Barnes & Noble announced that its Nook e-book reader will receive the Android 2.2 (Froyo) update, which means the Nook Color has basically become a full Android tablet. So how does it compare with other Android tablets?
First, and perhaps most important for cash-strapped consumers, the Nook Color with Froyo update is an extremely inexpensive Android tablet. At $250, it's far cheaper than the tablets currently launching at between $400 and $600.
However, the cheaper price also reflects the functionality of the Nook because the device is still deficient in a few common Android tablet features.
While the Nook Color originally ran on Android, it was very limited by Barnes & Noble and could do little more than read e-books. The new update adds all the features of Android Froyo, which is what most current smartphones are running, but that's not quite as impressive considering most Android tablets run Android 3.0 Honeycomb.
The older version of Android isn't optimized for larger screens, so the Nook will struggle a bit more than Honeycomb tablets, and there's no word on whether Barnes & Noble will upgrade to Android 3.0 in the future (Barnes & Noble representatives refused to comment on Honeycomb updates).
Another mixed blessing of the Nook update is the Nook Apps store. This is a great development because apps dramatically expand the functionality of this e-book-reader-turned-tablet. The essential apps, such as e-mail and calendar, are free; the rest of the apps are available for purchase, usually for less than $5 each. In fact, the mobile gaming staple Angry Birds is even available.
"When [consumers] started purchasing the Nook Color, they loved the reading experience, but they were asking us for additional features. The features that you see in the update are what they were asking for. Email, apps, improved Web, all of that," Claudia Romanini, director of developer relations at Barnes & Noble, told TechNewsDaily.
However, the Nook Apps store has only 150 apps available, and the Nook Color doesn't access the regular Android Market, so this tablet is a bit limited. The store will expand over time, though. Romanini said the company already has 5,000 registered developers, and there is huge interest from Android developers in optimizing their apps for the Nook Color. Even some iPad developers are planning to port their apps to the Nook. Of course, this means that instead of using the Android Market like other Android tablets, the Nook Apps store will compete with it.
"The idea is to focus on providing that great tablet experience for Nook Color. We're focused on apps that have been optimized specifically for Nook Color, scaled for the 7-inch display," Romanini said.
Adding Android Froyo has improved the reading experience of the Nook. Adobe Flash compatibility makes it possible to view interactive features and digital magazines, expanding the Nook's available library of content. However, any Android tablet now has Flash compatibility, so it's not exactly a huge advantage.
And that seems to be the bottom line for the Nook Color update to Android Froyo: It's a much more powerful tablet than before, but still not the best. Fortunately, the lower price compared to other tablets still makes the Nook Color an attractive option.