Barnes & Noble NOOK Color 8GB, Wi-Fi, 7in - Black Reviews

Barnes & Noble NOOK Color 8GB, Wi-Fi, 7in - Black

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Review: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of the Nook Color (More Ugly than Good!)

Sep 16, 2011 (Updated Oct 25, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:gorgeous screen rendition and (mostly) highly functional eReader

Cons:clunky interface outside reader, use of crippleware, lousy battery life, few apps

The Bottom Line: If you're dead set on a Nook, skip the Color version.


The market for eReaders is getting crowded, especially since Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire - a device that seems aimed squarely at the competition's color eReader. Learn why I'm not so certain Barnes & Noble have a quality product on their hands.

I read. I read a lot – enough that I quit buying books several years ago because I couldn’t afford my habit and was running out of storage space (not to mention that so many new books aren’t worth the price). As a result, I’ve depended heavily on libraries for several years. When I decided to get an eReader, that factor had a great deal of influence on my decision process – Amazon’s Kindle uses a proprietary format, so I couldn't get ebooks from the library. That’s why I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook Color – because it reads the Adobe ePub format, which is not proprietary. Although they’re about 50% VampRom, my puny local library already has thousands of eBooks available in the ePub or PDF format. That sealed the deal.

I should have known: in my experience, anything connected with Adobe turns out to be a disaster. Unfortunately, that includes the Barnes & Noble Nook Color: what a bummer. The Nook Color retails for $249, and is rarely discounted, even for B&N cardholders. For your $249, here’s what you get:

color touchscreen interface
Google Android OS
on-screen keyboard
eBook Reader supporting ePub and PDF
app library with pre-loaded apps
built-in WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) with email reader and web browser
media player for images (JPG, GIF, PNG. BMP), video (MP4), and audio (MP3, MP4, Flash, and AAC) files
document viewer for MS Office and common text formats
rechargeable lithium-ion battery (charger included)
accelerometer to control landscape/portrait display

Physically, a Nook Color measures slightly over 8" tall, 5" wide, and approximately 1/2" thick. It weighs in at just under a pound (more than twice the weight of the so-called Nook Classic). The color touchscreen measures 7.25 inches diagonally. The control set includes an on-off-switch on the upper left edge, volume up/down controls near the top on the right edge, and a face-mounted standby switch. There is also a small monaural speaker mounted on the bottom rear and a 3.5mm jack on the upper right edge. A charging/communications port is located on the bottom edge.

The reader comes with 8GB of on-board storage, of which approximately 3GB is taken up by the operating system. Of the remaining 5GB, 4GB is reserved for media bought from B&N. Memory can be expanded through use of a MicroSD card (not supplied) that sockets into a port hidden on the lower left-hand corner of the case.

Living with a Nook Color 1: The eReader

Naturally, the chief reason this bibliophile bought an eReader was to read books. For the most part, the Nook Color does a superb job of serving up print files. The device has plenty of bells and whistles, pretty much everything that you’d expect: you can bookmark, search, annotate, or use a built-in dictionary for unfamiliar words. You can navigate from a table of contents, a slider bar, or flip through the pages. You can search the text for a word or phrase. Whenever you move to another function or let the Nook Color go to sleep, you’re automatically returned to your current position in the book. Readers can easily choose among six text sizes and control screen brightness from a tap on the screen.

The Good: the eReader is by far the best feature of the Nook Color. When you’re reading ePub books, it’s easy to use and the text-size function makes it simple to customize your reading. The display is crisp and clear and the screen - about the size of a conventional paperback book page - is a good size.

The Bad (probably Adobe's fault - why am I not surprised): When reading PDF books, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the publisher – unless you read it at the scanned resolution/text size, the paragraphs and pagination are all messed up.

Since it’s a Nook Color, you can load in color PDFs. I tried that with a travel book for Australia, learning in the process that the PDF is pretty useless except at its native scale – I’d find one column of letters on the left-hand side of a page and two-thirds of the next page on the right when the text size was “too large,” which pretty much renders the guidebook useless. To get everything on one screen, I had to choose a near-microscopic text size. Oops.

The Ugly: B&N clearly designed the Nook to sell their books, which is not why this owner bought it instead of a Kindle. Although you can download ePub and PDF files, they're stored in an out-of-the-way location and some of the functionality of the interface is disabled. With a purchased book, you can override publisher defaults for page and ink color and even change the font face. With a borrowed book, you can only change the text size.

