This week Barnes & Noble announced the NOOKColor, an update of the somewhat divisive black-and-white e-reader tablet the company released in 2009. While the NOOKColor is lighter and cheaper than Apple's iPad, it is in every other way inferior, and, being more expensive than the Amazon Kindle, essentially useless to anyone -- particularly comic book fans.

Going on sale November 19, Barnes & Noble's NOOKColor is a portable tablet powered by Google's increasingly popular Android operating system. The device includes a 7" color touchscreen, eight gigabytes of storage (expandable via microSD cards), and WiFi. NOOKColor is compatible with file types including ePub, PDF, Microsoft Office documents (via Quickoffice software). There is also support for images and music (including MP4 files). According to ICv2, the NOOKColor will at launch have access to over two million book titles, some kind of magazine selection (with subscription options), 12,000 "kids chapter books" and over 130 children's picture books.

At less than one pound and costing only $249, the NOOKColor is quite a bit lighter than the $499 1.5-pound iPad, whose impressive 9.7-inch screen is still not sufficient to view comic book pages in their true proportions. As such, the NOOKColor, with its 7-inch screen, sits between Apple's iPhone/iPod touch and iPad yet does nothing as well as any of them. Based on the hands-on video demonstration at TechCrunch displayed below, which betrays the NOOKcolor's astonishingly bad user experience, the Barnes & Noble device would appear to be a fairly poor e-book reader. At nearly twice the price of Amazon's black-and-white Kindle device, which has access to a far larger content library, the NOOKcolor seems both dubious and unnecessary.

With respect to legally distributed digital comics, it seems unlikely that anything as sophisticated as comiXology or iVerse's comic book apps will appear on the NOOKcolor. Although the device runs on the Android system, which is supposedly "open," Barnes & Noble will, vexingly, prohibit NOOKcolor users from accessing the greater Android App Store. Developers will have to work with Barnes & Noble's application curators, as is the case for iOS developers with Apple's App Store. Given the insurmountable positions of Apple and Google in the mobile apps space, one has to wonder why Barnes & Noble is bothering to create another proprietary market, especially when the NOOKcolor is already running Android anyway.

A handful of comics are available on the existing black-and-white Nook, such as American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. If Barnes & Noble hopes to more adeptly ride the digital comics wave, which is estimated to rise over 1,000% in 2010, it's going to have to offer consumers more than an undersized and restrictive device that does nothing exceptionally well.

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