Nook Color Flexes Tablet Muscle With Custom Software

Over this past weekend, I returned the Nook Color I purchased from Barnes & Noble(s bks) nearly two weeks ago. I bought the device to test the latest software update which added support for email, third-party applications and other functionality. Hands-on use helped me answer the question: Is the Nook Color an e-reader, a tablet, or both? I concluded that for most people, this $249 device is an e-reader first and tablet second. And since I have a 7-inch Galaxy Tab with Android (and the Nook software application), I returned the Nook Color just inside the 14-day window.

The Android community, however, offers a different perspective, thanks to efforts that turn the Nook Color into a full-time tablet that can double as an e-reader. I didn’t see this video of Android 2.3 (s goog) running on the Nook Color until after I returned the device, and I’m almost glad: Had I seen this beforehand, I might have kept the e-reader after all.

Having rooted and installed custom ROMs on a few Android devices, I suspect turning the Nook Color into a Gingerbread tablet isn’t too arduous of a process, and the video shows the device works fairly well. There are some hardware issues due to most Android tablets having multiple buttons for the menu, search, home and back functions. Since the Nook Color only has a single hardware button under the display and a volume up / down switch, this presents some challenges. You can see in the video, however, that software workarounds can resolve most such issues.

The Android operating system runs faster than I would have expected on the Nook Color, given that the device uses an 800 MHz processor. My Galaxy Tab is powered by a 1 GHz CPU, and the new Honeycomb tablets are all running on speedy dual-core processors. Custom operating systems, such as the CynaogenMod 7 used in the video demo, can be tweaked for improved performance. And there are applications that will overclock, or speed up, the processor as well. In the video, an overclocking app is shown boosting the processor in the Nook Color to a full 1.1 GHz speed, for example.

Such software tweaks show the meager Nook Color hardware is quite capable. Adobe’s Flash (s adbe) player appears to work well, for example, and the overall animations and responsiveness of the device looks smooth. Note that the video, about a month old, used a nightly build, or work-in-progress, of the custom Android software. I’d expect the current, stable version of Gingerbread on the Nook Color to be improved, both in terms of usability and overall performance.

If I had more time before having to return the Nook Color, I surely would have ventured down this custom ROM avenue. For now, I’ll stick with my Galaxy Tab, which also provides me a mobile broadband connection which can be used as a hotspot. Current Nook Color owners may want to consider taking the Gingerbread plunge by following these steps, however. While you would lose the Nook reading functionality in one regard, you would also gain it back quite easily, since the Nook software is available as a free download in the Android Market.