April 26, 2011, 4:43 PM

Nook Color steps up its tablet game

Nook Color woos tablet users with more apps, e-mail and interactive rich media.

Lead Photo

The new Nook Color has some consumers puzzling if it's an e-reader or a tablet PC.

Is it an e-reader or a tablet? At less than half the price of an iPad 2 and small enough to fit in a handbag, the latest version of Barnes & Noble Inc.’s Nook Color is chockfull of new features the bookseller hopes will win over more users of both e-readers and tablets.

Barnes & Noble launched the original Nook e-reader in the fall of 2009, and introduced the Nook Color a year later. By the 2010 holiday shopping season, Nook devices had become Barnes & Noble’s best-selling product.

The mobile device’s newest version, which Barnes & Noble now refers to in full as the Nook Color Reader’s Tablet, was designed to offer a mix of content and services not available on Apple Inc.’s iPad 2  tablet or Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle  e-reader.

“Nook Color offers the best reading experience of any device, and now delivers the most popular tablet features such as engaging apps so customers can play, learn and explore, free, built-in email, an Android operating system update for enhanced web browsing and more interactive content,” says William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble.

The new Nook Color has a 7-inch touchscreen and retails at $249. By comparison, an iPad 2 has a 9.7-inch screen and starts at $499. Kindles range in price from $114 to $189 and feature a 6-inch display; the larger Kindle DX retails for $379 and has a 9.7-inch screen. Kindle and Kindle DX devices do not offer a color screen.

James McQuivey, an analyst who covers digital products and e-commerce for Forrester Research Inc., says Barnes & Noble has taken a big step toward being a more important player in the market for e-readers and tablets. “This is a great move for Barnes & Noble,” he says. “It doesn’t compete directly with the iPad, because people who want that device (and at Apple's price) will not be dissuaded by the meager offering of the Nook Color. However, for the people who would have otherwise waited for the iPad 4, this is a great offering. It’s half the price, with half the power—but it has the power that matters for features like web browsing, e-mail, and basic apps. All it lacks are a camera and a GPS to be a solid tablet competitor.”

“That said, the new Nook Color is really intended to compete against the Kindle,” McQuivey adds. “Say you have a Kindle already and are thinking of upgrading and handing down your old one to your spouse, teenager, or mother. Do you get another Kindle or do you spring for this device that can be used in so many more ways, for only $100 or so more? Barnes & Noble has really kept itself relevant with this move.”

The Nook Color now includes the following features:

● Platform upgrade to Android OS 2.2/Froyo, an operating system that Barnes & Noble says provides a more complete web browsing experience including the ability to run more video and other interactive content. The new platform also supports Adobe Flash Player for viewing Flash rich media content, which is not available on the iPad.

● Nook Books Enhanced lets users view videos embedded in e-books, such as cooking demonstrations in cook books.

● Nook Friends lets users swap e-books, share comments and recommendations, and see books their friends as well as other Barnes & Noble customers Like on Facebook.

● Nook Apps includes games like Angry Birds, Uno and More Brain Exercise; educational programs like Lonely Planet Phrasebook for learning a foreign language; cooking recipes from the Epicurious app; calendar apps; and streaming music from Pandora Internet Radio.

● Nook Email lets users organize multiple e-mail accounts in one inbox. Connecting to Wi-Fi enables users to send and receive e-mail.

● Nook Newsstand provides access to digital versions of more than 150 full-color newspapers and magazines.

Barnes & Noble is making version 1.2 of Nook Color available for an immediate free download from a Nook Color web site, and it will provide a free upgrade via Wi-Fi in the coming weeks, the retailer says.

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