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Hardware Hacking Hardware Build

Turning Your E-Reader Into a Cheap Tablet 193

grahamsaa writes "NPR's Weekend Edition aired a story today on how rooting the Nook Color can turn it into a full fledged and relatively inexpensive Android tablet. The story claims that the process takes about half an hour, and only requires the purchase of a Nook and a microSD card, and points listeners to a YouTube tutorial on how to root the device. Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this? Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?" We ran a story about this in December, and I haven't seen a flood of hacked readers anywhere so I doubt that tablet makers have anything to worry about.
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Turning Your E-Reader Into a Cheap Tablet

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  • Time (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmitchel!jmitchel.co ( 254506 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:06PM (#35630802)
    I'd put the process at closer to an hour. The big time sink is figuring out WTF is going on and what you want to do about it - there are no less than four major options, with a dozen smaller decisions to make, all wrapped up in a slightly hermetic nomenclature. It still ain't for the weak kneed and non-technical. HOWEVER, the nightly CyanogenMod 7 build is getting really close to maximum awesomeness - video playback doesn't work quite right, bluetooth doesn't work quite right, but both of them work. By late april it should be a clear winner, and that will make the decision much easier.
  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:12PM (#35630850)

    Could this signal a change in how mainstream users see devices like this?

    Its more likely to signal an upcoming change in Nook design and/or software.

    Could rooting Android devices like the Nook ever become mainstream?"

    Perhaps after the Linux desktop becomes mainstream.

  • Re:Time (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThatsMyNick ( 2004126 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:15PM (#35630878)
    Nook Color comes with LCD, not E-ink.
  • by basotl ( 808388 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:25PM (#35630960)
    I purchased my NookColor just after launch and preceded to root it.

    I use it for reading books, PDF's, Church Applications (a nice Scripture program), taking notes, calendaring, news apps, irc and some games.
    It experiences glitches less than my Android phone but others experience may be diffeerent.
  • by basotl ( 808388 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:43PM (#35631102)
    The Nook Color has the same amount of ram as the Galaxy Tab. I don't know what you are talking about there.
    http://www.androidtablets.net/forum/nook-color-technical/3483-nookcolor-full-specifications.html [androidtablets.net]
    http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_p1000_galaxy_tab-3370.php [gsmarena.com]

    In addition rooting allows overclocking the Nook Color which greatly increases the speed.
  • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @02:03PM (#35631248) Homepage

    What he said was that usability is low because of a combination of two things:
    * limited RAM
    * really slow processor
    Perhaps the Galaxy Tab's faster processor makes up partially for the limited RAM. Maybe there are other differences.

    I remember back in the old days when this place was filled with nerds.

    Lesson finished, get... off... my... lawn!!!

  • by cstec ( 521534 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @02:06PM (#35631268)
    Actually resistive touch screens work fine with a finger, no stylus necessary. Case in point a Palm Treo, which was designed to be dialed with a finger tip. The stylus gives much finer control so apps were written to leverage that, but that wasn't a requirement and any number of Palm apps were 'finger friendly. For a more recent example, the HTC Sense UI is entirely finger oriented and runs perfectly on WinMo devices like a Touch Pro 2.
  • Re:Time (Score:4, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @06:20PM (#35632860) Homepage Journal

    Well, been there, done that. I'm generally happy with the results. I thought I'd address the issue with playing videos, then make a few remarks about the advisability of rooting your Nook.

    I have not had a problem with playing videos I transcoded from DVD, but it took a little fiddling to get the transcoding details right. Thus far I've had pretty good results with the following (on Linux);

    (1) Rip the DVD program to a file like so:
          mplayer dvd://1 -dumpstream -dumpfile myfile

    This takes the first program (dvd://1) on the DVD, dumps the video and audio (-dumpstream) to a file you specify (myfile). I do this so I can muck around with the transcoding.

    (2) Transcode the file into H264 baseline profile like so:
          ffmpeg -i myfile -threads 0 -vcodec libx264 -acodec aac -strict experimental -ab 128k -vpre hq -vpre baseline -b 600k myVideo.mp4

    Your distro may require "-acodec libaac" instead, and you might want to double the audio bit rate ("-ab 256k") if you really care about the sound. Expect the transcoding to take several hours.

    The results are very good, more than acceptable as far as the video is concerned. The picture has snap and is for the most part motion is smooth. Dark scenes with continuous variations in tone tend to get blotchy, but not as bad as I've had trancoding DVDs to MPEG-4 for my iPod. If there is a lot of busy action in a dark scene you lose some detail. The aspect ratio doesn't match the Nook screen, and for some reason the video does not quite scale to the full width of the screen, although that hardly matters.

    The audio is OK out of the speakers (considering) but sounds distorted through headphones -- at least a good pair. This is probably the fault of the experimental aac codec on Ubuntu 10.10 64-bit. You could try encoding to MP3 with LAME instead; I think that should work and should sound good enough for most mortal ears. Alternatively you could go to 256K AAC audio encoding with "-ac 256" and see if the sound's a bit cleaner. I haven't got around to messing with that, but if I can get the audio just right I'd be delighted with the Nook for playing transcoded DVDs.

    In any case, I figured this out just out of cussedness. If playing video is really important to you, perhaps you should get a real, more expensive tablet. The main reason I rooted my Nook was to get access to my Kindle library. I found that computer books on the Kindle sucked. This is largely a matter of sloppy conversion, but source code and tables are often provided as images rather than text, and even where provided as text source code is often unreadable on the Kindle. Ironically, I found the iPhone app to be better for reading Kindle computer books than the Kindle. The Nook's screen is a little more fatiguing for long reading sessions than the Kindle, but it's much easier to see diagrams, especially color, but not *just* color. Text tables are a lot easier to make out.

    One fault of the Nook reader app is that you can't zoom in on images (although they're more usable than on the Kindle even though you *can* zoom in on that). But if you read your *Kindle* books on the Nook, the Kindle reader for Android allows you to zoom in. So again, Kindle books that rely on illustrations are more usable in the Kindle app running on a rooted Nook than they are either on the Kindle itself or in the Nook reader, which is too bad. I'm trying to support B&N by buying books through the Nook store.

    The only other minor issue with using a rooted Nook as a tablet is that unless the method you choose installs a custom tablet UI, you're going to deal with the fact that the Nook lacks the hardware buttons Android 2.x expects a phone to have (search,menu,home, back). The hack I used installed a small on-screen button that brings up a soft menu version of these. It works, but it is not elegant.

    My summary: I wouldn't buy the Nook color with the intention of rooting it and using it as a tablet. In a tablet I'd bluetooth and some kind of provision for A/V out. However it's a darn good eReader, and if you have it you might as well root it and be able to use it as a tablet and a Kindle reader too.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming