04 October 2011

Your Nook Color Options: Root & ROMs

The Nook Color has seen a lot of modding, hacking and customization, due to its low cost, under-utilized hardware, and highly flexible, nigh-unbrickable configuration. After nearly a year of both regular firmware updates from B&N and furious volunteer development, the array of hacks, mods, custom ROMs and utilities for this device can appear sprawling.

What it comes down to, however, are three main options. All of them take advantage of the configuration that makes the NC so flexible in the first place; unlike most Android devices, the NC boots first from the ɥSD slot, in the same way a PC looks first for a bootable disk before loading the OS on the primary hard drive. As with a PC, this configuration makes it very easy to run a utility, install an OS, or even run an OS completely from bootable* ɥSD.


When used as a verb, rooting means altering your current stock firmware to enable root, or superuser, access. Like having the Administrator account on a Windows PC, root allows you to change high-level settings such as those preventing you from installing unapproved apps, and accessing unapproved app markets. Rooting the NC maintains the stock interface, the stock reading app, and device-specific perks like in-store reading, but lets you install the Google and/or Amazon app markets, which have many more apps than the B&N market, often at lower prices. Apps purchased on those markets can also be installed on other Android devices.

If you basically like the NC's interface but would like a couple more apps, rooting may be your best option. The most common way to root the NC is ManualNooter. If rooting stock firmware 1.4.x, follow the linked instructions but use ManualNooter 5.12.20.

Custom ROMs (OS replacement)

Custom ROMs are volunteer-built operating systems that completely replace stock firmware when installed on a device. Virtually all custom ROMs have root access by default, and do not need to be rooted. Because we can boot from ɥSD, it's also not necessary for us to root before installing a custom ROM, as is necessary on many other Android devices. For the NC, there are three ROMs worth considering, and one to rule out.

  • CyanogenMod7: The CyanogenMod project is a robust team of developers releasing nightly improvement of their ROMs for a variety of Android devices. CM7, a version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, is by far the the most feature-rich and flexible ROM for the NC, with the most community support. CM developers have added features like bluetooth, Tablet Tweaks, audio improvements, USB host, and more to the NC. Replacing B&N stock with CM7.
  • MiRaGe CM7.2 KANGs: With the CM7 team no longer providing quasi-nightly test builds, this ROM is the simplest way to keep up on the latest changes until there's a new stable CM7 build.
  • MIUI: a popular makeover of Gingerbread's UI, brought to the NC using CM7 codebase.
  • Honeycomb: the only versions of Honeycomb available for the NC are basically demos and are not being updated. Honeycomb is the only Android version for which Google has not released source code, so there is very little for devs to work with.

Custom ROMs (ɥSD install)

The NC's fairly unique configuration opens up a third option that leaves the stock firmware untouched and arguably preserves your warranty (though I still wouldn't mention it to customer service). Because it boots first from a ɥSD card, and that card is virtually identical to the internal flash storage (eMMC), it's possible to run a custom ROM entirely from ɥSD. This option is probably the best place for most people to start, even if you think you'll eventually be replacing the stock firmware. It's a fairly simple procedure that leaves you in a good position to make future changes if you decide they're necessary. With the right card (see instructions), many people find ɥSD installs to perform just as well as an OS housed on eMMC.


For the more adventurous or more particular, you'll find a variety of projects on the xda-developers NC forums, such as moving your stock firmware to ɥSD. I've also assembled a guide for dual booting two OSes from eMMC.

*Perhaps the least familiar aspect of all these methods, where a lot of people run into trouble, is writing a bootable image to ɥSD. A couple of things to keep in mind:
  • Your laptop's all-in-one cardhole probably won't work. Even a regular-size SD slot and an adapter may not work. Some people (including me, making my first card) have success using the NC, a phone, or a camera as their reader via USB, but if the connection is interrupted, the card may be rendered unreadable. Your best bet is a USB ɥSDHC reader, which are quite inexpensive.
  • Downloads get corrupted. Check the md5 sum of your image files if available, or if an image doesn't write successfully, delete and re-download.


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Pico said...

xda developers won't let me leave a post,so I'll ask here. What exact steps do I need to follow to only update the stock firmware on the alternate partition to v1.4.1? I don't want to adversely affect my CM7 install on the primary partition since I use that 95% of the time.

taosaur said...

