Since returning from CES, the number one question I get from all my friends has been “did you see that cool tablet?” Typically I have to ask them which tablet they are referring to and then I have to tell them that it won’t be available for quite some time. The truth is, most tablets that were unveiled at CES will hit store shelves in the next month or two (whenever Google gets the chance to put the finishing touches on Honeycomb) but you’ll still have to march into your local service provider’s store and sign a contract if you don’t have $600 or more to shell out.
So what’s the best Android tablet option? Right now, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is the clear choice, but the price is simply too much for most. Yes, the price is dropping, but most people simply can’t justify spending more on an Android tablet than they would on a more useful netbook. For me and my wife, the best tablet option was the one we already had, the NOOKcolor. At $250, the Nook Color is certainly the cheapest Android tablet on the market. The only catch is that you’ll need to void your warranty and root the device in order to get any tablet functionality out of it.
Out of the box, the Nook Color is one of the most capable eReaders on the market. It features a 7″ 1024×600 IPS color display, an 800 MHz Ti OMAP 3621 processor with a PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 512 MB of RAM, and an ample 8 GB of internal storage. Barnes and Noble chose to launch the eReader with Android 2.1 which allows users to play games, browse the web, view documents, listen to music, and of course download, read and share eBooks. But if you’re looking to a bit more functionality, the beefy specs also gives you the opportunity to easily turn the NOOKcolor into an extremely capable Android tablet.
Rooting the NOOKcolor is almost as easy as counting to three. When developers first gained root access, it looked like it was a daunting task. Fortunately, things have come a long way in the past few months. Now, all you need is a spare microSD card and about ten minutes of spare time. I won’t go into all the details since there are about a million tutorials already out on the web, but if you’re interested in rooting your NOOKcolor I would highly suggest you check out the YouTube video by huskermania.
I guess now you probably want to know how the NOOKcolor stacks up against the Samsung Galaxy Tab. You want the truth? Well… the Galaxy Tab is a much better tablet than the NOOKcolor. But the fact that the NOOKcolor costs half what you’ll pay for the Galaxy Tab goes a long way to even out the score. By rooting the NOOKcolor you gain access to the Android Market which in turn opens up endless possibilities. With apps like ADWLauncher you can customize your home screen and app launcher to your liking, giving the NOOKcolor a more “traditional” Android tablet feel.
Since the NOOKcolor was never intended to operate as a tablet, there are some limitations and disadvantages in how the NOOKcolor operates. The main example is the fact that the device only features one button (Home) under the screen. Developers have added a few soft keys (Back and Menu) into the NOOKcolor’s notification/menu bar, but things get a little tricky when you’re in an app or game that expands to use the full screen.
With the NOOKcolor, you’ll need to spend a little extra time customizing the tablet feel to your liking. But once things are set up, the NOOKcolor offers a rewarding tablet experience. Over the past few days, my wife and I have used the tablet to play games, surf the web, check Facebook and Twitter and enjoy some pretty entertaining YouTube clips. The Barnes and Noble NOOKcolor may not be the most refined Android tablet currently on the market; but with a reasonably low price point and impressive hardware, the NOOKcolor should keep most of you entertained long enough to pass on the first two or three Honeycomb tablets that hit the market this spring.