Sitting with a friend in the in-store coffee bar at a Barnes & Noble this afternoon, getting caffeinated to the gills, an announcement over the PA system caught my attention: Nook HDs (the little Android tablets that had just been discontinued a few days previous) on sale for $99. Hmm.
I’d avoided tablets until now for a couple of reasons: the chaotic and immature market, with dozens of companies seemingly introducting and discontinuing models on a daily basis, and my own lack of a clear need/use for a tablet.
Also, I’d never seriously considered the Nook (or Amazon’s competing Kindle tablets) because I’m really not interested in a specialized tablet designed to channel money directly from my wallet to an e-tailer, all while staying securely confined within their walled garden. But a few minutes of Googling revealed that an unoffical port of the Cyanogenmod open-source firmware existed and could be installed without undue hassle. Hmm again.
A quick review of the specs showed a dual-core processor, a gig of RAM, and a 7″ LED-backlit screen at a rather impressive 1440×900 resolution. For a C-note. And I get to have a little fun hacking it and subverting the manufacturer’s intended use. Alright. Sold.
I found a quick-and-dirty HOWTO on installing Cyanogenmod (downloading cryptically-named ZIP files from a Russian website! This can’t possibly end badly!) and had the OS up and running within a half-hour. Then I loaded the .apk for the F-Droid open-source software repository and had a shiny little 100% open-source tablet sitting on my kitchen table.
Initial impression is positive. It’s snappy and stable so far, though I can’t say I’ve really thrown much of a workload at it yet. Some of the features you’d expect in a general-purpose tablet are missing; notably, there’s no cameras or GPS. Will I miss either feature? Probably not.
It remains to be seen how much use I’ll get out of a tablet. I installed the FBReader e-book reader, along with VLC and a handful of other apps. There’s a not-entirely-polished Android port of XBMC that’s worth playing around with. Tablets are obviously better suited to media consumption than creation (I’m typing this on my laptop right now…) so we’ll start out with books, movies and music. Stay tuned?