New Nook Color is a page-turner with novel features

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Sometime in the future, kids will ask, “Was there really ever a time when there were no color e-books?” After all, the most popular dedicated digital reader on the market today is Amazon‘s Kindle, which uses grayscale E Ink screen technology to replicate paper. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has repeatedly claimed that color isn’t ready for prime time.

Barnes & Noble begs to differ. Next week, the bookseller’s new Nook Color reader tablet hits stores. It’s the first mainstream, dedicated reader to offer a full-color touch-screen.

I’ve been testing Nook Color for several days and like it, though the color screen exacts a severe trade-off in battery life compared with E Ink rivals. As a Wi-Fi-only device, it’s also not as flexible as readers that provide 3G cellular for wireless connectivity to shop the 2 million-plus titles in the wireless Nook store.

Nook Color is positioned as a hybrid between a more conventional e-reader, such as the Kindle, and tablet computers, such as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab, which of course are in color. It’s priced in between them, too. Nook Color costs $249, compared with the base Kindle at $139 and $149 for Barnes & Noble’s base Nook. On the other hand, the iPad starts at $499 for Wi-Fi-only and $629 (Wi-Fi plus optional 3G). The Galaxy Tab is about $600 on up without a data plan.

Among the Nook Color’s novel features is the ability to highlight text in a book you’re reading and share the passage on Twitter or Facebook. You can change text size and fonts and summon definitions, as on other e-readers.

But Barnes & Noble adds other goodies, including games, music and the Web. My experience in these areas was more mixed. I wasn’t wild about the browser, which lacks the pinch-to-zoom functionality found elsewhere. There’s no e-mail program, though an app is promised.

Next year, the Nook will be upgraded to a fresher version of Android that, among other things, will add Flash video to the browser. Also on tap are enhanced e-books with video.

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