Following the recent release of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, much attention surrounds the growing tablet market. And it would be easy at first glance to mistake the NookColor for a tablet. After all, a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen dominates the front surface and inside it runs Android 2.1 and a Texas Instruments Omap3 series processor.
It also has a MicroSDHC card slot to accommodate up to 32GB of storage, and a generous 8GB of user-accessible onboard storage, enough space to support a mix of material (Barnes & Noble gives the example of 1000 books, 25 full colour magazines, 10 newspapers, 50 kids' books, 500 songs and 150 photos).
The device resembles the Galaxy Tab to some extent. It's solidly built, with well-formed buttons, a dark slate-colored bezel and a black, rubberised back. It is 8.1 inches tall by 5 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep (technically, it measures 0.48 inch deep to Galaxy Tab's 0.47 inch). And it weighs 15.8 ounces, 2.2 ounces more than the Samsung Galaxy Tab; 4.2 ounces more than its own monochromatic predecessor, the Nook Wi-Fi; 7.3 ounces more than the third-generation monochromatic Amazon Kindle and 8.2 ounces less than the 9.7-inch screen Apple iPad.
But when you turn on the display and compare Nook Color to other slate devices, you quickly realise that becomes clear that Barnes & Noble isn't merely paying lip service to the notion of a creating an LCD device optimised for reading.
After reading content on the Nook Color for extended periods, I found that the device takes the concept of an e-reader to another level. The NookColor's display and its intuitive interface form an extraordinary one-two punch. The display employs an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, just as the iPad does, to provide a wider viewing angle and better colour reproduction than standard TN LCDs. And like the iPad, it supports 16 million colors.
The NookColor's 1024-by-600-pixel display carries a pixel density of 169 pixels per inch (PPI). The pixel density can affect how letters appear on the display. In use, letters looked very readable, similar to those on the Samsung Galaxy Tab and far better than those on the iPad's 132 PPI, but not quite as distinct and smooth as those on the Apple iPhone 4 which has 326 PPI.
Barnes & Noble took other specific steps to optimize the display for reading. The screen has a special lamination and an optical bonding process that eliminates the air gap between the display and touch surface, a process the company says reduces glare and provides better efficiency in direct sunlight.
That was precisely my experience: The viewing angle was better than on other tablets, an important point given that the company's NookKids encourages the idea of using the device to read picture books to children. As for the display, I performed multiple tests in various lighting conditions-in a car, on a train, on a deck, indoors but by a window, by a lamp, in a restaurant's ambient light and time and again the Nook Color handled the glare impressively.
Under conditions where the Galaxy Tab or iPhone 4 were essentially unreadable mirrors, the Nook Color could, at least, be seen. I wouldn't have read the final volume of Harry Potter on it, but I could see well enough to navigate around and to read for short stints. And in most circumstances, I found the screen dramatically easier to read than other touchscreen devices I had on hand. Again, it's not as good as E-Ink and Barnes & Noble has by no means eliminated the concept of glare on an LCD, but the screen goes far toward mitigating the effects of glare and this is a critical accomplishment for a device designed for reading.
The Nook Color's interface is the other standout component here. Though it runs Android 2.1 underneath, the software skin looks and behaves nothing like stock Android. From the typefaces to the menu behaviour, the operating system is well matched to the Nook Color's functionality.
From the moment you turn it on, it's as if you had booted directly into a customised, all-encompassing e-reader app that controls all aspects of the user experience, even when you stray beyond the reading-specific parts of the device.