B&N's latest software update also hosed a convenience function: if you're reading a purchased book and stop to check your email, all you need to do to return to the book is touch an on-screen icon. If not reading a book stored in the "purchased" area, you have to go through the file list to find the book and re-open it. Frankly, that sucks.


Living with a Nook Color 2: WiFi and Email/Web access

The reason I got the Nook Color instead of a "regular" Nook is that it has additional functionality, especially that it allows me to can use my home or office wireless network for web connectivity. An onboard email reader function can be set to access any of several IMAP and POP webmail accounts (e.g., gmail and yahoo!) and perform web surfing.

The Good: Setting up an email account is straightforward and simple, likewise setting up the connection to a wireless network is simple. Internet access is all touch-based, and the Nook is usually recognized as a mobile device by websites, which redirects it to a simplified interface. The touch screen allows the now-typical “pinch” style zoom process and four-way panning with the fingertip, and also has an embedded zoom in/out buttons and a pop-up menu for common functions such as find or bookmark.

Since everything is on-screen keying, the Nook’s custom browser suggests sites you’re looking for when you start typing in a URL. Best not be looking for something unusual, though. Browsing is reasonably fast on a good wireless network, though you’re better served using a laptop or netbook if you want to key in anything.

A little icon shows on the Nook’s face when there’s something new in an email account; on the email screen you can move between accounts pretty easily. You can delete unwanted messages from the main interface, and - for clients that support folders - navigate through folders. Email send/receive is through an always-on connection whenever WiFi is enabled.

The Mediocre: The browser interface is rudimentary, with bookmarks and a “BACK” button but little else. The message count for all email accounts are combined in a "global mailbox," to determine whether there are new messages in a given account you must choose the account from the email interface.

The Ugly: the email reader does not support threads, a critical shortcoming for those of us used to gmail. That means you have to scroll through multiple messages and bounce back and forth between the inbox and sent mail folders. Bad Nook, Bad.


Living with a Nook Color 3: Apps

Apps are everywhere - heck I even have a few on my Droid 2 Global (though I'm not about to pay for most of them...). The Nook Color comes with a handful of pre-loaded apps, including games (Sudoku and Chess), a crossword app, Nook Friends (a social-networking crapp that allows you to share a purchased book with a "friend" - once), a gallery app for images and a music player app. You can also "discover new apps" when on a WiFi network.

The Good: Ummm, I'm trying hard to think of good ones. Nope, no luck.

The mediocre: I've played Sudoku a lot and worked a few crosswords. The crosswords are simple (but working with a touchscreen keypad is frustrating), the Sudoku app seems confused about the difference between "easy" and "medium."

The music app is rather stupid. It only plays single tracks or playlists; you can't just put everything on shuffle like most music players; instead you have to create a playlist with all the tracs in it. The gallery is OK. The Pandora Internet Radio is... well, it's Pandora, with all its shortcomings and advantages. Neither app includes software control for volume, much less for tone. For my money, the tone is a little bright, though admittedly that could be my Skullcandy earbuds.

The Ugly: as of this writing, the number of Apps available from the B&N website is... wait for it... 636. About fifty are free (though one of them is a crude version of Minesweeper). Download and install of the apps is bizarre - the Pulse newsreader wouldn't function until 45 minutes after installation completed. No explanation for that has been forthcoming from B&N.

Living with a Nook Color 4: The Physical

The Good: let me be perfectly honest: the Nook Color screen is beautiful, rendering 16 million colors on a 1024 x 660 (169 ppi) high-resolution screen. Videos and pictures display flawlessly and in rich color. This is a lovely thing to look at, not only the screen but also from a design standpoint with its clean, crisp lines.

When you're charging the battery, you can continue to read and use other functions of the Nook Color.

The Mediocre: If you're going to put a speaker on a book reader, why put it on the back where it's gonna be muffled by the covers you urge everyone to buy? Idjits.

The Ugly: Without a doubt one of the most disappointing features of the Nook Color is its battery. First, the battery charges only from its chunky wall adapter, meaning that you have to pack this hunk of plastic if you're going to be gone for more than a couple of days. You SIMPLY MUST pack the charger because, get this, the Nook Color's battery charge lasts a mere eight hours - and that's with the wireless off.  Didn't get that? let me repeat:



THE NOOK COLOR'S BATTERY LASTS ONLY EIGHT HOURS BETWEEN CHARGES!!!



And that's with the wireless turned off. To make matters worse, it takes three hours to perform a full recharge. Though it has a micro-USB tether for file transfer (which also plugs into the charger), you cannot charge from a USB port on your computer. I realize this is a limitation caused by the high current requirement of the Li-ion battery, but it's still a profound shortcoming.


