I purchased a refurbished Nook Color around two months ago, for $169USD. When it arrived, I was curious if I could tell that it had been previously used. However, it looked brand new, without a single scratch on the screen or body. First thing to do is plug in the charger, and that gave me the first hint this was a well-designed device. Where the mini-usb cable plugs into the Nook, there is a U-shaped LED. It glows orange when it's charging, and green when the charge is complete. A simple little touch, but indicative of the thoughtfulness of the Nook's overall design.
The tablet is very thin, and light in your hands. It doesn't have all the ports that other, larger tablets have, but then again it is an e-reader. You get a mini-usb port, micro-sd card slot, and a headphone jack. No camera, HDMI, or full USB ports. Power button, volume control, and a U-shaped button that acts as a home button are the only controls. The goal is to make it simple and easy to use, and I believe it is well done.
After a full charge, powering on the device brings up a tutorial video. It guides you through the ins and outs of the operating system, which is a customized version of Google android. You then should register the device with Barnes & Nobles. After doing so, I started to explore the various features. Pressing the home button brings up a horizontal bar on the bottom of the screen. From there, you can access your library, shop, search, settings, go to the app store, or launch the web browser. The app store is Barnes & Nobles own, which unfortunately is very limited. When I received my Nook, there were less than 500 apps available. Coming from another tablet with access to the android market, this was somewhat of a disappointment.
The screen on the Nook is way better than I thought it would be. The colors are sharp and vibrant, and the viewing angles are outrageous. You can't see any degradation of image quality, no matter how much you tilt it. And it just looks like the images are very high quality. Videos play well, as it has Flash support. The Web browser is pretty snappy, and pages load quickly. My experience is that the WiFi reception is amazingly good. In a 2nd floor room above the location of my router, I usually get 1-2 bars with other devices. Somehow, the Nook manages to get nearly a full signal, and it shows in the speed of web browsing.
Having a micro-sd card slot was a big factor in my purchase. I don't think I would ever buy a device without one(cough, cough, Amazon Fire). Besides expanding your storage capability, it allows you flexibility in other ways. After having the Nook for about a week, I decided it was time to start hacking. And the card slot provides the easiest way to do that.
I ordered a N2A card, which is a micro-sd card that allows you to dual-boot your Nook. Simply insert the card, power on, and you boot into a custom Cyanogen MOD 7 version of android 2.3. You still have your original Nook OS available, also. Simply press any button while booting, and you get a menu allowing boot from EMMC(Nook), or sd card(Cyanogen). The Cyanogen version works incredibly well. In the two months I've used it, not a single forceclose has occurred. Once installed, there is a Cyanogen option in settings, which allows further customization. First thing to do is overclock to the maximum of 925MHZ(stock chip is 800MHZ). After you do so, the Nook is a very good performer. The notification bar at the bottom has on-screen home, menu, and back buttons very similar to Honeycomb. One app which must be downloaded from the market as soon as possible is Nook Tweaks. One of the few shortcomings of the Nook is it's volume from the speaker. It is really, really low. With Nook Tweaks, you can increase the volume to acceptable levels, just be sure not to overdrive and blow them out.
After a couple weeks running with the N2A card, I decided to get more adventurous. I found myself never using the Nook stock interface anymore, and it seemed a waste. So after some researching, I decided to replace the stock OS.
First step was to create a bootable sd card with Clockworkmod. Once done, I did a backup of the stock Nook OS, in case I ever wanted to restore it. Then, I chose MIUI as my new operating system to be loaded on the EMMC memory. Copied it to the bootable card, flashed it, and voila! Now my Nook has dual boot capability into CM7 or MIUI. Why have two operating systems on one device? My son uses the Nook, and prefers the CM7 interface. He has his own market, Amazon appstore, email and any other accounts on CM7. I then have all my own accounts on MIUI. It's like having two tablets in one(except when we both want to use it at the same time, but that's another story). MIUI has several advantages over CM7, at least for me. One is that you can overclock it to 1.2GHZ, which makes it significantly faster. It uses Button Saviour, which lets you hide the virtual buttons(more or less). And using MIUI on the internal memory, I can put in a different sd card, which will have more space since it doesn't have the CM7 rom on it.
Both CM7 and MIUI have run trouble free on the Nook. I did try a Honeycomb rom running off an sd card, and while it worked, it was very slow and not really usable as an everyday os. The device has a good battery life, around 7 hours or so with average use. And it's standby is even better, probably close to a week with a full charge. The tablet is very comfortable to use as a reader, with it's light weight and slim form allowing you to hold it for extended periods of time with no fatigue. I will be looking forward to the upcoming Nook 2, and if it's priced right and is made as well as this one, it will be hard to pass up.