Posted by: maroonmaurader | February 20, 2010

Nook thoughts

So I’ve had a chance to give a pretty thorough testing to my new Nook, and for the sake of anyone else considering an eReader here are my thoughts in case anyone cares…

Reading Experience: A-

– The eInk looks superb; it’s at least as pleasant to look at as a paperback book if not more so.

– The page width is slightly narrower than a typical paperback, but wide enough to not be a problem. Similarly, the fact that the page is shorter means you’ll be flipping pages more often, but you still get a significant chunk of text in one page.

– Turning pages causes a brief delay while the next page is displayed, in which there is a mildly distracting black-and-white flicker effect. When casually reading it’s not really noticeable, but when speed-reading it becomes quite irritating. Unless they can get the times significantly down for page-turning, the Nook is not going to be a viable venue for speed-reading books before a discussion.

– There is no jump-to-page feature, despite what the 1.0 and 1.1 manuals state (the 1.2 manual has “corrected” that oversight by cutting mention of the feature). This can be truly angering if you want to go back and check something, get bored and want to jump ahead some, or feel like peeking at the end. There is a jump-to-chapter feature in theory, but generally not in practice. There are minor complexities involved with a jump-to-page-number feature (due to varying page numbers with reader size, font size, etc.), but rather than deal with these they’ve apparently just tossed up their hands and given up.

– Perhaps once every 200 page-turns or so I actually consciously realize (for whatever reason) that I’m reading on an eBook other than a paperback; as that is once every couple of hours I don’t see it as a cause to distinguish between Nook and book. I generally read a mass-market paperback at around 1.5 pages per minute; I suppose if you’re used to reading much faster than that it might not be so seamless.

Content: B

– Content”s cheap. A typical eBook in the B&N store is about 25%-50% off list price for similar hard copy. Hard to complain about that, and doubly valuable because it shows B&N were listening to the customers about that one: before the Nook’s launch they had noticeably higher prices (often even higher than hard-copy price), and were getting a lot of flak for it; I don’t know when they adjusted prices but it’s been less than a 2-month response time for a fairly radical re-pricing.

– It’s irregular. Several authors have some, but not all of their works available in eBook format; you might well find that book 2 of a trilogy is available in eBook format, but not books 1 or 3. But I would say failing to find the book you want in eBook format is definitely the exception rather than the rule.

– It’s slipshod. There are somewhat frequent formatting mistakes. I read one book in which every single use of quotation marks was separated with a space from the words proceeding and following – as in, “Bob said ” And let there be light! ” and there was light.” Somewhat disconcerting at best, but more confusing when it left hanging quotation marks at the end of the line, and the quote started on a new line – I often had to stop and back up when I realized I’d missed seeing them. I read another book in which every few pages a word would randomly have a space thrown into the middle. I cou ldn’t say why, but it could be distra cting when that happened. Yet another book seemed to have chosen at random which paragraphs to render in the standard font size and which to reduce what looked like about 2 sizes – it was close to a coin flip determining which was which. I’m not sure if it was content or the reader, but two books ever so rarely cut off about half a letter at the end of the line if it was a particularly wide line. And a few books had none of these irritating quirks. They let you download and read a sample for free, so if these are actually enough to put you off buying the book I suppose you could check that first. Although the Nook is designed to be able to jump to a given chapter from the book menu, I have yet to actually read an eBook in which they bothered to enter the links for chapters. This can be gotten around by using the text search option and searching for the chapter title, but that’s somewhat time-consuming on the small touch keyboard they give and shouldn’t be necessary.

– It does a lousy job with covers and graphics. You can hardly expect a smaller, black-and-white only display to do a good job of reproducing a full-size color cover, but the images on this are generally so dark that you can barely make anything out. They might as well just put a black square on the screen and caption it.

– It also allows for newspapers and magazines. Nice, if you still enjoy reading a full newspaper or magazine instead of selected articles online I guess. I haven’t tried this feature.

– The Nook supports PDF and EPUB formats, including EPUB formats without DRM and EPUB formats not from the B&N store with the Adobe DRM – which is the standard that most of the industry (excluding two of the other big players: Apple and Amazon) seem to be gathering around. If you like being sold to by a monopoly, get a Kindle or iPad. If you’d rather not be locked into one manufacturer ad infinitum, the Nook is a much better bet. This, paired with smaller dimensions and better company track record, were the primary reasons I opted for a Nook instead of a Kindle.

