It's impossible not to look at the ur-tablet Nook Color (aka NOOKcolor) and think of iPad and other tablets. Aside from its color e-book reading capabilities, Nook Color does a lot of tablet-like stuff like run Android 2.1, surf the Web and play videos and music. With a bright 7-inch color LCD touchscreen, Nook Color looks much like the Samsung Galaxy Tab. And Nook Color is "only" $250, half the price of iPad, so that makes it a good deal, right?
Only if you took math lessons from Abbott & Costello.
The Power of E-ReadersBefore we get to the whole Nook Color vs. iPad value equation, we have to address a broken e-book promise. It really doesn't matter how cool the Nook Color is — and it is cool, notwithstanding a bewildering more-menus-than-the-food-court-at-Mall-of-America interface. Barnes & Noble has broken an unspoken agreement between ereader maker and readers.
When the Kindle first came out, book lovers cocked a cynical eyebrow and asked, "Why do we need an electronic book when the real thing never runs out of power?" In order to allay reader fears of encountering a battery-dead book, Amazon used a new technology, electronic ink. An e-ink screen didn't need to be backlit, enabling Kindle's battery life to be measured in days, weeks, even months.
Battery life suddenly became a non-issue, and Kindle sales took off. You could read all the Harry Potter books, the voluminous adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Shelby Foote's three-volume Civil War history, and still have enough battery life to peruse The Lord of the Rings. An very occasional battery recharging has been a perfectly acceptable tradeoff for being able to carry around and access a library of literacy in a less-than-a-pound gadget.
Nook Color, however, eschews e-ink technology for a full-blown color LCD screen. As such, Nook Color has just an eight-hour reading battery life, which raises our first iPad comparative issue. iPad, with its 9.7-inch screen, can play far more processor-demanding video files for up to 10 hours, but Nook Color's 7-inch screen drains a battery after only eight hours or reading static text?
And you have to figure Wi-Fi Web surfing will drain it even faster. With its house fly-like battery life, Barnes & Noble has re-introduced the original ebook objection: battery worry. Will you be able to read the last few chapters of that John Grisham page-turner before your Nook Color dies? That circumstance may prove even more dramatic than the book's plot.
(Not Quite) Half an iPadMake no mistake — Nook Color is the ultimate e-book reader. Text jumps off its bright 7-inch screen. Its high-contrast text readability is unmatched by any gray monochrome e-ink reader. And seeing illustrations, maps, diagrams and photos in their natural color condition is a relief after suffering through the powdery Etch-a-Sketch-like 16 layers of gray on the regular Nook and Kindle.
But let's lose this whole sort-of-a tablet idea. At most, Nook Color is half a tablet — let's call it a HalfPad. It's very much a read-only device. Yes, it performs all the aforementioned tablet tasks. But you can't create anything with it. No email, no word processing, and except for book-related Facebook and Twitter posts, no texting, no communications or productivity-input tasks of any kind.
Since at $250 Nook Color does half of what an iPad does — and, less than half than the coming 7-inch Galaxy Tab tablets — it's appropriate it's half the price of the basic Wi-Fi iPad. And therein lies the purchasing dilemma.
How Much Would You Pay?Except iPad obviously does nearly everything Nook Color does merely lifting its little finger (if an iPad had appendages, which is a creepy thought) including bright, big(ger) screen LCD e-booking, plus a lot more leisure and productivity activities since it's (duh) an iPad.
Or, put another way, even if developers come up with a few hundred really cool Nook Color apps, Nook Color will always do only a fraction of what an iPad does for half of what iPad costs. Or, put another another way, iPad does 10 times, a hundred times, 300,000 times, what Nook Color does (even considering some of Nook Color's specialty e-book tricks like the quick posting of clips to Facebook and Twitter and the touch-to-animate illustrations in Nook Kids' books), at only twice the price.
If you can afford to blow $250 for a color e-reader, might you not also be able to afford the far more versatile iPad or one of the more versatile 7-inch tablets coming in the next few weeks and months? Then again, maybe you don't need a whole iPad, and a Nook Color fulfills all your portable gadget needs. Than maybe you can save $100 and just opt for the monochromatic Wi-Fi Nook.
If Nook Color was $199, this would be an easier call. But at $250, is Nook Color worth $100 more than a regular Nook? And its value versus iPad and other tablets poses a equally difficult equation. As an iPad owner, I'm like so glad I don't have to make this decision.