I’ve now had the nookColor for four weeks, enough to draw observations about the product and tablets more generally.
I carry the nookColor to work, to home, to Starbucks, to the airport, on several airplanes. I’ve used it for wardriving (well warwalking) down a city street with more than a dozen hotspots. I’ve loaded PDFs and RTFs and DOCs, bought a magazine and tried to buy a book (but it wouldn’t let me).
The use cases I’ve found so far:
- paid media (for me, more likely magazines than books)
- PDFs (which for a college professor is the format for professional journal articles)
- web-surfing at home (the WiFi at work is too user-hostile)
- (someday) viewing/listening to online media.
I believe I’ll own a tablet for the next few years (until tablets merge with laptops or smartphones or both.) There’s no way I’d ever buy a single-purpose device like the Kindle, no matter how cheap. And unless Apple ships a $300 7" iPad next month, I’ll not have any regrets about my purchase, despite some significant problems. (B&N promised money back until Jan. 31, but my wife or tween will grab it if I give it up.)
The hardware is pretty good: yes battery and weight could be better but I suspect they’re close to the state of the art. (And being priced half that of the 7" Samsung Galaxy, I’m gonna be realistic). The hardware gripes:
- Lack of a hardware brightness control (I use the hardware volume control about 2x/month vs. 2x/day for brightness)
- A case better designed to use as a (landscape) easel for watching video
- The @*!#%& charger: a nonstandard cable and a non-standard (1.9amp) brick (try carrying a single brick for all USB devices; try grabbing a spare microUSB cable when you left your charging/upload cable at home).
- Nonstandard microSD cards: my Class 4 microSD card doesn’t work and tech support was useless; the manual is ambiguous but implies the nookColor requires a Class 6 microSD, but I can’t find anyone who sells them.
The frustration comes from the software. This is a portable tablet computer, implemented as a hodgepodge of apps cobbled together to ship in time for Christmas.
Several basic functions are different depending on where you are: paid book, paid magazine, your own PDF, a .RTF file or a web page. The device (not applications) need a consistent and standard interface for:
- zoom in/out, and auto-zoom to width (set for HTML but not PDF)
- brightness control
- browsing/page turning in a hundred or thousand page document (except HTML)
- finding specific text
Someday it will be a good media device. With WiFi and a good UI, it would be great for podcasts — except that today it only streams .MP3 files and not .PLS files (a simple 10-line text file with embedded URLs). Once I thought I got it to play YouTube videos, but today the YouTube preflight proves that it fails both the MP4 and H.263 tests. (sigh).
The tablet desperately needs apps for email, calendar, address book (editable) and Twitter. The AJAX-based UI of Google Maps fails miserably, because it’s never clear whether the zooming/scrolling is for the NC or for the app. (The iPad solves this with a dedicated app, something the nookColor badly needs.) My luck entering text into Facebook has been similarly spotty.
I’m guessing most of these are known problems. Certainly getting YouTube working and some of the zooming quirks are going to be high on any gripe list. (If you call 1-800-THE-BOOK, nookColor is the first tech support option offered).
And then there’s that tech support: inexperienced and not very good. I was unable to buy any books, or even browse books free in the B&N store. I finally got through to tech support (dialin hours are biased towards East Coast customers). After being told that the way to fix the problem was to reset my computer — wiping out all settings, preferences, bookmarks and documents — I had to point out to tech support that the problem was probably that I had no valid credit card on file at BN.com. (Sure ’nuff, that was it.)
Finally, there’s that business model issue. Apple thinks it’s selling me a general purpose hardware device for me to use as I see fit, while Amazon wants to pay me to take its e-reader in hopes that I’ll be locked to its file format in perpetuity. B&N is trying to appeal to the Apple market, but its TV ads emphasize the color Kindle angle, hoping to get me to buy hundreds of dollars of locked content. (Ain’t gonna happen.) Meanwhile, Samsung TV ads promote the Galaxy as a ubiquitous 7" Internet tablet — without the content cross-subsidy and without the reasonable price.
As the first one on my block, in my building, on my train/plane to own a 7" color tablet, I get a lot of envious stares. People look closer and realize it’s not an iPad, but are intrigued by the smaller size (and even more by the smaller price).
Still, it’s at the bleeding edge of technology — even before the early adopters. Things may get better with the app store, the claimed update to Android 2.2 (or, better yet, 2.3) and an improved browser. In the meantime, it’s an interesting way to avoid doing my real job.