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A Nook Review From an E-book Newbie

Until we were launching our Catholic digital media category I had never thought about buying an ebook reader like a Nook or a Kindle. But since we were going to be selling ebooks I figured it would be good to actually try one of these devices out.

I ended up purchasing a Nook from Barnes and Noble because I really can't stand closed systems like Amazon's for the Kindle. I realize that they recently opened things up a little so you can read more formats but that wasn't their original intent.

Shipping

I selected the standard shipping option which I think was free and it took about a week for the Nook to arrive.

Packaging

Nook Box

The Nook comes in a very compact box that includes a standard terms of use paper (for the trash) and a quick start guide that of course I didn't read except to note that I was supposed to charge the reader before using it. It also contained a USB cable and a plug adapter. You can charge the Nook either from your computer or a wall outlet.

The one thing that annoyed me was that the Nook doesn't come with even the most basic protective case. I'm not talking about a leather cover with cool designs, I'm talking about a simple vinyl slip case to keep it safe until you realize that you need something better.

Design

Front of Nook

Okay, this looks like an Apple product. It's a white rectangle with very little in the way of buttons. The whole device is 7.5" x 5" and about a quarter of an inch thick. It's about the same size a trade paperback novel and weighs about the same as a 250 page book. I'm sure that this is intentional.

The top has a power button (the silver strip) and two gray indents that are probably for opening it up. This will probably void the warranty but since I threw the terms of service away I don't know.

Top of Nook

The bottom has a mini-USB port, two speakers a headphone jack and two more tempting places to pop the cover open.

Bottom of Nook

The face has left and right buttons on the edges which let you hold the Nook in either hand and still turn pages. Since I'm left handed I notice things like this and it's a nice touch. There is a little horseshoe on the gray strip beneath the reading screen that is the "home" button for the device. I found this out by accident since I didn't read the getting started guide.

The little screen at the bottom is where you do most of the navigating for the device. The screen is really off-white. The blue tint is caused by my camera.

Nook Navigation

Setup

I plugged the Nook into my pc and noticed that it was already almost fully charged. When plugged in the screen tells you it's in USB drive mode and gives you instructions for using the device while it is plugged in. I followed the instructions and ... nothing happened. Hopefully the next time I try this I'll figure out if I'm not getting it or the Nook is ignoring me.

The first thing I tried to do was register the device and found that you can only do this over a wi-fi connection! I have the thing plugged into my pc which is on the Internet and I can't start using the device. Crud.

Navigation

Nook Navigation

Navigation is pretty intuitive with two exceptions. The touch screen has up and down arrows that scroll through selections on the reading screen and the buttons on the screen all have good touch areas so I didn't have a problem with clicking the wrong button.

The first thing that threw me is that the scrolling function works opposite to touch pads on laptops and also to the scroll on my Blackberry. I assume when I see a scroll bar on the side of a page that pulling down will move the document down. Not on the Nook. You have to scroll up to get the scrollbar to move down. I don't own an iPad, iPhone or Android so I don't know if being counter intuitive is the new norm here.

I also did a scientific experiment using an 11, 9 , 8 and 7 year old as test subjects. I gave the Nook to each to try and figure out how to navigate around a book. Three of them accidentally figured out the scrolling function and all thought it was backwards. My eight year old would have figured out the scrolling function if it worked intuitively.

The second thing that was strange was the use of a circle for the enter key. None of my kids figured this out and I only did because there wasn't anything else on the screen that looked like an enter key. I expect an enter key to have a right-facing arrow, a "go" button, a left-facing drop arrow like on a keyboard or some other standard, non-power button symbol.

The navigation options are pretty small but I was surprised at how well the Nook picked up what I meant to do. Dealing with forms is another issue.

The touchscreen also lets you grab and scroll through options like your book title list by swiping across the screen.

Nook Book Cover Browser

First Use Without Registration

Main Nook Navigation

Since I couldn't get the Nook registered immediately I just fiddled around with the controls to see what the device comes with by default. The menu at the bottom has nine sections:

  • the daily
  • my library
  • shop
  • reading now
  • games
  • wi-fi
  • audio
  • web
  • settings

Why did they do everything in lowercase? Just because Apple does, it doesn't mean that you, a supposed "literary" company, should follow suite and promote poor grammar.

"The daily" is kind of like the Nook newspaper. It has brief articles, product notifications and offers. The daily comes with a default message which right now is the Nook instruction manual written by Dave Barry. I'm not kidding. Anytime a company can take a ribbing and include it as the intro to a new product, I'm impressed. Here's an example:

Congratulations on your new nook! We're sure it will give you many years of trouble-free enjoyment until next week, when we come out with a newer version...

HOW TO OPERATE YOUR NOOK

If you're reading this, you have already figured out how to operate your nook. So our advice is, keep on doing whatever you're doing.

TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR NOOK

STEP ONE: Turn the device off.

STEP TWO: Turn the device back on.

STEP THREE: See what happens

"My library" is where all of your books and content are stored. I figured out later that the full manual is in the documents section of the library. Someday I'll read it.

You can browse your library several ways:

  • The main reading screen displays a list of your books that you can choose from. I'm not sure how efficient this is when you get hundreds of items but for the four I have it works fine.
  • You can browse the covers of your books by scrolling through them. It looks cool but again I don't think this is very efficient when you have a lot of titles.
  • You can search for a title.
  • You can browse by date added.

The "shop" lets you purchase items directly from the BN site but you need wi-fi access to do it. You can't use the USB cable on your pc. The shopping option lets you buy books, magazines and newspapers and lets you browse by category or suggested / featured titles. You can also do a title search. The one thing you can't do is sort the results by price.

"Reading now" opens up the last item you were reading to the page you were on. Pretty basic.

The "games" button lets you play Sudoku and Chess. While I though it would be really neat to be able to play Chess against someone else online this isn't an option. I haven't tested the Nook's abilities yet.

"Wi-fi" lets you adjust your wi-fi settings. Why this is its own button in addition to being under the settings button doesn't make sense to me.

"Audio" lets you upload files through the USB cable to the Nook. I haven't had a chance to test out the speakers yet.

I haven't tried out the (beta) web feature yet.

"Settings" lets you update things like the screen saver, wi-fi settings, sleep times and contact information. It would have been nice if you could password protect the device but that's not an option.

The screen saver comes on when you put the Nook in sleep mode or leave it alone for whatever timeout setting you have. Ten minutes is the default. The default screen savers are the Barnes and Noble author portraits. A nice touch.

Registration

The Starbucks across from our store has free wi-fi so I took the Nook over there to register it during lunch. The registration process requires that you have previously set up an account with Barnes and Noble which you probably did when you bought the Nook.

Once on the registration screen for your Nook the navigation menu automatically becomes a keyboard you enter your email and password for Barnes and Noble and the system registers your device. This is where the touchpad started frustrating me.

Nook Keyboard

The keys, small as they are, don't seem to be a problem. I think I only mistyped a letter once. The problem is that the response time for the screen is very delayed so you frequently think you have missed a key and then end up double entering it. Grrrr. I also found that at least twice I pressed something that either submitted the form too soon or took me back to the main navigation screen. I don't know what I did but it was annoying. I certainly wouldn't want to use the keypad for anything involving a lot of typing.

When I got the device registered I was able to download a book I don't remember buying, a free ebook sample I got several months ago and two BN Classics that I guess were freebies today. There wasn't an explanation about these so I'll just accept them as gifts.

Reading

Nook Reading Screen

The reading pane is very clear, as opposed to my photo, and (Darn it, the thing just locked up on me). Back in a minute. Okay, powering off and on fixed it.

The text is very clear and even though it doesn't have a backlight, the Nook is pretty easy to read even in dimmer lighting. You can choose among three fonts - Amasis which is the default serif font, Helvetica Neue which is a sans serif font and Light Classic which is a thinner serif font. You can also choose among six font sizes.

If the book is properly formatted you should have a hyperlinked table of contents that lets you go through the book by chapter or section. You can also add bookmarks which are the equivalent of sticking a real bookmark in a book - no comments, just a placeholder. This is great if you are reading multiple books at once or sharing the Nook with someone else.

You can also make annotations wherever you want in the book by highlighting a section and putting in whatever text you want. Once you do this you can jump to that section just like a chapter.

Using Non Barnes and Noble Files on the Nook

When you have the Nook plugged into your pc it acts just like a hard drive. You can copy any files to the Nook - you've got about 1.25 G of space. The Nook will read pdf, epub, txt, jpg, gif and mp3 formats. You can import your own wallpaper and screen saver files to the Nook but remember that color images that aren't the size of the screen will get resized and gray scaled on the fly and look muddy.

Books and files that you don't purchase through the Barnes and Noble site will not show up in your library or in your cover browser. Instead, they show up on the files and documents screen which actually may be better since this is the default screen when you click the library button.

While exploring the folder structure on the Nook I found the file that contains the serial number and model number of the Nook. The one I have is version 9. something, model name "Hobbes." I wonder if version eight was "Calvin" or possibly "Locke."

Web Browsing

Nook Web Browser

I was able to test this out at home this evening. The browser is in beta and it is clear why. The reader shows a gray scale version of a website but only seems to show about 400 px across so most sites won't show up properly. The touch screen at the bottom shows an even smaller piece of the site in color with the visible section surrounded by a clunky black rectangle in the reading screen. You can drag the web page around the touch screen to see more of it in the reading pane but, like the keyboard, response time is slow. You can use the touch screen to click links and I tested it out on our shopping cart which functions just fine. Still, I wouldn't waste my time browsing non-mobile optimized websites.