Living with a Nook Color 5: Miscellaneous and Intangible

The Good: I really like it that I can use either the Pandora or music player applications while reading (though, sadly, for only a few hours because of the wimpy battery).

The Bad: The accelerometer works only on the web (not even email) and the gallery. Unless a book has a built-in landscape format, you can only view it in portrait orientation (not sure whether that applies to all books or only to borrowed and freebie copies). 

The Ugly: Since I prefer to borrow books from my local library instead of enrich the Barnes & Noble folks, I'm forced to use their "off-list" file architecture to store books. As far as I can tell, everyone is required to use this file architecture to store non-book files (images, music, videos, documents). The storage space is limited, thought to be honest the addition of a MicroSD makes that complaint moot (though why should I have to buy another 8GB of storage???)

The box contains a quick-start guide that shows a user how to use the tap and swish features and points him/her toward the various controls. For more in-depth features, there's on-board "help" in the form of a PDF (ptui!) that, frankly, is crappy. If you can't find an answer there (often, in my experience), B&N has offshored user support to somewhere the employees thing "Dante" and "Vester" are common English names. Worst of all is the "community forums" provided by B&N for "crowdsourcing" - unfortunately, like most such forums it's closer to "moronsourcing." None of the functions of the Nook Color has any sort of context-sensitive help, so you're stuck paging through 170 pages of manual looking for the "right" word, asking someone in the Seychelles for "chat" help, or dealing with the self-important regulars on the forums.

The Gallery app is... a gallery. Oddly, if you just click on an image on the file structure, it raises all of the menus for the gallery but not the executable. You get a menu item for "slideshow," but the only way you can actually get a slideshow to run is to start in the Gallery app. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The file system for the Nook Color is truly stupid. First, there's no simple way to delete an item from storage. You can't even find the word "delete" (or "remove") in the 170-page help document. A purchased book can be "archived," which removes the text file from storage but leaves you able to re-load at will. Non-purchased files can only be deleted from the file system using your PC's file system while the Nook is tethered with the USB cable. You are even required to use a PC file system to transfer files between the MicroSD card and the on-board flash memory: how stupid is that?


Recommendations

Take a long, hard look at your needs before plunking down 250 bucks (plus a 35-dollar sleeve and 8-dollar screen protectors) for a Nook Color. Yes, if you've been paying full price for your books and the house is starting to lean to one side because of their weight, an eReader is a good idea. If you can get freebie books from a good library (or online sites like the Gutenberg Project, etc.) it's an even better deal. Remember that the Amazon Kindle reads only a proprietary format that, at least as of this writing, is not available to libraries (though Amazon has apparently announced a library version).

The Nook Color (and, so I've heard, other Nooks) has superb rendition of eBooks with a versatile interface and lots of reading tools. The addition of media, web, and email capability via WiFi is what makes the Nook Color almost twice the cost of the basic Nook. Is it worth it? I think not.

B&N has deliberately hobbled users who want to use this eReader without buying book after book from them. In six weeks of ownership (including airplane travel halfway 'round the world), I've read a couple dozen library books, a few news and magazine articles and short stories, and listened to music and news. I've played the games and worked the puzzles and looked at pictures of the doggie. I have not, though, bought a single book from B&N. maybe I will and maybe I won't - but the use of crippleware for non-buyers really irritates me.

Worst of all, though, is that 8-hour battery. What a pain in the rear! Come to think of it, I also hate that "reserved" 4GB of memory. I paid for an 8GB reader, and B&N tells me that I only own 1GB of the memory: shame on them!

Edited to Add: it is possible to charge a Nook Color from a USB cable, although the Nook Color FAQ specifically warns that "this may damage your NOOK Color."  In addition, doing so usually requires that you override power-saver settings on a laptop or desktop, since most (if not all) USB ports cannot be used to charge while the CPU is in sleep mode.
While some readers may protest that "I have a life" and this makes the 8-hour battery life unimportant, let me point out the following: first,  I "have a life," too; a life that fairly frequently requires me to spend more than 8 hours at a stretch in airports and on planes. I'd like a device that can last that long. Second, rechargeable batteries can only last for a finite number of charge-recharge cycles. It stands to reason that a battery with a longer life will take longer to reach that maximum number of cycles. Gi ven that the battery on the Nook Color is not replaceable, that becomes even more critical.


Recommend this product? No

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