Review: Nook Color from Barnes & Noble

The market for small tablets and digital book readers can be fierce in its own ways.  The Nook Color from Barnes & Noble is a combination of these two devices – being an eReader and an Android tablet – but it doesn’t quite excel at either.

I am not a big book reader. I do, however, love magazines and web browsing. The Nook Color is a great multi-function device for both web and reading. The lack of an app store is a shame, but I hope to see one soon from Barnes & Noble.

The Nook Color is a good fit for me because I enjoy magazines (especially color images in magazines), which of course can’t be done on the black-and-white Amazon Kindle. To be fair, the Kindle can also handle magazines, just not in full color.

Is the Nook Color an Apple iPad killer? No! Is it a Kindle killer? That will depend on what you want to use it for.

Hardware

The device feels very solid and is built of high quality materials. The Nook Color is much heavier than the original Nook, but the heft is easily made up for with its ability to do more than just read.  The screen is glass and the back has a soft rubber texture that is both pleasing to hold and lends to good grip.

Display

The Nook Color’s touchscreen measures 7 inches diagonally and has a 1024×600 resolution (similar to a standard netbook). The touch is responsive at times and slow at others. The sensitivity issues seem to come from when my hands or the Nook is cold. At times it can seem unresponsive, which may be caused by the operating system slowing down under load.

Multi-touch is typically available in magazines and on the home screen for resizing the icons. Where it falls short is in the web browser. We have all become so accustomed to pinch-zooming in touch screen browsers, but the Nook browser uses a tap-to-zoom system that is not precise.

Audio

The built-in speaker is good, but not great. I personally have not heard the Galaxy Tab (Android Tablet) or an iPad to compare it to, but I have heard many Android phones and iPod Touches. The Nook Color has much better speakers than the iPod Touch, but not as good as the phones I have heard.

The headphone jack doesn’t seem to hold very well and I had trouble with my headphones becoming partially unplugged, causing the sound to switch back to its external speaker. I don’t think most people will listen to music on the Nook, even though it has a music player app and Pandora.

Battery

Battery life seems good so far. Barnes & Noble claims it will last 8 hours, and after my first weekend with it I’d say it can do that and longer. I charged my Nook on Tuesday night and was playing with it enough to consider it heavy use (with WiFi off and with the brightness at a reasonable level) and I did not have to charge until Friday afternoon.

Storage

The Nook Color has 8 GB of internal storage, but you only have access to 5 GB of it. The option to add a micro SD card is a nice touch for adding files and pictures of your own. From the library feature you can manage files put onto the device.

The Nook Color can read Microsoft documents and PDF files. I have not discovered if one can edit the documents yet. It’s a nice feature that may or may not serve your use.

Software & Operating System

Nook Color runs on an Android platform that is highly customized by Barnes & Noble. The Nook Color runs Android 2.1 VS 1.5 which also came with the original Nook. The Nook Color is speculated to be receiving Android 2.2 this January. As with all custom operating systems, it is tightly controlled by the creators.

The web browser is nice for both full and mobile sites. However, the pinch-to-zoom feature that many have grown used to over the years is not available in the Nook. The keyboard is good in portrait mode, but is too wide in landscape to use with thumbs.  The music player is not as intuitive as the native Android music player and will run simultaneously with Pandora.

Having an app for Pandora is very cool, but it is the only third-party software available on the Nook Color so far. Some free games such as chess, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles come pre-installed with the Nook Color. Nook also has the ability to link with your Facebook, Twitter, and Google contacts for social reading and the LendMe feature.

Store

The Barnes & Noble store on the Nook Color is smooth, fast, and easy to use. You can easily search for books, magazines, and newspapers. From the store you can read a review, see recommendations, and download samples. Some books are also capable of being loaned to and from friends for 15 days. Nook, along with other ePub readers, are capable of checking books out from libraries for a short time.

Your book collection can be managed from bn.com where you can buy and send books to the device from the computer. Books can also be deleted and returned from the internet.

Reading

The (obvious) primary function of the Nook is the ability to read books. With such a bright display, pictures, magazines, and children’s books are stunningly bright and wonderful to read. Books look great and the text is sharp and clear.

The display brightness can be changed to best fit the reading environment like at night when bright lights can be strenuous to the eyes. Reading in sunlight may be an issue, though, with its high-gloss screen which is definitely where the Kindle and original Nook do better.

