I bought a Barnes and Noble Nook Color e-book reader and ripped out the Nook software, replacing it with the CyanogenMod distribution of the Android OS. It’s really, really nice hardware, and CyanogenMod (CM) is really, really nice software. I love them both, and my regular readers will remember that I’m not a gadget guy. Read on for more.
I never thought I’d get a tablet, until my phone died and I got a Droid 2 as a replacement. With all those gadgets, I just started to find myself using my phone for reading my RSS feeds and so on—but hating how small the screen was. I started to think again about a tablet after experiencing how handy the smartphone’s extra features are.
The Nook Color Hardware
The Nook Color is a medium-sized Android tablet with a screen that’s the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It’s a perfect size for carrying around—much better than iPads and Xooms and so on, which are just too big for my taste. This device literally fits in the pocket of my jeans (specs).
The screen is amazing. It’s super sharp. But the Nook Color doesn’t have a microphone or a camera, and it doesn’t have any phone service. This is fine. I don’t want these items. I want a tablet to use primarily at home for consuming content such as blogs, books, newspapers, music, movies, and so on.
The best parts: 1) it’s way cheaper than a Galaxy Tab or similar tablets. It’s $250 at the store. And 2) it’s really easy to take off the stripped-down version of Android that comes with it, and put something better on it. Which brings me to my next point.
When you unpack the box, the Nook has a pretty nice little e-reader installed, with a simplified Android interface. It has limited functionality, which is fine. It does have a web browser and a couple other things, and BN recently added their own application store. But it’s really kind of lame. You can only get a small fraction of the apps that you could get through the Android Market.
I updated to CyanogenMod in two stages. First, I simply rooted the device and made it possible to install arbitrary apps from the Android Market. There’s a nice, easy process to do this. It’s called Manual Nooter. I tried this first instead of just going to CyanogenMod because I wanted to see what it was like. It was okay, but it was really obvious that it was a sort of layer on top of the underlying Nook. Pressing the Home button, for example, brought up a prompt to use the Nook home screen or the hijacked home screen for the new software. I tinkered around with this for a while, enough to determine that I didn’t like the patched look and feel. At the same time, I learned that the applications I wanted would work just fine.
So I moved on to CyanogenMod. Early reviews I’d read of this said it wasn’t ready for prime time on the Nook, but the newer updates seemed to be well received. So I backed up everything and took the plunge.
It’s really ridiculously easy to install CyanogenMod on the Nook, even easier if you don’t first update your Nook operating system. It took me longer to burn a bootable ROM on a MicroSD card than anything else. Full instructions can be found beginning at this page.
The result is just brilliant. I’ve now installed my preferred apps, stripped down the interface by removing some stuff I don’t want, such as multiple desktops (CyanogenMod is jammed with features), and I have a simple, elegant, perfectly functioning Android tablet. And I really mean it—there are no rough edges or crashes or anything you might expect from a third-party OS on your tablet. In fact, one of the things I like the most is that it doesn’t come with pre-installed adware, as my Droid did (and the stuff on the Droid can’t be uninstalled without rooting it and voiding the warranty, which is not something I’m going to do on my work phone).
If you want a small, light, thin tablet with WiFi that you can hold in one hand for reading books and newspapers and so on, which is easy to put in a pocket or purse and carry with you, and doesn’t cost much, then consider the Nook Color. If you want to turn it into something much more full-featured, then consider ripping out the Nook software and replacing it with CyanogenMod. The result is really superb.