The Android Honeycomb 3.0 operating system and the first fleet of tablets that are going to run it are all looking mighty impressive. Unfortunately, it's also looking like most of them will be even more expensive than the Apple iPad, which starts at $500.
If you're tempted for an Android tablet but don't want to spend a small fortune, then you may want to try the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (right). Out of the box, it's primarily intended to be an e-reader but it's a 7-inch touchscreen device that is actually running Android under the hood. It even gives you a few apps like Chess, Sudoko, Crossword puzzles, and Pandora.
However, you can also kick things up a notch with the Nook Color by hacking it to run a full version of the Android OS. Then you can install your favorite homescreen UI and your favorite Android apps. You can even install the Amazon Kindle app and other e-reader apps and libraries so that you're no longer locked into just the Barnes & Noble library on this device.
Of course, hacking or "rooting" the Nook Color will void your warranty and should only be done by those who are very comfortable fiddling with technology. Also, TechRepublic is not responsible for any damage that you do to your Nook Color while attempting any of the steps that we're about to show. Proceed at your own risk.
Nevertheless, the process is relatively simple and if you run into trouble you can always do a factory reset on the device and start from scratch. Just keep in mind that if you're not tech-savvy and you do this incorrectly then you could cause your Nook Color to become unbootable.
Okay, now that we've got the disclaimers out of the way, let's go through the steps on how to hack the Nook Color.
Hack Nook Color into Android tablet
These steps are based on the work done by NookDevs.com. I'm going to show you how to "root" a Nook Color using a Windows computer. You can also do it from Mac or Linux, but the steps are a little bit different (consult the NookDevs guide for details).
Before you begin, you'll also need a MicroSD card (with an SD adapter). It will need to be at least 128MB, but I'd recommend a 1GB card so that you've got plenty of room. You'll also need an SD card adapter to connect the SD card to your computer, unless your computer has an SD card slot built-in.
Now, here are the steps:
- Charge up and then power on your Nook Color and register your Barnes & Noble account on the device (you won't be able to do this step after you root it).
- Mount your SD card on your Windows PC and make sure all of the files are cleared off of it. Go into My Computer and check the drive letter of the SD card.
- Download Win32DiskImager and then extract the ZIP file.
- On the Nook Color, go to Settings | Device Info | About Your Nook Color and check "Software version"
- Next you need to download a little program called "auto nooter" (by GabrialDestruir) that creates a bootable SD card image for booting the Nook Color. However, the version you need to download will depend on the software version of your Nook Color. For example, if you're running Nook 1.0.0 then you need to download auto-nooter-2.12.18.img.zip and if you're running Nook 1.0.1 then you need to download auto-nooter-2.12.25.img.zip. For later versions, see the NookDevs guide for links.
- Once you've downloaded your version of auto-nooter, unzip it and note the location.
- Open Win32DiskImage.exe
- Click the folder icon to select the auto-nooter file that you just downloaded and unzipped.
- Click the Device drop-down and select the drive letter of SD card (from Step 2).
- Click the Write button. The software will erase the MicroSD card and replace its contents with the bootable Android files. Once it has completed, you can click Exit.
- Remove the SD/MicroSD card from your computer.
- Hold down the power button on your Nook Color and then select "Power off"
- Insert the MicroSD card into the Nook Color (The MicroSD slot is on the back in the lower right corner underneath the little gray "Nook" door.)
- Plug the Nook's USB cable into the PC and into the Nook Color. This will cause the Nook Color to boot. (The Nook's power cable may blink and Windows may complain about missing drivers.)
- If you're using auto-nooter for Nook 1.01 or later, then after the root process is completed it will automatically boot into the boot animation and the new boot sequence. If you're using auto-nooter for Nook 1.0.0 then once the device shows up in Windows, wait 5 minutes for the scripts to finish running and then disconnect the USB cable, remove the MicroSD card, and hold down the power button for 15 seconds to boot the Nook Color. It will boot into the Nook logo animation and the new boot sequence.
- Once the Nook Color boots you'll see the Android logo and welcome message. Touch the Android logo and then log in with your Google account. Your now ready to download apps and customize your Nook Color as an Android tablet.
- I'd recommend going into the Extras screen and opening the Android Market and downloading an alternative homescreen app (my favorites are HelixLauncher and LauncherPro). That will override most of the Nook UI and give you a more native Android experience.
Once you get your Nook Color rooted and running your favorite Android apps, you can always kick it up another notch by trying out an early version of the Honeycomb 3.0 tablet OS that has been hacked to run on the Nook Color using a bootable MicroSD card.
Check out our photo gallery of unboxing the Nook Color, comparison photos with Galaxy Tab and iPad, and the images of the Nook Color running the full Android OS. As you'll see, the Nook Color is a pretty nice piece of hardware.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.