Summary:

Some people have been pushing the Android envelope on the Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) Nook Color for months with a variety of hacks, using th…

Nook Color - portrait and landscape
photo: Barnes & Noble

Some people have been pushing the Android envelope on the Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) Nook Color for months with a variety of hacks, using the slick $250 device as a tablet as much as an e-reader while the company promised an update that would do the same for everyone — no hacking needed. Today, B&N is delivering with Android OS 2.2 aka Froyo that will distinguish it even more from the grayscale Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Kindle and make it more of a lower-cost competitor for the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPad. New features in the automatic update include:

– Full-featured built-in e-mail. Includes IMAP, POP; 6 accounts; notification. In a webcast (live now), B&N execs say e-mail was one of the most requested features.

– Support for Flash Player, which enables a number of Android apps that couldn’t work on the Nook Color before, including Angry Birds. It also supports Flash-based web content.

– More than 125 free and paid apps designed for the Nook. That’s not a lot compared to the number of apps in OS stores but it’s significant next to Kindle, where apps consistently are among the top sellers but are still limited. Nook Color already had Pandora, Suduku and a handful of other apps. One app is the beta Nook Friends for social networking and sharing libraries; users can control it by friend and book.

– Enhanced books with in-page video, that works in landscape or vertical.

– An enhanced browser.

– Enhanced Newsstand.

– Easier to access personal files.

Notice I said “more of” a competitor to the iPad. It’s not close to a direct replacement. Instead, it’s a new option for those who want a full e-reader along with a touch tablet experience, e-mail and browser access, and the ability to run apps. Some people will pick it up to use primarily as a tablet — and those who are unhappy with the limits will still go the hack route or upgrade to the more full-powered tabs in the $500+ range.

In the webcast, Jamie Iannone tried to have it both ways, pushing the device as the “reader’s tablet” but also as a lower-priced alternative.

Some more details in the release.

How to update: Nook Color owners can wait for the automatic Wi-Fi update to roll out over the next few days or follow these instructions for a manual update. I’m doing it now and will add some notes here.

Update: The whole process — hooking the Nook Color (a review unit) to my computer by USB, downloading the zip file, transferring it Nook, waiting for install — took less than 15 minutes. When you’re done, you should see software version 1.2 and new preloaded apps, including Nook Friends and e-mail.

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