I'm going to assume you used my dual boot guide (which is also on this blog, and linked at the end of this post). There's a 1.4 zip there which CWM will automatically install to the alt partition if you "install zip from SD." Just don't wipe anything; all of CWM's commands affect the primary partition by default. The zip has a script that points it at the alt partition.

Pico said...

Thanks. It worked as advertised. But, the NC is not working very well off the alt partition. It's very sluggish and most apps don't work, i.e. like Zeam launcher is not working right. Is there a way to now start fresh with the 1.4 loaded?

Best New Forex said...

I am getting a Nook Color for Christmas and just tonight learned about this "rooting" business. It is possible that you could assist in getting one of these cards ready for me if I paid cost of materials and your time?


taosaur said...

Ha, I'm tempted JH, being fairly broke, but if the process doesn't interest you, you'd probably be better served searching "n2a cards" on Amazon than working out logistics with me.

edwardarroyo said...

After updating my Nook Color ("blue dot" edition) to B&N software version 1.4.1. I have not been able to get either of my SD card only versions of Android (7.0.3 and Honeycomb) to run the Kindle app from the market. When I try to install the Kindle app I get a message that it is not compatible with my device, while I believe it was before I upgraded to 1.4.1. Any insights or suggestions? Perhaps Nook's 1.4.1 update changed something like the partition space? Any ideas about a fix?

taosaur said...

I PMed you on XDA, but basically you need to either start over fresh with CM7.1 or upgrade and change your LCD density in build.prop.

ignaciokelly said...

I'm not sure if I'm posting this correctly...I researched N2A cards that you mentioned and it seems like a pretty good option for me. I have NO idea what I am doing! But I am concerned about the longterm stability of the SD card and what happens if it goes south. If I purchase from a company like N2A is there a way to make a back up copy of the card, apps and/or the sideloaded items? How would I go about doing that? Also would you recommend the 32 GB card over the 16 GB?

taosaur said...

re: N2A and the like, if you want the tools and knowledge to back up the card, the best way to acquire them is to follow the simple steps and make your own card in the first place.

The goal of guides like mine and those on XDA is to encourage users to take ownership of their devices and feel competent to manage them without the padded-walled-gardens of service-provider firmware. Readymade solutions like N2A are built on that work, but do not support the same ends. So, I don't recommend them and will not provide support for their product; I only mention them to deflect requests such as JH's which are antithetical to the purpose of this guide.

Coleen said...

I have the nook color rooted with an SD card. Now I don't know where to find my books that I had on there before! I plugged it into the computer and looked at it with windows explorer, but my device doesn't even show up. I know if I take the SD card out it will go back to regular nook color - but I don't want to lose that little card. I know there must be a way that I can switch to the resident books on there to read them (besides only seeing kindle books I've d/l'd from amazon). Thanks!

taosaur said...

As best I can tell, it sounds like you have a custom ROM on a SD card, and would like to access files stored on the Nook itself. You need to open a file manager in the custom ROM and keep going "back" or "up" through folders until you see a folder called EMMC. That is the NC's internal storage partition. You may want to read through the comments on my SD install post for solutions to some of your other problems.

taosaur said...

I'm not inclined to include it in the post just yet, but I've been running the CM9 (ICS) Alpha unofficial nightlies for a week or so, and while it has plenty of issues (frequent Sleep of Death, slow/choppy orientation transitions, no hardware video acceleration), I'm finding I like it well enough to stick with it for now. I have a CM7 backup handy if I run into any showstoppers, but I'm loving ICS enough to overlook the growing pains.

taosaur said...

I added MiRaGe's CM7.2 ROM in place of Phiremod on the custom ROM list. It seems like the most popular ROM right now, aside from (possibly even including) CM7.1 Stable.

Anonymous said...

I've been running CM7 on an SD card for a while now...

Considering going to a dual-internal boot. But I don't know why.

Can you explain the advantages of dual internal boot vs. SD boot?


Unknown said...

Does the n2a work on the nook simple touch eink? I just want to get weather, dirve directions, movie description and show times. No animation

CMZ said...

I am new with all this rooting stuff. I guess i am confused on what option i want to take. My nook is the 1.4.3 and what i want is to have the app store of the ipod and also the google and amazon shops i like the formatting of of my nook as it is. Is it possible to root it like that?