink readers; no access to full Android Market; battery isn't user-replaceable; processor could be faster.
The bottom line: Barnes & Noble's Nook Color is a capable color touch-screen e-book reader that offers much of the functionality of an Android tablet for half the price of an iPad.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Editors' note (August 12, 2012): Barnes & Noble has cut the price of the Nook Color reviewed here to $149. Prospective buyers should note the rumor that Barnes & Noble is planning to launch an updated Nook Tablet later in 2012.
Editors' note (November 17, 2011): As of mid-November 2011, the price of the Nook Color reviewed here has dropped to $199. The product (which was originally awarded an Editors' Choice) now co-exists with the newly announced $249 Nook Tablet (faster processor, more storage, more memory) and the competing $199 Amazon Kindle Fire. As a result of these newer and better performing competing devices, we've lowered the rating of the Nook Color accordingly. See Kindle vs. Nook vs. iPad: Which e-book reader should you buy? for more information.
Editors' note (May 19, 2011): This review has been updated to reflect major software update for the Nook Color that Barnes & Noble released on April 25, 2011. The new software adds a variety of upgrades, including Flash video support, and a curated app store that includes dozens of new apps, including an e-mail client.
Back at the end of 2009, Barnes & Noble debuted an e-ink reader, the Nook, that differentiated itself from the Amazon Kindle by having a small color LCD at the bottom of the screen for navigation and keyboard entry, among other things. Now the company isn't messing around with a small strip of color and is instead betting the farm on a full-color e-reader that features a 7-inch touch-screen LCD, built-in Wi-Fi (but no 3G wireless), and has people asking: is it an e-reader or a tablet?
The short answer is both--or as Barnes & Noble is spinning it, this is a "reader's tablet." The product's design was handled by Fuseproject, the same firm behind Aliph's Jawbone headsets. The company's done a nice job of making the device look sleek and compact; it's more of a head-turner than the Samsung Galaxy Tab. But when you pick up the device, your first reaction will probably be, "Wow, this feels a little heavier than it looks."
At just a shade less than a pound, it's about twice the weight of the latest-generation Kindle, a bit more than the standard Nook (which weighs 11.2 ounces), but is significantly lighter than an iPad, which tips the scales at around 21 ounces. While you can argue over what's the ideal size for an e-reader, for a lot of folks, the Nook Color, despite a little heft, will seem geometrically appealing: it's small enough to fit in a purse or laptop bag (alongside your laptop)--or even certain jacket pockets--yet has enough screen real estate to show a good amount of text or display the children's books, graphic novels, and e-magazines Barnes & Noble's will be marketing toward owners of this device. (If you compare the Nook Color with the standard Nook, you'll notice that it's roughly the same width and only about an inch taller).
And what about the screen? Well, Barnes & Noble says it's a next-generation LED-backlit display (1,024x600-pixel resolution at 169 ppi, with more than 16 million colors) supplied by LG that 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. However, like any screen that has a layer of glass over it, it's not immune to glare and like the iPad's screen, it is a finger-print magnet and will potentially crack if dropped (we strongly suggest purchasing a case). That said, the touch mechanics are quite responsive and the device as a whole is satisfactorily zippy. It may not be quite as zippy as the iPad, but we didn't think the device was held back by any performance issues and we thought both text and images looked very good on the screen. Also, page turns were fast.
A lot of people wondered whether this would be classified as an Android tablet, and the answer at first was "not quite" unless you were willing to "root" the device with custom firmware that could be found on the web (modifying your Nook Color's firmware unlocks the device and turns it into an Android tablet but you lose Barnes & Noble's interface and tight integration with its e-bookstore). However, now that Barnes & Noble has upgraded the Nook Color with Android 2.2 software and added Flash support for Web browsing and the ability to download apps to the device, the Nook Color has become more of a full-fledged tablet. To be clear, this is not a truly open app store along the lines of the Android Market but one curated by Barnes & Noble. At launch, there were over 125 apps offered, including several games, but that list is growing, so you can expect a wider selection in the months to come. As part of the version 1.2 upgrade, Barnes now includes a free integrated e-mail app and something called Nook Friends, which is currently labeled with the "beta" tag. Barnes & Noble is calling Nook Friends the "go-to social network for people who love to read." It says that Nook Color users can create a group of Nook Friends to "easily swap books, get a friend's take on a new best seller, discover great new reads, or see if someone's enjoying a book they recommended on the Friend's Activity tab." You can also view your Nook Friends' content ratings and reviews, shared quotes, recommendations, and how they're progressing on their latest books. You could call this Barnes & Noble's take on the digital book club, and it will be interesting to see users' response to it. (For a more complete rundown of the additions that are a part of the Nook Color firmware 1.2 upgrage, go to this post) As far as the user experience goes, the Nook Color's interface might not quite reach an Apple-level of user friendliness, we were generally impressed with how elegant the UI is and how easy the Nook Color is to operate and navigate. Anyone who didn't like the interaction between the touch-screen color strip and the e-ink screen on the standard Nook will find the full touch-screen interface a breath of fresh air. 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. 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 hundreds of "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).
