B&N NOOK Color - Your $250 Android Tablet

This article is about the NOOK Color and how to convert it from a stock device, make modifications to enable additional features, and finally convert it into a full-blown Android tablet (running either Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)).

The other day I was lamenting to my best friend how I really wanted to try out Android, but I wasn’t willing to pay $400-$800 to get an unlocked Android phone, nor was I willing to commit to a contract with any of the phone carriers. I already pay AT&T too much money for my iPhone!

I started looking around for something decently powered, that would also run Android. That’s when I stumbled upon the Barnes & Noble NOOK Color. Out of the box, this unit runs Android, but a horribly crippled version of Android that will not allow you to load applications, change many settings, or even fully utilize the hardware that ships with the unit. However, that’s to be expected when you’re buying an eReader. It’s supposed to read books and the NOOK Color does that just fine.

Stock NOOK Color

The stock NOOK Color is just as you’d buy at a Barnes & Noble store. Out of the box, Barnes & Noble lists many features, all of which are appealing enough to justify the purchase of the device.

Physical Specifications:

  • Height: 8.1 inches
  • Width: 5.0 inches
  • Depth: 0.48 inches
  • Weight: 15.8 ounces
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • 8GB Internal Storage
  • microSD Card Slot – up to 32GB
  • 8 hour battery life (while reading w/o wireless enabled)
  • Charges in 3 hours from wall socket

Color Touchscreen:

  • Backlit, reduced glare, 7 inch VividView™ Color Touchscreen
  • 16 million colors
  • 1024 x 600 resolution (169 pixels per inch)

Audio/Video Support:

  • Built-in Mono Speaker
  • 3.5mm Stereo Headphone Jack
  • Plays MP3 and AAC Audio Files
  • Plays MP4 Video Files

Document Support:

  • EPUB (including Non or Adobe DRM)
  • PDF
  • Other documents: XLS, DOC, PPT, PPS, TXT, DOCM, XLSM, PPTM, PPSX, PPSM, DOCX, XLX, PPTX
  • Graphics: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Not Supported: LIT, AMZ (Amazon), LRZ/LRX (Sony)

Included Software Extras:

  • Pandora internet radio
  • Games: Chess & Sudoku
  • Crossword Puzzles
  • Media Gallery (for photos and videos)

That’s a pretty impressive set of capabilities for a device that’s under $250. If you just used it out of the box the way Barnes & Noble intended, then you’d have a pretty flexible and powerful device on your hands. The Wi-Fi only Kindle 3, by comparison, is $100 cheaper but only has a 6″, Black & White screen, not nearly the wide selection of document formats, and cannot play videos.

I hack devices to make them do things better than they did before. So, what is really under that hood? The guys at Android Tablets have provided the real specs here. They include:

  • PCB: Foxconn ML1 S 94V-0
  • CPU Processor: ARM Cortex A8-based Ti OMAP 3621 @ 800 MHz (same processor as Droid 2 and Droid X)
  • GPU Processor: PowerVR SGX530 Graphics Rendering: Open GLES1.1/2.0 Hardware Scaling: 85480 scaled to 1024×600 Video Formats: .3GP, .MP4, .3G2 * Video Codecs: H.263, H.264, MPEG-4, ON2 VP7 Image Formats: JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP ** (same GPU as Droid 2 and Droid X)
    *
  • RAM: 512MB Hynix H8MBX00U0MER-0EM MCM (Stacked Chips 2x256MB each die mDDR)
  • Internal Flash: 8GB Sandisk SDIN4C1-8g
  • Removable Flash: 32GB via microSDHC
  • Radio: Chip ID Ti wl1271 (kernel reports wl1273) Chip supports bluetooth transmit/recieve and fm radio functions through the same antenna, but is not enabled in software drivers. Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Security: WEP/WPA/WPA2/802.1x Mode: Infrastructure
  • Display: 7″ 1024×600 IPS Display w\VividView Cypress Semiconductor TTSP Gen 3 (TMA340) Touchscreen , kernel driver , reference LG Display LD070WS1 (SL)(02) LED Backlight Pixels per Inch: 169 Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Colors: 16 Million Viewing Angle: 178° (same as HTC 7 Surround and HTC 7 Mozart)
  • Audio: Ti TLV320DAC3100 Codec 3.5mm Headset Jack (TRS 3-Pole) – no mic input Single Rear Speaker PWM Headphone Amp Headphone Detection Mic Amp and ADC (Mic input not available) Audio Formats: .3GP, .3G2, .MP4, .AMR, .MP3, .MID, .XMF, .MXMF, .RTTL, .OTA, .IMY, .WAV, .OGG, .ACC * Audio Codecs: ACC, ACC+, AMR, MP3, MIDI, LPCM *
  • Power Management: Texas Instruments TPS65921 PMIC Integrated Power Management IC with 3 DC/DC’s, 4 LDO’s, USB HS Transceiver
  • Battery: “Barnes & Noble” labeled 3.7V 4000mAh 14.8Wh Li-ion battery Battery Life: ~8 hours
  • Physical Specifications Dimensions: 8.1″ (205mm) L x 5″ (127mm) W x 0.48″ (12.2mm) D Weight: ~15.8oz (~422g)
  • Micro-B USB 2.0 High-Speed
  • Accelerometer
  • Input Virtual QWERTY Keyboard On-Screen Soft-Keys ** ‘n’ Home button Power\Lock button Volume Up\Down buttons

