The $200 name-brand Android tablet

March 9, 2011: 11:30 AM ET

For the WSJ's Brett Arends, the Android-powered Nook Color with its sub-$200 price tag is the perfect tablet.

Who says you can't get a quality tablet for under $500?

It is certainly no iPad 2 or XOOM, but for a certain segment of the population, the Nook Color might be all the tablet they need.  Apple's (AAPL) iPad clocks in at $499 (old models can be had for $100 less) and the XOOM currently clocks in at $800, with a lower-priced Wifi version looming.  Arends writes that a simple hack enables a full Google (GOOG) Android capability by stripping away Barnes and Noble's (BKS) overlay.

...the tablet is perfect for what I want. I'm not talking about one of those junk tablets from a Chinese website, either.

I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook Color tablet (for $190 plus tax from a temporary online promotion, down from the usual $250). And then I downloaded a very simple, perfectly legal software fix from the Internet that turned it into a fully functioning tablet running on Google's Android platform. The fix, known as a "rooting," unlocks Barnes & Noble's proprietary overlay. The instructions came via Ars Technica, a reputable site devoted to technology, and were pretty easy to follow.

Before we get all high and mighty on what constitutes the perfect tablet experience, it is probably important to remember that not everyone has $500-$829  in their pocket for a new Galaxy Tab, Xoom or iPad purchase and a $200 option might be just fine for what many are after.  For people who want to browse the web, go onto Facebook, watch YouTube videos, Email, use maps and other mediocre tablet type-things, this might be the sweet spot.

Arends even noted some advantages over the bigger tablets.  "It actually slips into my overcoat pocket."

I expect many other name brand tablets that don't shoot for the high end to hit the market this year.  But at the moment, this and some resistive (yuk) screen tablets from Archos are about all you'll find in the $200 range from the name brands.

The big question: If a bookstore like Barnes and Noble can build it and bring it to market for $200, why can't HTC, LG, Samsung or Motorola (MMI), or any of the other big device manufacturers?  Some point to it being a loss leader.  At under $200, perhaps.  But at its $250 retail price there is some room for profit.

Arends concludes with another interesting question:

Why doesn't Barnes and Noble get out of the way and ship this open?

The first is that Barnes & Noble needs to get the lead out and let people run these applications on the Nook Color without having to jail-break it. Obviously they want to block Amazon's Kindle app, because they want customers to buy books from BarnesandNoble.com. But why block everything else? Why should I have to invalidate the warranty in order to make their product more attractive?

They'd sell a lot more of these babies if customers could run email and Facebook and so on out of the box. (The minute I catch myself playing games on this thing, it goes on eBay. But most people want to.) And once they get these Nook Colors into people's hands as an Android tablet, they would work pretty well as a Trojan horse to sell Barnes & Noble books and magazines as well. In other words, it would help the company's business model, not hinder it.

I suspect that the Kindle factor is first and foremost, but if WSJ reporters are hacking their products,B&N has already lost that battle.  In fact, real hackers have managed to get Google's latest Tablet OS, Honeycomb, on the Nook Color.

Barnes and Noble has previously promised to unveil its own app store where users can download apps like those which are in the Android market.  But details on that release have been slow to materialize and time, in this fast-paced world of tablets, is money.

B&N: Open it up.

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Seth Weintraub
Seth Weintraub

Google went from searching the Web to worming its way into nearly every facet of business and government. Seth Weintraub unveils where the company is going, who it's competing with, who it's about to compete with and how market forces push the company to veer or adhere to its Don't Be Evil motto. For 15 years, Weintraub was a global IT director for a number of companies before becoming a blogger.

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