We can't say those magazines will be a bargain price-wise, but they do look pretty good on the device. Yes, the screen is smaller than the iPad's, but you can zoom in and out by pinching and spreading your fingers, and there's a special "article view" that blows up the text and presents it in a more readable vertical column. Also, with a tap of button, you can access a thumbnail view that lets you scroll quickly from page to page and select the page you want. It's also worth noting that the Nook Color does display video, and the company says, "Periodicals, available by subscription and single copy, will continue to become even more interactive next year."
For those who aren't aware, certain e-books are lendable, and Barnes & Noble's 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. As previously noted, you can set up a network of friends on the device and share content, though the aforementioned restrictions apply.
Some quick impressions
In many CNET reviews we spend a lot of time talking about how a device is designed and what its features are, but sometimes not quite enough about what it's like to actually use the device. So, here are some observations after living with the Nook Color for three days:
- • We liked the general responsiveness of the device. It operated more smoothly than we thought it would and the screen was sharp and offered enough resolution. No, it's not a Retina display, but it's got some pop to it.
- • That said, it's not as smooth and responsive as the iPad.
- • Books download extremely quickly to the device. In many cases, you can be reading a new book in less than 10 seconds; in some cases 5 seconds.
- • The device is a little on the heavy side. Reading in bed, you will probably end up propping it up on your chest (same is true of the iPad).
- • When we were on a good, high-speed Wi-Fi network, the Web-browsing experience was good. Like with the iPad, you can spread and pinch to zoom in Web-browsing mode (you tap to zoom). Flash support is a nice plus, but don't expect all Flash video to run smoothly; Flash is still pretty finicky.
- • We had the occasional browser crash that locked up the device--funnily, when trying to browse to CNET.com's home page.
- • Using built-in Quickoffice software, we thought the device did a decent job handling PDF, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. The Nook Color is definitely more adept at viewing PDF files than any e-ink based e-reader.
- • JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP image files are viewable, and you can use any personal photo as wallpaper for the device.
- • To import files to the device, you simply connect the Nook Color to your computer via USB and drag and drop files on to the device or the microSD card (if you have one installed). The device will charge when connected to your computer.
- • You can drag and drop ePub files to a folder on the device and have a separate library of books you can access. In this regard, the Nook Color is more versatile than the Kindle, which does not support ePub. The Nook Color also accepts "loaned" ePub files from libraries.
- • Video support is fairly limited (you're dealing with Android Media Player). We tried some AVI files and Flip Video files to no avail, but had better luck with MPEG4 files that were compatible with an iPod/iPhone, Zune or PSP.
- • When playing audio with Barnes & Noble's children's books (some of them have a voice-over track that reads to kids), the audio levels from the speaker on the back of the device were fine. However, the audio levels with some of our video files didn't play loud enough (we had to use the headphone jack).
- • The shopping experience from the device has been much improved (it's much better shopping on the Nook Color than the standard Nook.
- • Barnes & Noble says it has improved its in-store streaming of books (yes, you can go into B&N stores and stream certain books for free for an hour at a time). We haven't had a chance to try it out yet but we'll report back when we do.
- • The Nook Color is rated at 8 hours of battery life for reading. That's actually OK, but when you run into problems is if you start doing a lot of Web surfing or running video. That's probably part of the reason Barnes & Noble doesn't want to emphasize graphically rich games. Doing stuff other than reading (except audio playback) definitely has a bigger impact on battery.
- • Some people complain that reading on an LCD causes eyestrain. We're a fan of e-ink displays and they are clearly superior for outdoor use, particularly in direct sunlight. But we didn't have a problem reading for well over an hour straight using the Nook Color's display and the LCD is viewable in dark environments (there are various screen settings, including a "sepia" and "night" mode).
- • The Nook Color offers six font sizes, plus six different fonts to choose from.
- • Barnes & Noble is selling plenty of accessories for the Nook Color, including a variety of cases and even signature charms that latch onto the Nook's signature "hook" at the bottom of the device.
