Barnes & Noble unveils Nook Color: e-reader or tablet lite?

The line between e-readers and tablets just got a lot hazier today, when Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color, a new version of the company's e-reader with a full-color touchscreen and costs $249. It's a sexy device, but the new Nook tastes more like tablet lite than any e-reader that's come before.

Specs are here, but here's the one that matters most: 8-hour battery life. That's a far cry from the days upon days of reading that the e-reader market is used to. Not only is that barely long enough to last an international flight, but the Nook Color becomes yet another gadget that you have to charge every day.

The thing sapping that battery is obviously the 7-inch LCD screen (the resolution is 1,024 x 600 pixels), which marks a departure from the E Ink screen on the original Nook. Company reps alluded that the Nook line will continue to have E Ink models, so anyone still wanting that long battery life can still get it, albeit with a black-and-white screen.

The full-color Nook will please magazine addicts, and B&N boasts over 100 newspapers and magazines at launch. Still, it's hardly the first device to offer up magazines in full color. There'll also be full-color kids books that have a "Read to Me" feature that's better than Kindle's (i.e. not a robot), extras like Sudoku and Pandora radio, a FULL Web browser and games.

Nook Color runs on Android 2.1 and will play embedded video, but it doesn't support Flash. It weighs about a pound, or roughly 6 ounces more than the Kindle. It has 8GB of onboard memory (said to be good enough for 6,000 books) and a microSD card slot for more. It'll be in stores after Nov. 19, but you can preorder one now.

We have to wonder: Will people snap up the Nook Color? Or will they figure they may as well shell out another $250 and get an iPad and download the Nook app. You tell us.

Hands-on impressions
If you're comparing to e-readers, the most impressive feature of the Nook Color is the speed of the page turns. It's lightning fast — much faster than any E Ink screen could handle, though that's expected since we're talking about an LCD. An issue of National Geographic looked great, with the view allowing pinch-to-zoom on any page. Text and photos looked impressively sharp on the 1,024 x 600-pixel screen. When browsing the New York Times, the article view was helpful, though I found I missed the photos.

As with most devices these days, sharing stuff — even excerpts of articles — to Twitter and Facebook is super easy. But overall, the more I played with the Nook Color, the more I found myself comparing it to the iPad. With all this color touchscreen stuff, why not throw in maps? Or email? Perhaps that is to come from developers.

In the end, you could just spend twice as much and get an iPad. But do you get double the experience?

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