Yea, you read that right. This is as powerful as the Droid 2 / Droid X and it has Bluetooth and an FM Radio! Now before you get too excited, we’ll talk about Bluetooth later, but I’ve yet to uncover any mods that allow the FM receiver to work. Also, note that the 802.11n wireless only appears to operate at 2.5GHz, not at 5 GHz.

But, you’re not here reading about what you already can do, you’re here to find out how to get it to be a fully functional Android tablet. I’ve been doing just that to my NOOK Color and have found there are three different levels of Android-ness you can achieve, all with varying degrees of capabilities and usefulness, weighed against your ability to get the NOOK Color back to factory defaults in case there’s a problem and you have to have warranty support (like the screen dies). This article is going to show you the easiest method of getting your NOOK Color to run a full-blown Android Operating System and it happens to be the method that is easiest to revert back to a stock NOOK Color. The other methods I will probably explain in a future article.

Now, follow me after the break as I show you the easiest way to bend your NOOK Color (NC) to your Android will.

Bootable SD Card (Android 3.0 – Honeycomb)

One of the most useful features of the NOOK Color is that it is programmed in hardware to first check the microSD card slot for a bootable operating system, making the NC almost impossible to totally brick. That capability makes this method of converting the NC to a full Android tablet the easiest to undo. I’m going to show you how to make a bootable microSD card, insert it into the NOOK Color, boot into the Android OS, play with your full tablet, then pull the card and restore the tablet to normal.

These steps are for a Macintosh user (and some will work on Linux), you can certainly find lots of support for Windows if you’re interested, Google is your friend.

  1. Get a minimum of a 4GB microSD card
  2. Download NookHoney (Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) for NOOK Color) here
  3. Unzip the NookHoney Zip file
  4. Write the image to the card**
  5. Insert the card in the NOOK
  6. Power cycle the NOOK

You’re now running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) on your NOOK Color. If you want to return to the stock NOOK Color:

  1. Power off the NOOK Color
  2. Remove the microSD Card
  3. Power on the NOOK Color

* Okay, so I’m a *little vague on Step 4 in the first set of instructions.

On a Macintosh, the instructions for writing an image to an SD card are:

  1. Open Terminal (found in Applications ->Utilities)
  2. Run diskutil:
    [bash]sudo diskutil list[/bash]That should show you output similar to:
    [bash]
    /dev/disk0
    #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
    0: GUIDpartitionscheme *320.1 GB disk0
    1: EFI 209.7 MB disk0s1
    2: Apple_HFS Macintosh HD 319.7 GB disk0s2
    /dev/disk2
    #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
    0: boot *4.0 GB disk2
    [/bash]

So, in the above list, I know that

/dev/disk0

is my internal hard drive, so

/dev/disk2

must be my SD card. Make a note of the drive name.
3. Unmount the microSD card:
[bash]sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk2[/bash] 4. Write the image to the card (assumes nookhoney04.img is in your current directory):
[bash]dd if=nookhoney04.img of=/dev/rdisk2 bs=1m [/bash] That’s it! Take the microSD card out of your card reader, power down your Color NOOK, place the microSD card in the Color NOOK, power it on. You should see it boot into Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).

