Mini-Review: The Nook from Barnes & Noble… from an Apple iPad user’s perspective

3 10 2010

I had the pleasure of spending half a day with the Nook e-reader and here are some of my notes, observations and brief comparisons.

As an iPad user from day one I found the Nook a little frustrating at first and kind of funny when I kept clicking on the top screen where you read the content to try and navigate to to other areas or functions of the Nook. After a few moments of confusion I focused myself back to the bottom touch screen area were you interact and navigate around the Nook which is basically a rectangular 3.5-inch color touchscreen with icons for navigation and functions. I found the navigation a little confusing and redundant but not completely frustrating or complicated. I did find myself clicking around the touch screen and side arrows to clumsily get to where I wanted to go eventually. Again, this was my first 5-minute impression using the Nook so I could see myself after a a few days acclimating myself to it.

What I really liked about the Nook was holding it in my hand. I could grip the entire Nook in the palm of my hand, it felt comfortable, natural and extremely secure without any worries of it slipping out of my grasp. The weight is best described as a light but solid feeling, compared to the iPad which is noticeably heavier and not as “graspable” in the palm of your hand. The screen is relatively half the size of the iPad’s.

The 6-inch matte e-reader screen is exceptionally easy to read in normal to bright light environments. Text is sharp and clean. In low light or dark situations I found the e-reader almost impossible to read except for the bottom illuminated touchscreen area.

The Nook uses “E Ink” which is very readable in bright or normal light environments, as stated before in low light situations I found the Nook pretty much impossible to read. There are some accessory lights and Nook covers with built-in lights you can buy for reading in low light which run in the neighborhood of $15 to $50. The light accessories for the Nook seem to work with mixed reviews I read online. Some reviewers mention the light accessories, while allowing them to use the Nook in dark situations, seem to last for an hour or two before a noticeable dimming occurs while other create uncomfortable glare on the screen making it difficult to read. Navigating from page to page is as simple as clicking on arrows on either side of the screen.

I used the Nook for a few solid straight hours reading, listening to some music, trying to jump on my personal hot spot and really didn’t notice any battery drain. The specs say you can read up to 10 days without recharging it not including the wireless feature. While clicking on icons in the touchscreen area I did observe noticeable lag from clicks to the screen updating content and proceeding to the next screen. This was not unbearable by any means but was noticeable with a one or two seconds here, three to five seconds there.

The Nook came with a beta web browser. I tried several times to connect to my local wireless network but could not. I did get a few messages of “Connecting to Network” but the connection would ultimately fail. The Nook’s default web page did come with a default page listing the browser’s features but overall it looked like the browsing experience would be clumsy scrolling and viewing web pages and navigating from one page and link to the next.

The Nook comes with internal storage of 2GB and expandable to 16GB via a small MicroSD card. You can load up music to it as it supports a few main audio formats including MP3 and Ogg Vorbis but not WMA. Listening to music was fairly acceptable with sound coming out of the internal bottom single speaker. I cranked the music to full loudness and was surprised the speaker sound did not seem to crackle or distort slightly as some other devices seem to do when cranked. The overall sound is not as strong and the iPads speakers but does seem to fair a little better than Apples first generation iPhone. Listing to an audio book was a little hard to hear and understand using only the built-in speaker so I would recommend external speakers solutions for that use. The Nook includes a headphone jack as well. It can be recharged with a wall jack or USB connection.

Image formats are supported as well for wallpapers and book covers including JPG, GIF, PNG and BMP. But the display is E Ink black-and-white so the image quality is pretty much mute.

The Nook did include two games, sodoku and chess which seemed fairly playable. But alas no Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are available… yet 😛

I downloaded, via AT&Ts 3G network, a daily newspaper edition of the San Jose Mercury News for 0.50¢ and it took about a minute to completely download. Scrolling from section to section and story to story again did seem a little cumbersome compared to the iPad and images with stories were in glorious black-and-white. Side-note: Why does the cost of an e-edition newspaper run relatively the same as a hard-copy print edition? Are network back-end delivery servers spiting out digital versions of the newspaper run the same as traditional hard-copy paper, ink and trucking/fuel distribution costs? Seems something is completely off-balance with that format. then again, maybe it can be all equated to just a convenience fee 😉

Barnes & Noble offers more than a million titles available in their store with more than 500,000 free e-books available and new and best sellers costing around $10.

Yes it seems you can gain root level access of a Nook via software now to install your Android-nized version of browsers, tweety and audio apps to run on it but after upgrading the Nook’s firmware with hacks detected will make the working unit an expensive unattractive paper weight.

If you want a digital reading device for mostly novel-type content to be read in lighted environments then this is a sweet little reader. However, I tend to use, read and buy instructional books and materials with diagrams, illustrations and charts which I feel would not be the best experience using a black-and-white only e-reader to view such content. The Nook does feel naturally comfortable in the palm of your hand while the interface and navigation is reasonable to figure out but not overly intuitive for me. If you like to do some reading in bed as I do under low-light conditions as to not disturb your mate, you may have to fork over extra dough for a lighting accessory. I have not touched a Kindle so really can’t say if the Nook seems better or not.

I really can’t compare the Nook to the iPad directly either. I have heard people trying to compare e-readers to tablets or iPads but in reality they are two completely different devices to serve different needs and purposes. Yes they share some similar functions but it would be like comparing a 4×4 off-road pickup truck to a sub-compact car. They both can get you from point “A” to point “B” in a few situations but only one literally offers tons more capabilities, functionality and fun to get you to your ultimate “B” destination.

Mini-Review: Nook, by Barnes & Noble

Mini-Review: Barnes & Noble Nook 3 out of 5 stars

Product: Barnes and Noble Nook

Version: Nook 3G, Android 1.4 e-reader

Cost: $150 and $200

My take: “Nice little e-reader as long as you have light, a little laggy but feels comfortable in your hand.” -RiscX

Mini-Review: Barnes & Noble Nook
The Nook in hand outside on sunny day, feels comfortable and reads easy. iPad on left, Nook on right, both are readable outside. Bottom of Nook, speaker, headphone and USB port.

Charaging cable for the Nook via Wall or USB. iPad, Nook and iPhone 2G under direct bright desktop lighting. iPad, Nook and iPhobe 2G with camera flash, all readable.

The Nook’s Achilles heel, even though this photo looks like it was taken in complete darkness it actually was taken at 3PM on a sunny day with ambient light coming through sliding glass door, the Nook’s readability falls down under low light conditions.


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