Barnes & Noble is calling the NOOK Color the “reader’s tablet” and thanks to the latest update, it’s finally living up to that name. The update adds several new features, including an email app and an enhanced web browser with Adobe Flash support. However, the most highly anticipated part of the update is the upgrade to Android 2.2, which brings with it access to a B&N market of apps from games to productivity solutions.
The update process is straightforward; you have the option of downloading it manually or waiting for it to be pushed out to your device sometime over the next several weeks. If you download it manually to a laptop or desktop, you must first be sure that your battery is at least 75% charged, then connect your NOOK Color to your computer, transfer the file, and wait a few moments for the device to start the update process automatically. The update process took four minutes on my device, after which time the NOOK Color automatically restarted itself.
If you choose to wait for the automatic update, you’ll want to be sure that your device has a good charge at all times, and that Wi-Fi is turned on. It may take a few weeks to get the update, but once it is received, the process is entirely automatic.
One of the first things I noticed was the enhanced notifications. They appear on the bottom left corner of the screen; tap the area to get more detailed information. You’ll see information on the latest NOOK Color software update, the number of new emails in your inbox, new news stories in Pulse (if you’ve installed the app), plus lending requests.
The reading experience is virtually unchanged, with the exception of one new feature — animated page turns. The feature is off by default, but if you want to try it out, you can go to the settings screen, choose Reader, and then check the animate page turns box. I found that when the box is checked, page turns are much, much slower, and the effect isn’t all that great. I find it hard to believe that this is something folks have asked for, which B&N claims, and I quickly turned it off and am much happier without it.
The magazine reading experience has been enhanced as well, though not to any major extent. There’s a new slider bar at the bottom of the screen that makes it easier to move quickly through the magazine. There’s also a new content menu at the bottom left corner of the screen that I don’t remember seeing before. It works the same as the content menu for books, in this case, listing the articles and allowing quick access to bookmarks if you’ve marked specific articles for a second reading.
The ArticleView feature is just as helpful as ever, and seems to have been slightly improved, opening faster and with smoother scrolling through the text of each article. I don’t find it quite as necessary as before, however, thanks to the pinch/zoom capabilities that have been added to the regular magazine view — if I want a close up look at a photo, I just touch zoom in.
One thing mentioned during the official launch last week is that there’s a consistent reading experience across all periodicals on the NOOK Color, which is a real plus. Quite a few magazines have appeared on the iPad, for example, but every app is a little different, and there’s a learning curve for each one. Since iPad magazines are also more expensive than NOOK Color magazines, with no subscription option as of yet, the NOOK Color does provide the more economical experience and arguably a superior one, thanks to the proprietary ArticleView technology.
Apps are the big news here, and there’s plenty to talk about. When you first go to the apps tab, you’ll see a new icon for the Email app. You can have up to six email account, including AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and any imap or pop3 account. Setup was a breeze for my Gmail account, all I had to do was enter my username and password, and everything was set up automatically.
The email experience is a good one, but not great. Some of that is related to the fact that I have to tap “show pictures” every time I get an HTML email, but that’s the same on any Android phone so it’s not anything I can specifically fault on the NOOK Color. Messages are quick to load and scroll smoothly up and down and from side to side with just a touch of finger. Even though the screen is much larger than on a phone, you still won’t necessarily get the whole message in one view. Even stranger, there’s no landscape view, which I hope to see in a future update.
Controls are clearly labeled and easy to use; at the top of the screen, you’ll find a pencil icon to write a new message, the account dropdown, and then the folder dropdown and the trash can delete button. I noticed a problem with the folder view in my Gmail account–they didn’t show up in alphabetical order or any other logical order that I could discern. That’s frustrating for someone like me, who has more labels than can be believed, but shouldn’t be too much of a bother for anyone who has ten or less.
At the bottom of the screen is a button that allows you to load more messages, since only 25 load by default. There’s also a refresh button and a search box at the bottom of the screen. Within a message you’ll see icons to move up and down through your messages without going back out to the inbox at the top. There’re also reply, move, and delete buttons at the bottom of the screen.
The web experience has been much improved. Folks are excited about Adobe Flash support, and it definitely works. I tried out three different sites that I always visit as part of my smartphone testing and found that they all worked perfectly, with video and sound. I would sometimes see “this site not optimized for mobile video” messages, but I never had any issues so I’m not sure why that popped up.
What I like best is the enhanced pinch/zoom support, which works great. If I see an interesting photo I can zoom in for a closer look, or if I’m trying to see the whole page at once I can pinch the screen and get everything to fit.
You can open multiple windows if you like, and the bookmark manager is really nice, with the ability to see thumbnails of each page. If you tap on the star icon next to the browser address bar, you can create a new bookmark with a couple of taps. If you choose the menu icon in the top right corner and then choose More Options, you’ll be taken to the browser settings page. The choices here are almost overwhelming, and highlight just how powerful the NOOK Color’s browser really is.
This is a new feature that formalizes some of the sharing features that have always been available on the NOOK platform. It is currently in the beta stage of development, but it still works well. To start, you choose from your existing contacts on the device or enter the email addresses of the people you want to invite to be your NOOK friends. They have to have a BN.com account, but don’t have to own an actual NOOK device.
Then you use the Activities tab to keep up with what your friends are reading, what books they recommend, and read the reviews they’ve written on BN.com. The lending feature has been folded into the friends area, which makes sense and streamlines the process. Your library is visible by default, though you can hide certain books that you don’t want to lend and/or don’t want your friends to know you’re reading.
There’s also an About Me tab that shows how many NOOKbooks you’ve read, how many NOOK friends you have, etc. You can link this to Facebook if you like, and if you do your Facebook profile picture will identify you in the NOOK friends app. Your personal activities also appear on this tab, such as when you share a quote from a book on Facebook or Twitter.