Barnes & Noble has taken the opportunity afforded by an Android OS update to bring some tablet-like functionality to its NOOK Color e-Reader. The version 1.2 firmware update brings specially-designed apps, full-featured email, enhanced browsing and new multimedia content. It's available now for free manual download but existing devices will be automatically updated via built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi over the coming weeks.

Barnes & Noble says that it's responded to user requests and crammed in the most demanded tablet functionality to its NOOK Color firmware update. The upgrade to Android 2.2 (Froyo) and support for Adobe AIR and Flash brings the promise of a much improved browsing experience (with the ability to switch between full desktop or mobile web setups), multimedia interactivity and over 125 apps specially designed for the NOOK Color's 7-inch touchscreen display.

"With our new NOOK Apps program, we've partnered with the world's best publishers and developers to offer popular brands like Angry Birds, Epicurious, Uno, Lonely Planet, Dr. Seuss, Little Critter and many more quality and entertaining applications," said William Lynch, Chief Executive Officer of Barnes & Noble.

All newly purchased NOOK Color devices - which are still priced at US$249 - will be pre-loaded with NOOK Email, NOOK Friends, Crossword Puzzle, Sudoku, Chess, Contacts, Gallery and Pandora Internet Radio. Additional apps are available for purchase from a dedicated NOOK shop.

In addition to securing over 150 interactive magazines and more than 350 children's interactive picture books, more than 200 multimedia books will allow users to watch dishes being prepared while reading recipe instructions or watch experts demonstrate new yoga poses thanks to in-page video functionality. Book lovers will also no doubt appreciate the new sliding page turn animation and enhanced pinch and zoom functionality.

The company has also introduced a beta social networking platform called NOOK Friends which allows users to swap books, share reading recommendations using the Facebook Like button and stay up to date with what everyone else is doing.

Last, but not least, the NOOK gets an email application that's compatible with POP and IMAP accounts from the likes of Google, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo. It's also possible to receive corporate email from any Microsoft Exchange Server via the TouchDown app.