Well beyond its seven-inch-yet iPad-like-color screen, Barnes & Noble's new Android-based Nookcolor is packed with new features that include a video-capable magazine library, ArticleView, e-book "borrowing," and much more, as demo'd at a New York City launch event on Monday night. B&N is in it for the long haul with the color e-reader, with an upgrade to Android 2.2 planned for early next year-and don't expect the price to budge soon from $249.
Along with Nookcolor, B&N also unveiled a new library of children's books called Nook Kids, plus the bookseller's first application development program for Android.
Underneath its full-color covers, the Nookcolor is outfitted with an OMAP system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor from Texas Instuments, based on an ARM Cortex A9 processor. The e-reader runs a custom build of Android 2.1. "When we first started working on a color Nook, Android 2.1 wasn't available yet," explained Jamie Iannone, a B&N executive VP, speaking with me at the launch. The Android 2.2 upgrade will include the addition of Adobe Flash, too.
B&N only had a few working Nookcolors on hand at the rollout, and members of the press weren't allowed to play around with the gadgets. Instead, product mangers conducted one-on-one and group demos. Measuring 8.1-by-5-by-.048 inches, the new reader is slightly larger than an ordinary paperback book.
Wendy Branton, one of the product managers, told me that over a hundred magazines have already signed on for the new magazine library, lured by the ability to show publications in color. Examples include Rolling Store, Esquire, and National Geographic. Displaying more than 16 million colors, the touch display also offers a wide viewing angle, supporting the ability for two or more people to look at the screen at the same time.
Publishers can also choose to run videos with their magazines, but only in small windows rather than at full screen, Branton said. Through a feature called ArticleView, users can go directly to whatever articles they choose directly from a table of contents, instead of having to search around for the story.
I also caught some glimpses of Nook Kids. In one cool feature, Nookcolor will read a story out loud, which seems like a great advantage for tired parents. Branton admitted, though, that although it's "fairly rugged," the Nookcolor hasn't been child-proofed. "It's not a children's toy. It's more of a family type of device," she told me.