Barnes & Noble may be struggling as a bookseller, but on the tablet front, it's on to something.
The bookseller's newest e-reader, the Nook Color, may actually be the perfect Android tablet for folks unwilling to pony up $500 for an Apple iPad or $800 for a Motorola Xoom, the Wall Street Journal's Brett Arends wrote in a March 9 report, after scoring the e-reader for just $190 during an online promotion.
"The Nook Color, which was designed mainly for reading books and magazines, is about half the size of an iPad or a Xoom. It weighs about 30 percent less. It runs on WiFi, but not 3G. It has an absolutely superb screen. And," wrote Arends, "once you've unlocked the software, it runs many Android applications, from e-mail to news readers TweekDeck to, yes, Angry Birds."
Unlocking the software took about 20 minutes and required a fix (a hack?) known as "rooting," for which Arends found instructions on the Ars Technica site. The downside is, performing the fix invalidates the device's warranty. And while Arends said it was easy to do, others have found the process not so easy. Also, some Android applications won't run on the Nook Color, and it's really not fast even for gamers or what Arends calls "power users."
"But as a basic tablet, it's absolutely fine for me," he wrote, "and, I suspect, a lot of people. Indeed, I happen to prefer it to bigger rivals, because it actually slips into my overcoat pocket."
The original iPad measures 9.56 by 7.47 by 0.53 inches, and the Xoom 9.80 by 6.61 by 0.51; while the Nook Color measures 8.1 by 5 by 0.48 inches. It also features a 7-inch display, 8GB of storage, that's expandable through a microSD slot, and a normal retail price of $249.
Weeks before the Nook Color's Nov. 16 shipping date, Gartner analyst Allen Wiener wrote in a blog post on the research firm's site that, "The Nook Color, based on its specs, offers the color and rich flexibility of a tablet blended with the reading experience of the gen-one e-ink readers."
In March of last year, the device also out-shipped the Amazon Kindle, according to Digitimes Research, which was told by "unnamed upstream suppliers" that the Nook was responsible for 53 percent of e-reader shipments in the United States that month.
Why not, Arends suggests, just make it a tablet-or something closer to one?
"Why should I have to invalidate the warranty in order to make their product more attractive? They'd sell a lot more of these babies if customers could run e-mail and Facebook and so on out of the box," wrote Arends.
B&N is already working on a full app store-albeit incredibly slowly-and the price difference could bring significant numbers of shoppers in the door. According to Gartner, the e-reader market is expected to increase 68 percent this year, over 2010's 6.6 million units.
"Once they get these Nook Colors into people's hands as an Android tablet, they would work pretty well as a Trojan horse to sell Barnes & Noble books and magazines as well," wrote Arends. "In other words, it would help the company's business model, not hinder it."