Installing Marketplace

The above instructions only get you so far. For one, you won’t have access to the Android Marketplace.

To load Android Marketplace, as well as the default Google Applications (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Maps and Contact Sync for Gmail), you’ll have to do some additional work; however, this is time well spent.

Load Android Software Development Kit

Why do you need to load the Android SDK? Because, buried inside the SDK is a great little program called ADB. ADB is the Android Debug Bridge and it allows you to access your Android device from your computer. Through ADB you’ll be able to:

  • Install Applications (also called “side loading”)
  • Access a shell on your Android device
  • Copy files to and from the Android device

To install the Android SDK and get ADB functional (from NOOK Devs):

  1. Download the Android SDK from http://developer.android.com/sdk/index.html
  2. Unzip it and move it where needed
    [bash]unzip Downloads/android-sdkr09-mac86.zip -d ~/bin[/bash]
  3. Open Terminal.app (found under /Applications/Utilities)
  4. Edit ~/.profile and append
    [bash]export PATH=~/bin/android-sdkr09-mac86/platform-tools:~/bin/android-sdkr09-mac86/tools:$PATH[/bash]
  5. Load your new .profile
    [bash]source .profile[/bash]
  6. Run Android SDK Manager
    [bash]android[/bash]
  7. Download the Android SDK Tools from within the Android SDK Manager
  8. Ensure that your rooted NOOKcolor is plugged in
  9. Run the following command in terminal (this tells the Android SDK what USB driver to use for the NC):
    [bash]mkdir -p ~/.android
    echo 0x2080 > ~/.android/adb_usb.ini[/bash]
  10. Restart the ADB Server:
    [bash]adb kill-server
    adb start-server[/bash]

  11. List the devices attached to your computer:
    [bash]adb devices[/bash]

  12. The above command should show output similar to:
    [bash]List of devices attached
    [YOUR NOOKCOLOR SN] device[/bash]

At this point you now have a working ADB for your NOOK Color. This will allow you to complete the final step of installing the Android Marketplace and the standard Google Apps.

  1. Download the Honey GApps from AddictiveTips
  2. Unzip the HoneyGApps file
    [bash]unzip HoneyGApps.v2.zip[/bash]
  3. Use Terminal to change into the directory where you unzipped the above file
  4. Execute the commands found in the HoneyGAppsInstall.cmd file:
    [bash]
    adb shell mount -o rw,remount -t ext2 /dev/block/mmcblk1p2 /system
    adb push Vending.apk /system/app
    adb push GoogleServicesFramework.apk /system/app
    adb push Gmail.apk /system/app
    adb push Maps.apk /system/app
    adb push Talk.apk /system/app
    adb push GoogleContactsSyncAdapter.apk /system/app
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/Vending.apk
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/GoogleServicesFramework.apk
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/Gmail.apk
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/Maps.apk
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/Talk.apk
    adb shell chmod 6755 /system/app/GoogleContactsSyncAdapter.apk
    adb reboot
    [/bash]

After your NOOK Color reboots, you should now have the Android Marketplace as well as the standard Google Apps.

You now have a fully functional Android 3.0 7″ Tablet. Congratulations!

Root your NOOK Color

One last process you should probably undertake. This is called “rooting” and is the process to allow you to gain Superuser privileges on your NOOK Color. This is required for all manner of shenanigans on your new Android tablet.

  1. Download su_fixed.zip from this thread at XDA Developers
  2. Install the new su program via ADB (so your NOOK Color has to be plugged into your computer):
    [bash]
    # adb remount
    # adb push su /system/xbin
    # adb shell chmod 4755 /system/xbin/su
    [/bash]
  3. Install SuperUser from the Android Marketplace

You should now be able to grant root privleges to programs running on your NOOK Color. The easiest way to test this is to download a Terminal application for your NOOK Color and then when you have a shell prompt issue the su command.

I’ll be writing some additional articles on the NOOK Color, so stay tuned.

android ebooks hacking howto nook
Tweet Post Share Update Email RSS

Leader, Mentor, Challenger, Educator, Network Engineer, System Administrator, Developer, Hacker, Writer, Diver, and Technology Explorer.