Forget shelling out $500 for a new iPad 2 or $800 for the Xoom. The Wall Street Journal writer Brett Arends picked up a Barnes & Noble Nook Color for less than $200, and then — following a tech site's instructions — "jail-broke" the e-reader and transformed it into an Android tablet. "I wasn't really expecting it to work," says Arends. "But the results were remarkable." Here, a brief guide to the DIY tablet:

How'd he do it?
Arends bought a Barnes & Noble Nook Color for only $190, thanks to an online promotion that brought the price down from $250. With help from some "pretty easy" instructions on Ars Technica, he downloaded a "perfectly legal" software fix from the internet that turned the e-reader into a tablet capable of running on the Google Android platform and handling Android apps including e-mail, TweetDeck, and even Angry Birds.

Can anyone can do this?
A degree of tech savviness helps, but it's not exactly rocket science. According to Ryan Paul at Ars Technica, "a considerable audience of Android enthusiasts and device modders" are doing this to the Nook Color. Arends says the process went quite smoothly for him.

What happens if you have problems?
That's the hitch. "If it goes wrong, you're on your own," says Arends. Barnes & Noble says the hack invalidates the Nook's warranty.

Is it as good as an iPad or a Xoom?
No, but for the price, it's quite nice. The hacked Nook is slower, lacks cameras, can't run all apps, and can only connect to the internet with Wi-Fi, not 3G. But for a "basic tablet," it's great, says Arends, who even prefers it to the meatier rivals because it's smaller — about half the size of the iPad — and easier to carry around. "Barnes & Noble needs to get the lead out and let people run these applications on the Nook Color without having to jail-break it," he says. "They'd sell a lot more of these babies if customers could run e-mail and Facebook and so on out of the box."

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Ars Technica