- • Much like the iPad, the Nook Color must be charged with its special charger (included) or via the USB port on your computer.
When the Nook Color first arrived, we thought it was a polished, capable e-reader that had some nice extras but we lamented the fact that it came with just a handful of apps. With its firmware 1.2 upgrade and the launch of an app store, the Nook Color may not have become a full-fledged Android tablet but it does a better job masquerading as one and it certainly measures up to its billing as a full-featured "Readers tablet." and it remains a comparably good value at $250 (many of those who've "rooted" their Nook Colors consider it a great value).
While it's certainly not as zippy as other, albeit more expensive tablets, for the majority of users who are looking for a device that allows you to read e-books and periodicals, surf the Web (with Flash support), do e-mail and run some games and apps, the Nook Color is a good choice that's priced right--for the moment anyway.
We've called this the poor man's iPad in the past, and though it isn't exactly that (with all its apps the iPad simply offers much more functionality), its reading experience certainly rivals that of the iPad--just on a smaller, more portable scale.
In that sense, you could argue that it splits the difference between the iPad and the Kindle pretty well, offering the color touch-screen--neither "color" nor "touch screen" is available on the Kindle--at a price and size that's half that of the iPad. If you're not sold on e-ink and you don't want something as pricey and as heavy as the iPad, the Nook Color is your best bet.
Average User Rating: 3.5 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 68
4 Star: 62
3 Star: 16
2 Star: 21
1 Star: 21
It beat my expectations
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on November 18, 2010
22 out of 22 users found this review helpful
Pros: Relatively snappy performance. Physical home button is convenient. Wide range of formats. Decent web performance. Beautiful display. Expansion slot.
Cons: I wish there were a page-flip graphic when flipping pages on books. Expansion slot a little funky to get to (but I haven't actually put anything in it yet).
Summary: I'm reviewing this as a reader's tablet, which is how it's marketed and what I wanted when I bought it. It's not an iPad and doesn't claim the same functionality. For the price, it does what it claims to do extremely well, which is why I'm giving it 4.5 stars.
The LCD screen is beautiful and reading on it is not a problem, though I have never owned an e-ink display device so I can't make a direct comparison. About that - I don't read in the sunlight, I read at home, typically when it's dark out, so the LCD thing is actually a positive for me. The pre-loaded magazines look awesome, and the special magazine display works well and makes reading the text easy. Wi-fi performance is good; books download in seconds. The marketplace seemed easy to use and the size of the device makes the little keyboard that pops up very easy to use with the thumbs in portrait mode. I think this is an advantage over larger devices like the iPad. I haven't tried looking at office docs yet, but I'll update this in a few days with any impressions. The web runs pretty well. It's not your laptop, so don't expect to be playing games or anything, but for poking around, reading blogs, checking email, it actually works well. The youtube channel on it seems to have sacrificed resolution for playback speed. I've heard that some sites with heavy flash content will crash the browser and device, but it hasn't happened yet. The included apps are nice (pandora, crossword, sudoku, chess, others). I'm a scientist, so I read A LOT of pdf files which is why this is the only reader that would suit me. That being said, it has so far beat my expectations. If you're in the market for an ereader, you should definitely consider it. I'll try to update this in a week or so with more impressions.
Updated on Nov 29, 2010
As another reviewer noted, the edge of screen can be difficult to activate in the "crossword" setting and occasionally the screen is a bit touchy. Pandora runs great, and you can listen while reading or doing other tasks but the sound is small. Earphone sound is decent. It does require more frequent charging than a dedicated e-reader, but I'm willing to do that for the extra features. I haven't noticed any eyestrain from the LCD screen. Still very happy with it and reiterate the 4.5* review.
Updated on Dec 9, 2010Last update, written on the nook. Office docs can be viewed but not edited. They look pretty good, e.g. it's easy to read word docs, and xls files with multiple sheets can viewed, even with graphs, although they are often wonky. I've gotten more used to the touchscreen. Very few problems with the browser, although sometimes a link won't go through, it is very rare. Epubs from google editions work well. Easily viewable in sunlight if you turn up the brightness, but is definitely more finger-printy. I'm charging every other day or so. Arrow keys on the keyboard would be nice. Still impressed.
Updated on May 9, 2011Some thoughts on the software update: Youtube and other flash-containing websites run much better. Battery life also seems to be improved. App store has a few decent apps, but hopefully that will expand. Of note is the news reader, which is great (and free). Strangely, the "back" function on the browser seems to have disappeared. Overall, an improvement. It's still a reader's tablet, but certainly has more functionality. Mine has developed a white pixel, so I'm going to try and get it replaced, though I'm not sure i that's covered.