Overall Pros:

  • Clear text for reading
  • Ambidextrous buttons for turning pages
  • Size and weight
  • Extra touches like the Dave Barry instruction manual and the author screen savers
  • Intuitive (except for the reverse scrolling) interface.

Overall Cons:

  • Registration only over wi-fi. That was annoying.
  • It locked up on me on the first day of use.
  • Web browsing is clunky.
  • The keypad feedback is too slow and filling out forms can be annoying. Since the screen is so slow at registering keystrokes you can actually see the letters you type into the password field before they switch to dots.
  • The online store can't be sorted by price. Hey, I want to find a free ebook but I don't want to have to browse all 100,000 titles to do it.
  • No case. I know they want to sell their fancy $30 cases but come on.
  • Page transitioning. This is a huge problem and one that I can't really show but the switch between pages looks like the Nook is having a power failure. When you "turn" a page, the screen goes into a reverse contrast mode for a second before loading the next page. Aesthetically, this stinks.

Overall, I give the Nook three out of five stars primarily because of the strange flicker between each page. Since reading is what you do with the device the action that you take every few seconds shouldn't be be annoying. I also didn't like the counter-intuitive scrolling and enter key.

{ 8 comments… add one }

8 comments
Steve
Steve

The scroll bar thing seems to be a common mistake, you aren't actually supposed to try to use the scroll bar itself, you scroll on the screen/displayed content. If you think about it/use it that way it works fine. I'm sure they did it that way because trying to hit a tiny little scroll bar icon is a pain.

Paul
Paul

I was disappointed to learn that the nook: 1) Puts your non-B&N purchases in another documents folder. The Kindle gives your Amazon purchased and otherwise-obtained files in the same book list and they are indistinguishable. But no pretty color screen. 2) The Nook is the only one of the 3 big readers so far (Sony Reader and Kindle being the other two) that does not allow note-taking. That was the big and final selling point for me getting a Kindle, as it makes research and the Daily Chesterton Quote much easier. With the color cover screen and the lack of note-taking, it seems the Nook was geared more for fiction fans. I'd really like to see someone throw a PDF on a nook and demo it, from what I hear it doesn't do too well, nor does the Sony Readers.

terry
terry

go to BN let them show you how to use your NOOK , they will show you how to search for books by price. It's easy and you can do it.

Jeffrey L Miller
Jeffrey L Miller

The flicker between each page is inherent in eInk based readers. Though the brand new Kindle announced yesterday is suppose to reduce this by 20%. I would say the Kindle and Nook are just about equally closed because of the use of DRM. Kindle The only format the Kindle does not directly support that the Nook does is ePub, though Kindle supports .mobi while Nook doesn't. Kindle uses it's own DRM scheme for .azw and Nook uses Adobe's DRM scheme for ePub. If you have a non-DRM book it is extremely easy using the open source multi-Platform Calibre to convert the book from one format to pretty much any other format. I wouldn't say that Amazon original intent was for a closed system. DRM is forced on ebook retailers because of the publishers. Amazon was the first major store to sell mp3s without DRM. The reason the Nook and Kindle don't support every format out there is obviously since they both want you to buy books through their store since the money is in the books not the eReader hardware. So I would say the Nook and Kindle are equally closed. I think the main consideration between the Nook and the Kindle would be the catalog offered and pricing. Though the differences between the two are getting smaller. Though I usually look for a non-DRM way to buy a book if I can. For example I buy eBooks from Ignatius Press because they are DRM-free even though they are not as cheap as the Amazon version of the same book. Now that you have your eBook store up I will now go through your store vice Amazon where I can. As for me, I have the iPad and using apps from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders I can read every format out there along with of course non-DRM book formats. Plus there is no page flicker. Though eInk based readers are better for reading outside - but they need a book light indoors if not enough light is available.

Marc Marchand
Marc Marchand

Thanks for the review! Be sure to check your public library. Many now offer free popular downloadable ebooks with your library card. The nook is compatible...not so with the Kindle. As you mention, they're a bit too exclusive with their content.

Ian
Ian

Actually, you can make notations throughout titles on the Nook. Look at page 131 of the user guide. I am disappointed about the lack of integration with the main library as well.

Ian
Ian

Thanks for the details about file standards and DRM. Flicker may be inherent in eInk but that doesn't make it good. I tested out the Nook yesterday in a hallway at night with only a single light bulb on in the room next to me and could read the text fine. It really is just as clear as reading a "real" book.

Paul
Paul

Ian, thanks for correcting me on that feature!

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