Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nook Color as an Android Tablet: Review

     Ever since Barnes & Noble (B&N) released its Android-based Nook Color eReader, developers have created different custom ROMs for the Nook.  Anyone can turn the Nook Color into a full Android tablet.  While there are different options (dual boot - have the ability to boot into the stock Nook OS or a custom ROM; run the ROM by replacing the stock Nook OS; rooting it and have access to both stock Nook OS and Android; etc.) for getting a Nook Color to run as an Android tablet, I managed to get my hands on a Nook that is running Phiremod (a variation of the popular Cyanogen ROM).  So can the Nook Color be used as an Android tablet?  Let's find out:

     Without getting into a lot of details, Phiremod v6.3 is a modded version of the Cyanogen v7.x.  This runs Android 2.3.3 a.k.a Gingerbread.  Its not Honeycomb since the source has not been released by Google.  There is a Honeycomb ROM available but it is not the full Honeycomb version.  I really like Phiremod ROM as it is fast even when running at stock 800MHz.  When comparing to the Archos 70 which is similar in many ways (including the Cortex A8 processor) to the Nook Color, the Archos 70's processor runs at 1.0GHz.  There are some benchmarking tests later in the article.

     As mentioned above, the Nook Color has an ARM-based Cortex A8 processor which is the same as the Archos 70.  However being primarily an eReader, B&N limited the stock speed to 800MHz.  Archos actually did the same when one upgraded to Android 2.2 on the 70.  However, one can easily overclock the Nook up to speeds of 1.3GHz.  I have read that some have even reached speeds of 1.5GHz.  You may need a special kernel to reach those levels depending on the ROM that you are running.  However, Phiremod allows you to go up to 1.3GHz.  Do remember that not every Nook may reach higher speeds.  Although the processors are the same in every Nook Color, the processors may have different maximums due to minor variations in manufacturing.  The Nook Color does have 512MB of RAM which is higher than the Archos 70 which has a disappointing 256MB.

     B&N did not skimp on the screen resolution but then again they couldn't.  The 7" screen has a resolution of 1024x600 which is important in an eReader.  The Archos 70 had a disappointing 800x600.  The viewing angles are very good on the Nook.  Do note that the Nook has 1+1 touch not true multitouch (which is at least 3 input points).

   The Nook plays MP4 and M4V videos without any problems using the stock video player.  However, we did have trouble playing HD videos in AVI, MP4 and MOV formats.  Due to our limited time with the unit, we couldn't install another video player to see if the HD videos would play.

     We decided to run our benchmarking tests using the stock 800MHz and the overclocked 1.2GHz processor speed to see how the tablet would perform.  There is no surprise that the Nook running at 1.2GHz performed better in the CPU tests.  CPU specific benchmark showed 32 - 58% improvement over the 800MHz results.  For our PDF rendering test, the Nook average 4 seconds to load our test file which is about a second less than the Archos 70.  However, this is with the Nook running at 1.2GHz.  The Nook does overclock nicely and easily.  One can choose various speeds and governor under the Phiremod settings. Do remember that overclocking the Nook will take a hit on battery life.

     Overall, the Nook Color as a standalone Android tablet performed very well and comparable to the Archos 70.  At a great price of $250, the Nook Color is an excellent value.  It was disappointing that the Nook could not process our HD videos.  This may be a limitation to this specific unit.  Unfortunately, we could not install another video player to determine with the Nook can play HD videos. However like most things, you do get what you pay for.  The Nook Color (assuming you can root & install the CM7 custom ROM) is a good BASIC tablet.  There are more powerful tablets on the market that also run Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) which is optimized for tablets.  Of course, you will pay double the price.  Consumers will need to decide if they want a decent Android tablet for a reasonable price or if they want a tablet that is more powerful at a higher cost.  With Archos introducing its next generation Android tablet, the 80 would cost $30 more than a Nook but pack a dual core processor, Android 3.1, front facing camera, HDMI port, & much more. ViewSonic is launching (if it has not already) its ViewBook that is $230 with comparable specs to the Nook Color.  Decisions, decisions.


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