I generally love tech, but one of my pet peeves is when a company tries to dictate how I can use their software or hardware once I’ve purchased it. For instance, I love my buying music and books online, but hate DRM that locks content you’ve purchased to a particular device or machine. The same is true for my hardware – once I buy it, don’t tell me what software I can put on it!
I realize that hardware and software makers often try to “protect” the consumer experience via this sort of control. In truth, it can result in some very seamless consumer experiences – Apple’s iPhone/Mac/iPad ecosystem, for example – but it can also result in creating a walled garden with not enough doors. What if you have a few ebooks that you’ve bought on Amazon Kindle, but you buy a Barnes & Noble Nook tablet? You definitely can’t bring your Amazon purchased content over – so you’re just supposed to purchase it again. From a company perspective, this is great, as it keeps you as a consumer locked into one ecosystem. As a consumer, it’s wasteful and just doesn’t make sense.
Techies know that the Barnes and Noble Nook tablet can be modified (or “rooted” in Android tech lingo) to run apps other than those officially sanctioned by Barnes and Noble, which lets you download music from Amazon, read Kindle books, and more. Sounds great, right? Well, there’s a catch. Rooting your device can be pretty complex, and it generally voids your warranty – if you root your Nook and something goes wrong, you’ll be left with an expensive paperweight that Barnes and Noble won’t help you fix.
This is why I was excited when the nice folks at Nook Rooted Cards sent me one of their new NR Cards to test out. Rather than going through the process of rooting my Nook (which may or may not work) and voiding my warranty, the NR Card just pops into the memory card slot on my Nook. When I restart the Nook, rather than taking me to the regular Nook home screen, the tablet is reborn as a standard Android tablet – complete with the Google Play app store, where I’m free to install any app I want. The NR Card version of Android even comes with the Kindle app pre-installed on the home screen – handy for those of us that have purchased content at Amazon, which you can’t access at all with the standard Nook.
After I started using the NR Card, I’ve started getting used to having more flexibility with my Nook. I’ve installed some of my favorite productivity apps like Evernote, Do, fun apps like Comixology, and apps that I’d previously purchased from the Google Play store. When I’m done using these apps and I want to switch back to the standard Nook interface, I just take out the NR Card from the memory card slot and restart the Nook. Like techie magic, I’m back in Nook land within a few seconds. It’s like having two tablets in one – a Nook walled garden, along with a wide-open standard Android tablet. I really like this method for making a closed device more open, and wish more enterprising and creative companies would follow Nook Rooted Cards’ example and help non-technical consumers enjoy their devices (and their purchased content) in new and useful ways.
There’s just one downside. The NR Card I received is running a version of Android that’s pretty old – 2.3 (Gingerbread). This isn’t a huge deal, but it would have been nice to experience the benefits of the newer versions of Android (better interface, etc.). It’s unclear if the NR Card can be upgraded to newer versions of Android as they become available.
If you own a Nook, getting an NR Card can completely change how you use your device, and give you access to the entire universe of Android apps, rather than the ones that Barnes and Noble have selected for you. It’s like buying a whole new tablet for a fraction of the price – all while keeping the content and apps you’ve already downloaded on your Nook.