On Tuesday, Barnes & Noble took its largest leap yet in the eBook reader market, releasing the first color eBook reader from a major brand: the Nook Color.
Other brands like Literati and Pandigital have released color devices in recent months, but Barnes & Noble appears to be the first to have done it really well.
The Nook Color is dominated by a 7", 1024 x 600 LCD screen (made by LG) with 16 million colors, with a black bezel around it.
It weighs less than 500 grams, and appeared to be smaller in every dimension than the Apple iPad.
It runs Google Android 2.1 (code name Eclair), has built-in WiFi (but no 3G), and there's 8GB of storage on hand plus a microSD slot for adding more memory.
Battery life is rated at eight hours (unfortunate, compared to the weeks-long life of e-Ink screens). It will cost US$249 (180 euros), and be available on 19th November in various shops near you and online.
Barnes & Noble added a number of clever new features to the Nook line in the Nook Color. There's a "Nook Kids" section, with a selection of children's books that kids can either read for themselves, or have read to them—out loud, by a professional reader—via a "Read to Me" button.
There's a fully-loaded browser and an app store on the device—though the Nook Color runs Android, it won't get the full Android Market, but instead a B&N-specific, curated set, sold through the Nook Store.
One of the most-requested features for the original Nook was social integration, and the Nook Color has that in spades.
While reading an eBook, sending a quote or status directly to Twitter or Facebook was very easy.
There's also a LendMe feature, for lending a book to a friend and seeing what books those friends had that I could borrow. There will certainly be restrictions on book lending from publishers, but it's a clever feature.
The reading experience is still the hallmark of the Nook Color, and it shows.
The reading pane is very minimal, but in only a couple of taps it's possible to take notes with the on-screen keyboard, bookmark a page, highlight text to save it, share it or look it up, and more. Reading was also the fastest and most reliable activity on the Nook Color, which bodes well for its usability.
All in all, we were impressed with using the Nook Color.
The LCD is responsive and bright, though it didn't appear to be overly so—even in the extremely dark room at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City, the screen wasn't overpowering.
Interaction and navigation felt like any other Android or Apple iOS device—there's one button at the bottom of the screen, which is used to go to the home screen, and you navigate to books or apps from there.
Two taps on the home button—shaped like an "n"—takes you back to the book you were most recently reading, which is a nice touch.
There were plenty of interface tweaks made for this device, and they make doing everything from looking up a word to opening the browser take only a couple of taps.
Moving around was sometimes slow and occasionally impossibly unresponsive, and there will certainly be bug fixes needed to make the Nook Color really sing, but the software seems to be much more fully baked than on the original Nook.
Loading books or apps was slow, but flipping pages with a tap or a swipe on the screen was responsive and worked every time.
Barnes & Noble will continue to sell the original Nook for those who want the e-Ink screen and the longer battery life.
During the event, the last announcement was a large firmware upgrade for the original Nook, which will fix some of the bugs on the device and add some of the most-requested features.
Based on our first impressions, though, the Nook Color is a huge step forward for B&N, and the ball is now firmly in Amazon's court to respond.