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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The retail price of the new iPad 2 to starts at around $500. But hackers have found a way to create a similar device with a slightly smaller screen for about half the price.

As John Kalish reports, they are turning e-book readers into tablets running the Android operating system.

JON KALISH: The Amazon Kindle has 3G data connectivity so that readers can download books anywhere there's cell service. Many Kindle owners realize that the device can connect to Google and Wikipedia to look up things mentioned in their e-books.

San Francisco hacker Mitch Altman doesn't read e-books on his Kindle at all. He only uses its Web browser to access maps and restaurant listings when he's traveling.

Mr. MITCH ALTMAN (Hacker/Inventor): This is something that's starting to get around in geek and hacker circles, and it's a relatively cheap way to have Internet anywhere you go.

KALISH: When Altman says it's cheap, he's referring to the fact that the 3G Kindle costs a mere $190 and there's no charge for the 3G Internet. Of course, there is a trade-off here. The Kindle doesn't have a touch screen, so you have to use scrolling buttons to navigate around the screen, which Altman has found cumbersome. But for $60 more, he could've gotten the Nook Color.

(Soundbite of a commercial)

Unidentified Woman: Introducing Nook's Color. Experience millions of books like never before.

KALISH: The Nook Color is one of Barnes & Noble's e-book readers. It sells for $250 and can only access the Internet via Wi-Fi. It runs a stripped down version of the Android operating system.

(Soundbite of a commercial)

Unidentified Woman: Books, magazines, newspapers and children's books, all at your fingertips. Nook Color by Barnes & Noble.

KALISH: Alex Kuklinski is a college student in Omaha, Nebraska.

(Soundbite of a YouTube video)

Mr. ALEX KUKLINSKI (College Student): Hey, everyone. In this video, I'm going to show you how you can root your Nook Color so you can make it into a full-blown Android tablet.

KALISH: Kuklinski posts videos almost every week on YouTube, where he goes by the name Huskermania. He's quite fond of the Nook Color and its high-end touch screen.

Mr. KUKLINSKI: It's a really high quality device for the price.

KALISH: Kuklinski says the procedure for converting the Nook Color into an Android tablet is relatively simple. It takes about a half-hour, and the only cost involved is the purchase of a micro SD card which can run about $15. Otherwise, it involves downloading a piece of free software that includes the Android operating system.

Mr. KUKLINSKI: I was nervous at first. I was really nervous that I was going to basically ruin something. But once I did it, I realized how easy it was.

(Soundbite of music)

KALISH: That's the theme music used for a series of videos on TheUnLockr.com, a web site devoted to the notion that consumers can get more out of their mobile devices if they unlock or root them. David Cogen runs the site. He compared a Nook running Android to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, another Android device, and found the Nook stacked up well.

Mr. DAVID COGEN (UnLockr.com): It's a little slower. There are occasional glitches. You know, sometimes things don't appear correctly on the screen in certain applications. If you're just using it to surf the Internet, use some apps, play "Angry Birds," et cetera, it works pretty well. And the thing I like about it is that it's very lightweight and very thin, even more so than, say, the Galaxy tab.

KALISH: Cogen credits a huge community of software developers for driving innovation in the hacking of Smartphones and tablets. And though the crowd that is inclined to root something like a Nook eReader is relatively geeky, Cogen says that crowd is growing.

Mr. COGEN: People are going to realize that they can get a very inexpensive Android tablet with this device. And the developers see that. And it's a challenge to them and they're going to continue to make it better. So it's definitely going to get more stable, less glitches as time goes on. We're talking weeks, days.

KALISH: Barnes & Noble declined to comment on the use of its Nook Color e-book reader as an Android tablet. The terms of service for the device make it clear that rooting voids the warranty. But recent talk in the tech blogosphere indicates that the company may soon issue a software update that will make the Nook more of a tablet without hacking it.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.

HANSEN: Watch Alex Kuklinski's instructions for rooting your e-reader on our website, NPR.org.

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