It's a reader's tablet
Rating: 4 / 5
on November 16, 2010
18 out of 20 users found this review helpful
Pros: It's a new kind of device IMO. The magazine reading is great, so is the ePub and side-loaded PDF/Doc etc content. The display is beautiful, brings magazines to life. The fonts are crisper compared to the iPad, probably because of the denser display.
Cons: From what I saw during beta-testing, there's a fair lot of things B&N can improve on. The Magazine reading experience is a bit sluggish, apps like Pandora are there and good, but there needs to be better integration with the whole reading experience.
Summary: At $249, this is a fair deal. Don't vilify it for what it doesn't say it is - I don't understand the criticism for the lack of Android Marketplace, no Flash (which is not entirely true - the kid's books are Adobe AIR apps), or battery life. OK maybe you expect more battery juice for an e-reader. I saw forget Android or whatever is under the hood and experience the UI, which hardly smells of Android.
B&N has wowed all, but they need to make the UX slicker, first reading, then graphics and video and audio. This product proves that it's not bleeding edge (read color e-ink), but an existing technology well packaged and positioned. Much like the iPad, but again I'd not step into that comparison - both product positioning and price wise.
Writing this review from my Nook Color...
Rating: 5 / 5
on December 3, 2010
16 out of 17 users found this review helpful
Pros: The reading experience combined with the web browser and media made this the perfect device that sits comfortably between a dedicated e-reader and a tablet. Exactly what I was looking for and at a great price.
Cons: Battery life, possibly. Keep in mind the juice it takes to keep that beautiful LED backlit display looking oh so pretty. Worth the trade off in my opinion.
Summary: Very happy with the purchase. Would do it all over again.
Updated on Dec 14, 2010
Updated on Dec 14, 2010Multiple "big name" websites are reporting that there will be an OS update to android 2.2 come January. With it will flash support. While that has been confirmed by B&N, the rumour that the update will give users access to the android market has not....and I would doubt it due to the fact B&N has gone through the trouble of developing and launching their own app programmer limiting developers to put together apps with the reader in mind. B&N claims that apps will be available early '11. The NOOKcolor is one of the hottest gadgets on the market right now amongst tech geeks that have the time and the knowhow to hack into devices like these. There are many reports out there of NOOKcolors running 2.2 OS already with access to the android market giving them a device that is now equivalent to tablets more than double the price. As the potential of the NOOKcolor is slowly being realized by critics the desire to have one has increased dramatically since they came out last month.
Good, but jury still out...
Rating: 3.5 / 5
on November 23, 2010
8 out of 8 users found this review helpful
Pros: Color books look great.
Screen is easy to read once you turn down the default brightness setting a bit.
Web browser is pretty good, but not easy to use compared to iPad. Difficult to select input fields (even when enlarged) on the small screen.
Cons: Contrary to review, it doesn't charge via the USB port of a computer, only when plugged into the wall outlet.
Onscreen keyboard is touchy; in the Crossword, I had trouble getting a response for letters such as "P" near the edge of the screen.
Summary: Overall, I'm happy with the purchase and look forward to OS upgrades which should improve the overall experience. The battery life is certainly a concern in some instances. I recently took a trans-Pacific flight and read 2 1/2 books on my Kindle without making much of a dent in the battery; that wouldn't be possible on the Color Nook.
Lack of 3G connectivity can be annoying when you are used to having it on a Kindle or iPad. For example, I use the Kindle's 3G (free!) connectivity to access my LibraryThing account when shopping in used book stores to make sure I'm not buying something I already own.
Haven't been able to download and access books quite as easily on the Nook as I can on the Kindle, either. I need to spend a few more minutes figuring out how the Libraries work in conjunction with the directory structure. Some books I download or copy from my PC are hard to open unless I press down on them for a few seconds, whereas other books open with a tap.
Terrible customer service and poor PDF integration
Rating: 0.5 / 5
on January 10, 2011
8 out of 9 users found this review helpful
Pros: WfiFi connection and downloads are automated.
Easy to read and the user interface is largely intuitive.
Cons: Customer service is a misnomer. There is no customer service unless (good luck), you can get them on the phone. Otherwise, their responses are cut/pasted from their FAQ. They don't appear to read your email either.
Summary: Getting through to customer service via phone is next to impossible. Using email will get you a canned response that, in my cases, were irrelevant to the problem I had submitted. They apparently don't bother to read your email because it's faster to just cut/paste a canned response and tell you to call the phone line if you have any further problem. Very frustrating.
Updated on Feb 4, 2011