Check out more pictures of the Barnes & Noble Nook Color below.

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Recover Lost Files with Disk Drill for Mac

Have you ever been looking for a file and then realize you trashed it? If this has happened to you recently, you may be in luck. You can download Disk Drill from Cleverfiles Software for the Mac. Disk Drill can scan your hard drive drive for recently deleted files and can restore the lost files or folder.

Disk Drill is free for now, but pricing points for the full release have not been set yet. Cleverfiles software wishes to have it released in February 2011. If your interested and free is more in your budget, hurry up and get the beta builds!

Main Screen

Setup is easy

Open the app, hit protect, pick your drive and don’t worry about Disk Drill until you need it. To get the most out of Disk Drill, enable the “Recovery Vault” on the drive you wish to save. Disk Drill becomes your friend when a file goes missing and time machine is not in place to save the day.

What Happens Quote

Restoration

Open the app and choose Recover, pick your drive and hit undelete from recovery vault. If that doesn’t find your file, Deep Scan is an option. The deep scan can take an hour or more but depending on how important that file is to you it may not matter as to it iss your only choice.

Deep Scan

Testing

With Disk Drill closed, I copied a folder full of pictures I had to the desktop. I then proceeded to delete the folder with 250 MB or so worth of pictures and continued on with my night. The next day I opened up Disk Drill and did the recovery vault and did a quick scan that took less than 5 minutes. It recovered every single one of the pictures perfectly.

Results will vary due to hard drive use. For example, if you deleted a file and copied 30 gigs worth of something before the recovery attempt, the results may not be as good.

Resources

Disk Drill is light on computer resources. You may think an index of your hard drive would take a large database, but according to Cleverfiles Software:

Generally, for every 2-3 low-level data writing tacts, Disk Drill does 1 modification of its protection database. It means that, your hard disk speed changes within 1-3% when Disk Drill is doing internal Recovery Vault routines. Nothing to worry about at all. This caused no visible slowdowns of your system on our regular tests.
Additionally, speaking of disk space required by Recovery Vault, it’s only 6 KB of written data for every single entity Recovery Vault monitors (files, folders). In a regular scenario Recovery Vault will monitor 5000-7000 of files. With 10000 files protected, Recovery Vault’s database will be just ~60MB in size.

Basically if you have a new intel mac computer, and you will have to for this software, you will be fine. if you have a large high speed hard drive you will not notice a thing except for the scans are more fast vs other software.

Alternative

Apple’s own Time Machine may be an alternative, but that requires an entire external hard drive and none of the external drive’s space can be used to store personal data; it is all devoted to the computer backup. Time Machine also only runs the backup every hour on a USB drive which may not catch that file you just lost.

Summing it up

Disk Drill is still in beta so take that with a grain of salt. From the testing I have done the software has shown no effect on my system performance or speed. I have not “needed” to use it yet, but with some tests it works well for its intended purpose if you catch the fact the file is missing in the first place. If you wait too long, your chances for recovery go down with every file written.

Note
This product is still in beta testing. While it is in beta still it is currently free. Future pricing is unavailable at this time.

Cross-platform SyncMate Lets You Sync Files with All Your Devices

SyncMateWith everybody being so connected digitally these days, keeping basic information synced to all of your devices can be a nightmare. The nightmare can be even more difficult if you are the owner of an Apple computer and have a Windows or Nokia phone (and even worse if your understanding of network sharing is limited).

SyncMate by Eltima Software may be the key to solving this problem. SyncMate allows multiple computers to synchronize contacts, calendars, bookmarks, notes, iTunes / iPhoto, folders, and more. SyncMate runs on Windows or OSX, and also connects to Google accounts.

What will most people use this software for? Synchronizing contacts, bookmarks, and notes possibly between work and personal computers (if allowed by your employer). Others will enjoy the folder synchronization between a desktop and a laptop in the home (which I found most useful).

User Interface

The UI is fairly straightforward, but not as intuitive as most software put out for OSX. The large “Add Connection” button leads you to step one of the process where you will find a list of devices to use with SyncMate. I struggled a bit to setup the folder sync for close to a half an hour, and I am an IT person who likes to setup networks the hard way. After you complete the initial setup, however, it becomes much simpler.

Automatic reminders to sync can get annoying but are easy enough to turn off. The sync may vary depending on network speed and amount of data to be moved.

