I'm a big believe in simplicity. (The column isn't called Hassle-Full PC, after all.) So when given the option between something simple and something complex, you can bet I'll choose the former every time--even if it means spending a few bucks.
For example, not long ago I bought the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, a 7-inch e-reader that beat the upcoming Amazon Kindle Fire to market by a full year. Although it was pretty slick right out of the box, I wanted to test its acumen as a full-blown Anroid tablet.
This is possible thanks to a process called "rooting," which effectively means breaking into the operating system so you can mess around with it--or replace it. I did some research, and although rooting didn't seem that complicated, I did find it a little intimidating. The last thing I wanted to do was "brick" my Nook, to render it non-functional owing to some glitch or screw-up.
Thankfully, I found an easy alternative. A couple enterprising developers have created special microSD cards especially for the Nook Color, cards that would allow you to dual-boot the Nook OS and a specialized version of Android. In other words, you just pop one of these cards into the Nook's microSD slot, and presto: instant Android.
The real beauty of this is that it's a semi-permanent solution. If you don't want the Android environment any longer, just turn off the Nook, pop out the card, and reboot. Presto: You're back to the Nook OS. (Actually, you don't even have to take the card out, as you can choose the OS you want from a boot menu.) That means you're not voiding your warranty, unlike when you root the Nook.
I've tested a couple of these Nook Color cards, and they're both fantastic. The first, N2A, supplies CyanogenMod, a very popular Android ROM stocked with lots of great apps, including Amazon Kindle (so you're not locked into reading Barnes & Noble e-books), Angry Birds, and Words with Friends. Of course, you can always fire up Android Market and install more.
I also tried a card from Root My Nook Color, which offers a choice of three Android ROMs: CyanogenMod, MIUI, and PhireMod. Mine came with MIUI running an iPhone/iPad theme (one of many available), and dang if my Nook didn't look like a baby iPad. Really, really cool.
Prices start at around $35 for an 8GB card; both shops offer a 16GB version for around $50, and N2A sells a 32GB card for $89.99. Bear in mind this is something you can do yourself, using your own much, much cheaper microSD cards (Newegg, for example, has a couple 16GB cards for under $20)--but it's a hassle, especially if you don't know what you're doing. The pre-made Android cards offer plug-and-play simplicity--and the results are just plain awesome.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.