Aside from its color e-book reading capabilities, Nook Color does a lot of tablet-like stuff like run Android 2.1, surf the Web and play videos and music. With a bright 7-inch color LCD touchscreen, Nook Color looks much like the Samsung Galaxy Tab. And Nook Color is "only" $250, half the price of iPad, so that makes it a good deal, right?
Only if you took math lessons from Abbott & Costello.
Before we get to the whole Nook Color vs. iPad value equation, we have to address a broken e-book promise. It really doesn't matter how cool the Nook Color is — and it
cool, notwithstanding a bewildering more-menus-than-the-food-court-at-Mall-of-America interface. Barnes & Noble has broken an unspoken agreement between ereader maker and readers.
When the Kindle first came out, book lovers cocked a cynical eyebrow and asked, "Why do we need an electronic book when the real thing never runs out of power?" In order to allay reader fears of encountering a battery-dead book, Amazon used a new technology, electronic ink. An e-ink screen didn't need to be backlit, enabling Kindle's battery life to be measured in days, weeks, even months.
Battery life suddenly became a non-issue, and Kindle sales took off. You could read all the Harry Potter books, the voluminous adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Shelby Foote's three-volume Civil War history, and still have enough battery life to peruse The Lord of the Rings. An very occasional battery recharging has been a perfectly acceptable tradeoff for being able to carry around and access a library of literacy in a less-than-a-pound gadget.
Nook Color, however, eschews e-ink technology for a full-blown color LCD screen. As such, Nook Color has just an eight-hour reading battery life, which raises our first iPad comparative issue. iPad, with its 9.7-inch screen, can play far more processor-demanding video files for up to 10 hours, but Nook Color's 7-inch screen drains a battery after only eight hours or reading static text?
And you have to figure Wi-Fi Web surfing will drain it even faster. With its house fly-like battery life, Barnes & Noble has re-introduced the original ebook objection: battery worry. Will you be able to read the last few chapters of that John Grisham page-turner before your Nook Color dies? That circumstance may prove even more dramatic than the book's plot.
Make no mistake — Nook Color is the ultimate e-book reader. Text jumps off its bright 7-inch screen. Its high-contrast text readability is unmatched by any gray monochrome e-ink reader. And seeing illustrations, maps, diagrams and photos in their natural color condition is a relief after suffering through the powdery Etch-a-Sketch-like 16 layers of gray on the regular Nook and Kindle.
But let's lose this whole sort-of-a tablet idea. At most, Nook Color is half a tablet — let's call it a HalfPad. It's very much a read-only device. Yes, it performs all the aforementioned tablet tasks. But you can't create anything with it. No email, no word processing, and except for book-related Facebook and Twitter posts, no texting, no communications or productivity-input tasks of any kind.
Since at $250 Nook Color does half of what an iPad does — and, less than half than the coming 7-inch Galaxy Tab tablets — it's appropriate it's half the price of the basic Wi-Fi iPad. And therein lies the purchasing dilemma.
Except iPad obviously does nearly everything Nook Color does merely lifting its little finger (if an iPad had appendages, which is a creepy thought) including bright, big(ger) screen LCD e-booking, plus a lot more leisure and productivity activities since it's (duh) an iPad.
Or, put another way, even if developers come up with a few hundred really cool Nook Color apps, Nook Color will always do only a fraction of what an iPad does for half of what iPad costs. Or, put another another way, iPad does 10 times, a hundred times, 300,000 times, what Nook Color does (even considering some of Nook Color's specialty e-book tricks like the quick posting of clips to Facebook and Twitter and the touch-to-animate illustrations in Nook Kids' books), at only twice the price.
If you can afford to blow $250 for a color e-reader, might you not also be able to afford the far more versatile iPad or one of the more versatile 7-inch tablets coming in the next few weeks and months? Then again, maybe you don't need a whole iPad, and a Nook Color fulfills all your portable gadget needs. Than maybe you can save $100 and just opt for the monochromatic Wi-Fi Nook.
If Nook Color was $199, this would be an easier call. But at $250, is Nook Color worth $100 more than a regular Nook? And its value versus iPad and other tablets poses a equally difficult equation. As an iPad owner, I'm like so glad I don't have to make this decision.