We're creeping gloriously close to back-to-school time, and your progeny prodigy has been pestering you for a tablet, which has an ironic historical twinge – a "tablet" to the 19th century school child was a chalkboard.
Geez, how do I get off on these tangents so early in an article?
Anyway, back to back-to-school tablets. You'd love to oblige your yammering young'un, but spending 500-plus semi-post-recession simoleons on something that's sure to get dangerously jostled, at the least, defies all fiscal common sense.
There are, of course, cheaper tablets out there. But brandishing an obviously cheap Brand X tablet in class could lead to permanent emotionally-scarring teasing.
One cheaper, yet still brand-acceptable tablet is the Nook Color. At $249, it's half the price of the entry-level iPad. But is Nook Color a viable alternative to a full-fledged – and full-price – tablet?
In a word – no. Let me explain.
A look at the Nook
The Nook Color has proven to be enormously popular for one big reason – it's an excellent, if hefty, e-reader. It weighs nearly a pound, more than twice as much as the 7.5 ounce Simple Touch e-ink Nook.
Nook Color's heft is but a minor annoyance, however, compared to its incomparable e-reading capabilities.
Unlike the dull gray/green background of an e-ink-based e-reader, the blacky black text jumps out of Nook Color's nearly snow-white backlit LCD screen, which makes indoor reading a lot easier on the eyes. Outdoors in the sun, the Nook Color's screen bleaches out just like a tablet's.
You get not only bright text, but full color covers and photos, or silver-screen-like black-and-white images, and more readable maps and illustrations, all of which look more like old-fashioned woodcuts on e-ink e-readers.
You also get newspapers and full-color magazines, impossible on an e-ink e-reader.
This LCD advantage also is a disadvantage – the bright screen saps battery life. Nook Color gets "only" eight hours of reading time, compared to weeks on an e-ink e-reader. But eight hours is a few days of reading life, so plugging it in when you're not reading shouldn't be a hardship, especially compared to its superior readability.
Yup, the Nook Color is a fine e-reader. But…
Nook's tablet pretentions
…Nook Color's tablet capabilities get short-sheeted.
Overall performance is stifled by an 800 MHz processor. In tablet-speak, this is comparable to installing a golf cart engine in a minivan. Most tablets such as the iPad sport speedier, more powerful dual core 1 GHz engines – essentially 2 GHz of processing power.
As a result, Nook Color is consistently sluggish in almost all its operations – including swipe scrolling, which is mostly herky-jerky. Touching in general was literally hit-or-miss. I often had to tap multiple times to get any action.
Nook Color does runs Android – but then again, it doesn't. It runs a special edition of Android, which further cripples its tablet capabilities.
Because Nook Color runs a special version of Android, you can use only Nook-specific Android apps. As of this writing, there are around a quarter million Android apps – and only 444 Nook apps. There are lots of games (yes, there's a Nook version of "Angry Birds"), lots of books (although none as magical as iPad's "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"), but a definite dearth of the more interesting Android appetizers.
Nook Color has a music player, email, a photo viewer and a Web browser – all rather perfunctory and, in some cases, even less than perfunctory (its text input functions are particularly less than). I could not find a video player (and I know there is one, because a display sample Nook Color in my local Barnes & Noble store had one), nor could I find a mapping program.
I'm not saying there isn't a video player (you can play compatible videos without them) or mapping Nook app, I just couldn't find them, primarily because when you search for apps you're not just searching through the Nook apps but through the entire Barnes & Noble Nook store. A search for "video player" yielded a half dozen e-books, but no video player app.
Nook Color's tablet…um…capabilities, such as they are, should be considered merely an adjunct, for emergency only, to its e-reader excellence.
Perhaps Barnes & Noble will upgrade Nook Color's tablet talents at some point, pre-installing more obvious tablet apps such as a video player and mapping, and segregate the Nook app searching from the Nook e-book store.
But for the moment, a Nook Color is no alternative to a full-fledged tablet. Either you'll have to bite the iPad bullet (and buy insurance), or junior (or maybe you) will just have to suffer tablet-envy.