Barnes & Noble Nook Review

barnes noble nook review

Barnes & Noble Nook

“There’s no doubt that the Nook is a cool product – but the device feels a little rushed at this point which makes us question if it can truly give the Kindle a run for its money.”
  • Large readable E Ink display
  • Lower color LCD touch display looks great
  • Expandable storage
  • Large book catalog
  • Touch Display is hard to use at times
  • Slow refresh on E Ink display
  • Lacking blog and magazine content
  • Questionable durability
  • Unintuitive menu system
  • Lag between two displays
MSRP $499.99

Barnes & Noble Nook

Introduction

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.

Barnes Noble Nook

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)

– PDF

– 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

Navigation

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.

barnes noble nook review

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.

Book Lending

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.

Data transfer

Music and data transfer feels very slow via the USB cable, and when the Nook is plugged into the PC/Mac it cannot be used simultaneously which is a bummer.

MP3 Player

We love that the Nook has a built-in speaker and, as expected, it sounds mediocre at best for music playback. We would have preferred it be located on the side rather than the bottom too, but it’s not a big deal. We did notice that the E Ink screen would flash occasionally when you switched songs and that there was an audible pop in a couple of instances too. Skipping ahead in a song causes it to stutter a little bit sometimes as well. Of paramount importance for audiophiles to note, though: Sound quality is very basic, so do not expect deep bass or even an equalizer – this is a book first and foremost. What’s more, the Nook only supports MP3 format. So if you are a big Zune or iPod user, make sure you convert your music accordingly.

Battery Life

Barnes & Noble claims that you can read the Nook for up to ten days before charging, and these claims are pretty close. In our tests, we were able to get around eight days, which isn’t bad for the category. Note that we did have to put the Nook into airplane mode (turns off the WiFi/3G) to achieve these results. The battery is removable, which is nice, while charging took a pain-inducing 3.5 hours to return the Nook to full power. This is pretty ridiculous, as the gizmo takes longer to charge than most laptops.

Barnes & Noble Nook

Wireless

Barnes & Noble has teamed up with AT&T to offer a free wireless Internet connection so you can download content virtually anywhere. You do not have to sign into a special account, or even have an account with AT&T. Just turn the Nook on and it connects anonymously. If you are near a hotspot or WiFi connection, you can opt to connect that way too if you get a better signal.

Book Search

With a touted catalog of over one million books, the Nook’s digital library is definitely a force to be reckoned with. And with so much selection to choose from, naturally you would expect the search function of the Nook to be intuitive and easy to use. So consider us duly surprised to find that there is only a single field for entering the book information that you are looking for. There are no options for genre, book type, or even fields for inserting the author’s name. Odd, but not a total deal breaker, we thought. So we decided to browse the library, go to the genre we wanted, and then do a search from within that genre hoping it would show results specific to the genre of books you are currently browsing. Nope – it showed results from every genre again.

Magazines/Blogs

There are few magazines to choose from at this point with Amazon’s collection dwarfing the Nooks. We expect this to change as more deals are done and users buy the Nook, but it’s a clear indication that this product was rushed to market. The Amazon Kindle currently has more than 100 magazines and newspapers and 7,000+ blogs available to read.

barnes noble nook review

Books

As mentioned above, Barnes & Noble touts that there are more than one million digital books available for the Nook – more than twice that of Amazon’s 389,000-strong catalogue. Dig a little deeper and you will find that, while true, most of the books available for the Nook are provided through Google (for free) or are unpopular titles that are currently out of print. That said, both the Nook and the Kindle offer the top-selling books based on ratings and user popularity

Durability

We decided not to put the Nook in its own protective case intentionally to see what would wear down on the device. The second touch display definitely showed fingerprint smudges after a while, but that’s no big deal. In fact, we carried the Nook in a messenger bag that gets thrown into the backseat of a car everyday and it seemed to be fine. However, on one occasion we accidently dropped the Nook from about 4 feet off the ground and it broke the E Ink display. The screen was not cracked or anything, but the ink was not being displayed correctly, as something inside had gone haywire. While we can’t say that all eReaders are this sensitive, it’s safe to say that you should probably buy a protective case for your Nook.

Conclusion

The Barnes & Noble Nook is fairly impressive for a first-generation product. The problem though is that Amazon is already too far ahead in the game and currently on its second-edition outing, which offers superior performance.

Bear in mind: Whenever a company is able to get a product out into the marketplace and then improve upon it before a competitor even gets their feet in the water, the market is already defined by that first player. And unless you are able to offer something considerably better in terms of user experience or features with a new piece of hardware, you will be playing catch-up for the rest of your existence.

While we don’t think that will be the case with the Nook, considering how many orders it’s already had, Barnes & Noble is certainly cutting it close. The company needs to spend a lot of time refining this product to fix the bugs we encountered and ultimately making the interface that much better. So if someone should happen to ask you if it’s worth adding to their wish list, or picking up in 2010? Answer truthfully: Yes, as there’s no doubt that the Nook is a cool product – but they might also consider looking at other options before diving in, as the device feels too rushed at this point to truly recommend it over the Amazon Kindle.

Highs:

  • Large readable E Ink display
  • Lower color LCD touch display looks great
  • Expandable storage
  • Large book catalog

Lows:

  • Touch Display is hard to use at times
  • Slow refresh on E Ink display
  • Lacking blog and magazine content
  • Questionable durability
  • Unintuitive menu system
  • Lag between two displays