Device List
Some of SyncMate's supported devices

Windows Mobile

SyncMate appears to be an Apple substitute to Active-sync for the owners of a Windows Mobile device. We all know Microsoft and Apple don’t always play nice, but thanks to this third party software they can.

Using SyncMate

With automatic sync enabled, you really don’t have to deal with the software often. Contacts and calendars will be synchronized with ease. SyncMate also handled file duplication during folder synchronization very well. If the same file was changed on both computers, it will prompt the user and ask what to do. This will easily save a term paper from going down the drain.

Substitutes

With a Google account, things such as contacts and calendars can be synchronized with the applications in OS X. Google Chrome and Opera also have built in synchronization of bookmarks and themes built in.

iTunes has a nice home share feature. If both computers are linked to the same Apple account you can synchronize from iTunes itself.

Conclusion

Give SyncMate a try for yourself. I found it to be a nice tool that can help a new user keep multiple computers organized, but it might not cut it for more advanced users.

4 Great Ways to Give Your Old Computer a Second Life

Do you have an older computer sitting around and don’t know what to do with it? An old computer can be repurposed to serve as a TV, print server, file server, music server, kitchen recipe computer, and much more. 
I’ll take you through a few of the ideas, including the things you’ll need and give you a general push in the right direction to help you get started.

The TV Computer

What you’ll need:

  • TV with VGA, DVI, HDMI or, as a last ditch effort, S-Video input (an LCD will make this way more awesome)
  • Video card that supports one of the above outputs
  • Wireless card if your router isn’t close enough to run a cable
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse
  • A spare computer monitor for setup (if you have a tube TV with S-Video)

I’ll mostly cover the setup for a tube TV with S-video. The concept is the exact same for a flat panel, you just don’t need a second monitor.

Plug the computer into a spare monitor and hook up the keyboard and mouse to start installing all the programs you’ll need. Install your browser of choice to access Hulu and Netflix, and install iTunes so music can be controlled via devices like the iPod Touch.

After getting that all set up nicely, plug in the S-Video cable to the TV set. A small issue with a tube TV and S-video is that the resolution is not very high, and Windows 7 does not like to go below 800×600, so consider using newer LCD or plasma TV. Just plug in a DVI or VGA cable for video and a 3.5mm cable for sound.

How to add extra screen
Dual Monitors

This setup works great if you do not have cable TV as you can stream plenty of content through Netflix, Hulu and other web based entertainment sites. The PC has become my DVD player as well, and if you have a Slingbox this will also do a great job.

If you invest some money into a capture card on a higher-end PC, you can have your own DVR and not pay the cable company for their DVR service. The capture card will require a computer with hardware like a dual core processor and 2 GB of ram, depending on the card.

Print server

What you’ll need:

  • Computer running XP or better (or OSX/Linux if you’re familiar with them)
  • Printer with USB or LPT port
  • Network capabilities
  • Monitor for setup
  • Mouse and keyboard

If you are not fortunate enough to have a wireless printer, or have to share your printer with other people, don’t go buy a fancy new printer; you can just follow these steps and put that old computer to use. This can be particularly useful in a college house with several roommates who need to print PowerPoint slides and lecture notes.

After the initial setup, this computer won’t require a permanent monitor, mouse, or keyboard. Set the power settings to save power, and make sure you have “wake on LAN” enabled so when it gets a signal from someone to print it will come out of standby mode. Make sure you don’t set a password on the user account, so the computer is ready to go right when it starts up.

Manually assigning an IP address would also be a good idea so you can always find the printer computer on the network. The computer should finally be configured to share a printer over the network.

On the computers that will print to the print server, you need to add a network printer at the IP address assigned before. You should now be able to share the printer with anybody who needs it, driver free.

Side note: Installing some sort of VNC software so you can administer the server from a different computer without needing to hook up a monitor will save you headaches later.

Share a printer

File Server

Setting up a file server is very similar to the print server setup, except that you enable a folder to be shared instead of a printer.

What you’ll need:

  • Computer running XP, Vista, Windows 7, OSX, or Linux
  • Network connection (Gigabit LAN will make it much faster if you have the proper equipment)
  • 250 + gigabytes of storage space, or what ever you see fit

Much like the printer setup, you first need to  get a fresh copy of your OS of choice installed. Once that’s done, create some folders to put your shared data in. Windows makes user control pretty easy, letting you set permissions on each folder on a user-to-user basis.

