Since you're not doing this with ViewNX or CaptureNX, which are the only programs that apply the in-camera settings to the raw files, you really are seeing the raw output, converted to a generic JPEG file. You can't ever really look at a raw file, because it is, well, raw. It's always converted to JPEG or TIFF for viewing. In fact, the JPEGs that you were using are actually the raw files converted to JPEG by the camera, and then only the converted JPEG was saved; the raw file was discarded. If you shoot raw, the camera simply saves the raw file and does not process a JPEG. (Actually it does - that's what you see on the LCD; it's only a preview JPEG.)
So unless your camera is set to some "flat" settings - which are not the default - it's unlikely that the raw file is producing more real colors or contrast.
If you're serious about photography, you might as well shoot raw - because you may decide later to process some of the files you shoot now. But if you don't intend to take up photography in a "deep" way, JPEG is a fine way to go.
_____ Brian... a bicoastal Nikonian and Team Member
My gallery is online. Comments and critique welcomed any time!