Read between the virtual lines, what with runaway sales of Amazon’s Kindle and news of Plastic Logic and co. splayed all over the evening headlines: eReaders are the hot items to have this holiday season. Luckily enough, retail bookselling giant Barnes & Noble was able to get into the game just in the nick of time with their new Nook eBook player, which goes straight for Jeff Bezos and co.’s throat. Thankfully, as the device proves in the face of mounting competition, there is still room in the category for alternate players, and plenty of space left for improvements in this emerging technology. As we quickly discovered, the Barnes & Noble nook has a few tricks up its sleeve and gives the Kindle a run for its money – read on to discover precisely how.
Design and Features
The look of the Nook is not much different than the Amazon Kindle. Both measure in at about 8 by 5 inches and both come with 2GB of internal memory, although the Nook is a tad bit heavier and noticeably thicker. That’s where the cosmetic similarities end, however. The biggest difference between the two eReaders is obvious at first glance. Instead of a built-in keypad like on the Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook instead uses a secondary color LCD touchscreen display located at the bottom of the device. It’s this touch display that you will use for browsing the vendor’s catalog of books and magazines, for changing the settings of the Nook and for all around typing – and it looks great too.
Another feature worth pointing out is the operating system of the Nook. Powered by Google’s Android, this means that the capability for adding future features through ongoing updates is pretty endless. Behind the easily removable rear cover hides both the Nook’s battery and a microSD card slot. This lets you have theoretically endless storage. Want to listen to music while you read? No problem, just pop in a new card.
The Barnes & Noble Nook supports the following reading formats:
- EPUB (non DRM, Adobe DRM or B&N formatted)
- PDB (non DRM, or B&N formatted)
- JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
Inputs and Controls
There are two buttons on either side of the display which are used to navigate to the previous and next pages of any document, book or periodical you are reading, while the power button is located at the top on the device.
The headphone jack, USB port and mono speaker are located on the bottom of the Kindle. Users we interviewed were mixed in their reaction to the placement of the headphone jack: Some liked it on the bottom, while others would have preferred it be located on the top. We actually like the jack’s positioning on the device’s bottom, because it keeps your headphone cable out of the way. However, the USB port on the bottom feels extremely fragile when in use, so be gentle when plugging in any cable.
When you connect the Nook to a computer, it shows up as a hard drive, which is great. Folders listed on this hard drive include:
- my audiobooks
- my B&N downloads
- my documents
- my music
- my screensavers
- my wallpapers
Testing and Use
If you are migrating over from the Kindle, you will find that the Nook’s interface lacks any sort of intuitive order. The hierarchy is linear, meaning you can only go up and down for the most part. A good example is when we accidently hit the “remove all bookmarks” button while reading a book (we meant to bookmark a page). An onscreen message asked “Are you sure you want to remove all bookmarks?” However, when we looked at the color LCD display, we noticed we were not on the bookmarks menu any more – somehow it went to the home menu. This meant we had to go to “Reading Now” to go back into the book we were just reading, then hit “bookmarks” and select “Cancel.” The menu system should not have returned to the home screen until we decided whether to delete all the bookmarks or cancel the operation.
Color LCD Touch Display
If you ask us, the physical design of an eReader should be as utilitarian as possible without all of the flash of new technologies getting in the way. Sure, a color touchscreen LCD looks great, but in reality, using it was a major pain in the butt at times. There will always be considerable lag when inputting data and having it show up on an E Ink display, but in this case there are two points of lag: 1) When you are typing on the touch display, and 2) the delay between the touch display and the E Ink display. So if you are typing quickly on the touch display and misspell a word, you have to wait for the E Ink portion to catch up before you can back out of it on the touch display – a process which can be frustrating, to say the least. Simply put, with the Nook, you are forced to be patient. We also found that the touchscreen can be slow to bring up. It took us multiple tries while the music player was on and in a second instance while we were reading a large book.
E Ink Display
The grayscale E Ink display on the Nook is no different than other eReaders on the market. In moderate light conditions, it is easy to read, while it’s extremely difficult to view in low light environments. If you plan on traveling, make sure that you bring a clip-on light with you so you can read in dark areas. The contrast of the display is on par with rival units from both Amazon and Sony, but the refresh rate is another story. We found the Nook’s refresh rate while updating information on the screen to be the slowest in the group. It’s not like you will be changing pages that often, but when you do, it can be tiring while waiting for the screen to change.
Barnes & Noble offers a book lending feature on the Nook which lets you give your friends a free copy of the book to read for up to two weeks. This is a cool idea, but two weeks is an awfully short time and we have to wonder if this is just a marketing hook to get readers into a book, and then force them to buy it as they run out of time.