Nook Color is the only “reader’s tablet,” straddling dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle and multipurpose tablets like the iPad. I was expecting tradeoffs. I wasn’t expecting its advantages.

The first advantage is the ease of the product in the hand. Seven-inch tablets aren’t just less expensive to produce than their ten-inch counterparts: they’re easier to hold, particularly when they’re as thin and light as the Nook Color (or NOOKcolor, as Barnes & Noble likes to style it). They’re easier to type on using a software keyboard than either a smartphone or a tablet.
Kindle, Nook, iPad
In fact, text entry on the Nook Color may the best experience I’ve had using a software keyboard on any device. It’s light-years ahead of the Kindle’s shrunk-down hardware keyboard. The second advantage is some of the content. Barnes & Noble offers full-color children’s books and magazine subscriptions. The storefront and reading implementation are better here than anything offered by Apple or Amazon.

Apple could and should have owned this sector of the reading market. iBooks could do everything that Nook Color does — but if Apple TV has been a hobby, iBooks has been background noise for the computer company. They don’t do book retail or much care about it. And in magazines, they’ve pursued (or at least enabled) an infatuation with oversized, Adobe-made apps. Amazon has a decent excuse: it has doggedly pursued black-and-white E Ink reading, and made that experience best in-class.

Barnes & Noble has been able to leverage their position as a giant retailer of both children’s books and magazines to work with publishers to create a unified reading experience in each genre. Browsing magazines on a Nook Color is the same from one title to another, and the interface is similar (if not quite identical) to children’s books.
Magazines are nearly exact copies of printed issues, with full-color illustrations and advertisements. Now, there are a LOT of advertisements; if you’re as amazed as I am at the sheer number of ads most magazines pack into the front of their issues, the effect is, if anything, more uncanny when you’re flipping through on a seven-inch tablet.

However, you can read the magazines just for the articles, with a handy interface feature called “Article Mode.” It’s similar to what Safari and the Kindle offer for the web, but has an extra utility applied to magazines. You can even swipe from page to page staying in Article Mode, skipping from article to article.

There are a few small UI issues with Article Mode. The biggest is probably trying to shift from horizontal swiping (which is how you navigate from page to page in a magazine) to vertical scrolling (which is how you read through a column of text in article mode). Article Mode is also just flat text: if a magazine Q&A distinguishes between interviewer and interviewee by using different-colored text, all that formatting is stripped out in article mode.

In fact, in general, everything about transitioning between vertical and horizontal, landscape and portrait on Nook Color is probably more awkward than it needs to be. It has a built-in accelerometer, but doesn’t switch perspectives on every screen, just some of them.

The home-screen interface is portrait-only. Children’s books are landscape-only. Magazines and books are either — even though magazines and books have a different user interface. Children’s books let you use multitouch pinch and zoom; magazines really don’t. Web sites also come in both portrait or landscape — but this is where we get into the tradeoffs of the Nook’s seven-inch size.

On web sites, you quickly move from a shrunk-down, too-distant portrait view to a squeezed-in landscape view that’s readable but cuts off most of the page. As on the Kindle, I usually found myself manually entering in mobile URLs for sites. Once I did this, the browsing experience was excellent.

So let me say, once and for all, to e-reader manufacturers everywhere: You sell mobile devices! They need mobile web browsers! The mobile web is a rich and vibrant ecosystem, offering content specifically designed for your screens! Most of you use WebKit, even, which handles mobile websites incredibly well! Don’t fight it! Embrace it!

This is, in some ways, the core contradiction of the Nook Color. Even though it isn’t trying to be a mobile computer like the iPad or some of the other forthcoming Android tablets, the content that most clearly differentiates it from both its own E Ink past and other e-readers is still ten-inch content. There are workarounds, like zoom-ins and pop-out text on the children’s books and article mode for magazines, but they’re not as graceful as just being able to read text and images together at a normal, comfortable size.

Magazines, children’s books and the web are all more exciting and more readable at ten inches. So are textbooks, if Nook ever gets there. The iPad, Kno and Kindle DX all went big to try to make that screen content work.

Nook Color resists it, and there are good reasons for it. First, there is something ingenious about the 7″ form factor. It fits naturally in a coat pocket or purse. It’s easy to hold, as I mentioned above. And it works really, really well for most books.

Barnes & Noble’s customers don’t want to have more than one e-reader or tablet. They want access to color, the web, magazines, but don’t want to have a separate device in order to make full use of it. And while I might have fretted about the tiny text on the children’s books, my three-year-old son didn’t care. He loved it and buried his face in it closer.

Nook Color may not make anyone with skin in the mobile media reader game happy. It doesn’t have the 3G connectivity or battery life of the Kindle, which makes it harder for road warriors. Even though it’s an Android tablet, it doesn’t have full access to the Android market. It doesn’t have the giant screen and computing power of an iPad.

Do you know who that leaves? Everyone else. Millions and millions of people — who have a phone and a PC, who don’t scour the web for tech news, and for whom a device that costs $250 that does a little bit of everything pretty well and a subset of things extremely well is extremely compelling proposition.

I have two hopes for it, and two suggestions for Barnes & Noble. First, embrace the mobile web. Second, if Nook Color does extremely well, think about making an XL version. If you can come in below $400, I’ll buy it. I think a lot of people would.

Original Post by Tim Carmody of Wired and can be found here:

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