As has long been rumoured, Barnes & Noble finally dropped a system update to their popular NOOK Color e-reader this week, bringing its hybrid device even closer to being a full grown tablet. With firmware update 1.2 that brings Android 2.2 (also known as Froyo), the NOOK Color has taken big steps away from being an e-reader with some extra functionality and is coming close to being a bargain Android tablet that's also a pretty good e-reader. While there is still no access to the Android Market and its hundreds of thousands of apps, Barnes & Noble has introduced its own NOOK Apps store. There were under 150 apps on launch day, but hey — you can finally play Angry Birds on your NOOK Color!
Here's the full feature list of the new system update, according to Barnes & Noble:
- NOOK Apps, app store. Launch offerings include Epicurious, Oprah Mobile, QuickOffice and Lonely Planet audio phrasebooks. Oh yeah, and Angry Birds.
- Full featured e-mail client that supports POP and IMAP (i.e., Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail and AOL).
- Adobe Flash Player support, giving access to YouTube and Flash animated websites.
- NOOK Friends (beta), a social network for readers that enhances LendMe functionality.
- Faster page turns with animations.
- Enhanced reading experience with kid's Read and Play books and multimedia embedded instructional books (cookbooks, photography, etc…).
Barnes & Noble is rolling out to the update to NOOK Color owners over their wi-fi connection over the next few weeks, but if you want to get on with the Froyo goodness as soon as possible, you can download the firmware update directly into your computer here, and side load it onto your NOOK Color via USB cable. The update itself takes about five minutes.
I've spent a few hours with my updated NOOK Color and so far, I'm pretty impressed. I recently experimented with a Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) upgrade and, while Froyo is not nearly at that level of functionality, it does make for a much more compelling NOOK experience.
The NOOK Apps offerings were a little underwhelming to start, but I expect to see more developers making content available. I was hoping to find a comic book reader app — something the NOOK Color's display would really be suited for — but nothing at this point. Pricing was about what you might expect, with many of the apps hitting that $.99 to $1.99 price point, although I'm pretty sure I saw one at $39.99. Having e-mail access is a nice feature, but anywhere I have my e-reader, I have my iPhone nearby, so I'm not too sure how much use that will get; but for those who prefer to travel light it may be more compelling. The web browser loaded content very quickly and the NOOK Color's larger display means the experience is certainly more usable than web surfing using the aforementioned iPhone, but it did that before the update. In preliminary testing, the NOOK Color did indeed handle Flash content I encountered, but I found that YouTube content which hadn't been optimized for mobile browsing stuttered pretty badly. Still, for a $249 device, I can't really complain. I've yet to see the e-book page animations, but my e-books are purchased from Kobo and it's possible that only NOOK Books will support that function.
NOOK Firmware 1.2 is much more than a cosmetic update and is bound to make NOOK Color owners happy campers. If you liked your e-reader the way it was, you don't have to worry about your experience being changed by the update, just continue e-reading. But if you were longing for more functionality and a bigger taste of Android goodness, it's time to celebrate.