Linux can offer a more secure way for this if you know what you are doing, but Samba isn’t as fast as Windows-to-Windows transfers. Most importantly, you needs to consider the operating systems of the people who will use the server. If everybody uses Windows, then a Windows server is best. If you have some Apple computers mixed in with the PCs, Linux may be your best choice. Also, if you have OSX running and you’re sharing from an NTFS drive, you WILL have slower read/write speeds. You’re better off formatting the drive as FAT32 or JFS.

Side note: Just like the print server, you’ll probably want to install remote access software so you can access the computer later.

The Music Server

What you’ll need:

  • Computer with iTunes installed
  • Network connection (doesn’t have to be very fast)
  • Receiver or good speakers
  • iPod Touch or iPhone with remote installed, a PowerPoint remote control, or some other way to change the song wirelessly
  • Depending on your sound system. you may need a better sound card in the PC

The first step is to open iTunes and allow the device to change songs on that computer. Installing a Pandora or Last.FM client may also be a good idea if this computer has a permanent monitor. Next, hook the computer up to some speakers or a receiver and control the music via the device you set up earlier. As before, installing VNC software for remote administration is a good idea.

Side note: iPod Touches have a fun DJ request function with iTunes.

Other uses for old laptops

  • DVD player
  • Car computer (requires a power inverter)
  • Kitchen computer
  • Digital picture frame
  • Linux box!
  • User account management server

What uses have you found for old computers? Let us know in the comments section below!

Image credit: manuelfloresv

Save Energy and Lower Your Electricity Bill without Losing the Tech You Love

Most people are worried about how much power they are using and what their carbon footprint might be. Most people think, “I am just one person, what can I do to help?” I have said this same thing before, then I realized a few easy steps can help me save money and help save the planet at the same time.

You might not already know this, but every gadget you have with a little glowing LED light is using electricity even when you aren’t using them, as do cell phone chargers and clocks.  In this article, I’ll give you some great tips on how to cut your energy use and save some money.

Saving Electricity in the Kitchen

The stove, microwave and coffee pot all have clocks on them. There is not much you can (or should do) about the microwave or stove top clock, but you should keep the coffee pot, toaster, and any other appliance unplugged when not in use. Unless you need the coffee to wake you up, the clock doesn’t need to be set with a bunch of extra clocks in the kitchen.

Saving Electricity in the Office

Computer monitors, even energy star monitors, suck power all the time whether on or off.  Speakers being shut off doesn’t mean they are “off”, either.  Phone chargers are another common culprit.

How can you deal with these devices? It is as simple as using a power strip with an on/off switch. If you have two outlets available, I suggest using two power strips. One strip will have the computer tower and anything else need to stay on all the time. The other strip can hold your monitor, speakers, cellphone charger etc. When you leave for a few hours, just flip that switch and you can completely turn off 3 things while the computer and external hard drive can stay on.

Belkin sells remote control power strips for a nicer version of this same technique. When you need your monitor back, just turn the power strip back on and they will come to life as if you pushed the power button on the screen.  They can also be set to turn off after a customizable period of time, and can make your home safer for devices like heaters and coffee makers.

            

Save Electricity in the Bedroom

Most people my age they have a computer in their bedroom and the same tips I write in the Office section can be applied.  Unplug devices like laptop and cell phone chargers when not in use, and consider setting your computer to automatically go to sleep after a certain period of time.

Save Electricity in the Rest of Your Home

Utilizing natural lighting in the day is a great way to save electricity, along with using compact fluorescent bulbs. These bulbs are more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs, but you should not have to replace them for a long time and will use 1/5 of the electricity.  I don’t really like the color of light compact fluorescent bulbs give off, so an idea I have came up with is to use one of each – a fluorescent and a regular bulb in one light fixture.

Basic window insulation can also save on heating and cooling. On hot summer days, keep the shades drawn to keep heat out even though that goes against the previous natural light statement (running a few bulbs is nothing compared to using the AC all day).

Conclusion

While I am not a professional or an expert in the field of saving electricity, I’ve taken the steps I presented in this guide and was able to substantially reduce my electricity bill.  Most of these tips are easy to start doing, and can have long-term benefit for your wallet and the environment.

Image credit: Karl Baron, Jay Reed, Patrick Denker, Eliot Phillips, Dan McKay