barnes-and-noble-nook-colorEver since the ebook reader boom began, consumers have been begging for color displays. Now Barnes & Noble has released the Nook Color ($249 direct) with a 7-inch color LCD display to satisfy this need. Color screens look amazing but these devices, the Nook Color included, come with trade-offs. Does color affect the battery life? You bet it does. And although the device runs Android and can handle some third-party apps, don’t expect the functionality of a full-fledged tablet computer like the Apple iPad ($499 to $829, 4.5 stars) or the Samsung Galaxy Tab ($399-$599, 3.5 stars). Nonetheless, if you are looking for a full-color reading experience that makes the most of graphic media like magazines and children’s books, the Nook Color delivers. And that makes it our Editors’ Choice for color ebook readers.

Design and Features
The Nook Color doesn’t use monochrome E-Ink for its reading screen, like the Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi ($189, 4 stars) or the original Barnes and Nobles Nook ($199, 4 stars). Instead, it has a 7-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel LCD that can show 16 million colors. The biggest upside of the LCD, of course, is color and contrast that blows E-Ink away. Also, because the LCD screen is backlit, you can read it without a light. The screen is also touch sensitive, so you can navigate menus and turn pages with a swipe of your finger. And not only can the display show graphics and photos, but it can also play video.

But there are downsides as well. The most significant is the battery life—Barnes & Noble rates the battery life at “up to 8 hours.” Pretty weak compared with the weeks of use you can get out of one charge with most E-Ink-based ebook readers. The screen is also more reflective than E-Ink displays, although I was able to read the Nook Color outside in broad daylight without much trouble. Finally, as anyone who works in front of a computer knows, LCDs can cause eyestrain. Indeed, at maximum brightness the screen did hurt my eyes, but the brightness control is easy enough to adjust. In most reading environments, I found turning the brightness down to about 25 percent was about right. At maximum brightness, the Nook Color is literally a flashlight.

Pros
Bright, 7-inch LCD screen with 16 million colors. Intuitive touch-based navigation. Runs third-party apps. Deep social integration. Lots of periodicals available.

Cons
No 3G, just Wi-Fi connectivity. Proprietary AC adapter. Battery life is short for a dedicated ebook reader.

Bottom Line
More than an ebook reader, less than a full-blown tablet, the Nook Color’s artful compromises make for a compelling, color reading experience that is ideal for both books and magazines.

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