The Hardware: A-

– The Nook is slightly smaller, thicker, and heavier than the Kindle; I find it to be slightly taller and wider than a standard mass-market paperback book. In terms of portability, it’s pretty good. The weight isn’t bad at all, and the dimensions are small enough to fit it’s protective case into my coat pocket. I could actually see even taking this with me if I were going on an extended backpacking trip, although I’d probably try to make up the weight somewhere else.

– The inclusion of a color touch-screen at the bottom is already useful, and promises to become more so in the future – it provides a lot more options for what you can do with an interface than other contemporary eReaders, meaning as patches are released more can be done with the Nook than Kindle or Sony eReader. And they are patching at a reasonable rate and making real improvements with those.

– The battery is supposed to have “10 days” power when reading in Airplane mode (no connectivity). I fully charged mine one night, turned on Airplane mode and read close to 1800 page-turns the next day (probably about 1200 mass-market paperback pages), and found power down to 50%. So I’d estimate around 30 hours battery life, rather than the 240 implied by promotional materials. On the other hand, the battery charges about 10x faster than it discharges, and in general if you spend more than 30 hours reading you could probably find 3 hours in there to plug it in. I guess if you’re on a very long trip without power this might be a problem; on the other hand unlike other eReaders currently available you can replace the Nook battery yourself with just a screwdriver and some patience, it only costs $30 to get a replacement battery and they’re fairly small and lightweight – there’s no reason you couldn’t take say 3 batteries with you on a trip, giving you 90 hours of reading.

– The Nook comes with about 1.3GB of memory (enough for ~1500 eBooks) and a slot where you can insert another micro-SD card. By 2011 SanDisk expects to be selling 128GB micro-SD cards; as long as you’re only using your Nook to store books you’re not going to run out of space.

– The Nook also can store and play MP3s. These will fill up your available memory much faster than books, drain the battery more rapidly than just reading, and the sound quality from the built-in speakers is poor enough to not be worth the trouble; on the other hand you can get perfectly good performance out of headphones, and if you aren’t near any other way of playing music or prefer the mobility it’s a nice feature. I can’t say I’ve used this feature enough to comment on how much faster the battery drains.

– It has both wireless (cellular) and WiFi capabilities. I was skeptical at first that there was any need for WiFi when downloading books (notably small downloads), but I now can see at least one use. When browsing the store, there is an option to go to a cover-display scroll down in the touchscreen area, much like running your finger along a row of books. Without WiFi, the connection is just too slow for this feature to be worthwhile.

The Software: C-

– The “The Daily” feature is nice enough (like a mini-newsletter with occasional articles, eBook coupon offers, notice of specials), while nothing earth-shattering.

– The Settings page works well for giving you access to all settings I can think of wanting to change with only a few clicks.

– The Reading Now feature (jumps to your current page of the last book you opened) is also nice enough I suppose, although I would be somewhat shocked if they hadn’t included it.

– I can easily see the Library becoming a bit of a mess. You are free to sort by Most Recent, Title, or Author, and you can choose to archive and un-archive books, and display or not display archived books – although that part seems to be a little buggy, as some titles I archived are definitely still staring me in the fact right now. There’s also a search feature. It would be nice if they had tied that search feature together with a feature that let you assign tags to books (e.g., you could create a “Favorites” group, a “Biography” group, etc.); as it is you have to scroll through books (approximately 9 at a time) until you see one you want, or search for a specific title. One can certainly imagine being in the mood e.g. for a murder mystery, but with no particular author or title in mind; the current setup means you would have to look through your whole library. If you actually had the 1500 books on your Nook that the built-in memory can hold, this could easily take you 5-10 minutes for something that should take 30 seconds.

– Similarly, the B&N shop is a poor showing, both on the Nook and on the computer. On the Nook, there is no quick linking to sequels or related books from a given title (particularly troubling for those series in which the sequel may be written by a different author, so you can’t even search for the authors name, or series by very prolific authors), no way to sort books by any order other than best-selling (e.g., sort by price might be nice), no way to add any of the restrictions that make finding a good value easy (their online store, for example, supports such simple restriction as “under $10,” which makes it easy to sift out those still high-priced because they’re brand new). It’s not nearly as nice or convenient browsing titles on a Nook as in an actual bookstore or library, perhaps unavoidably but nonetheless unfortunately. The online shop does have related books (sometimes), customer lists including the book (if you look hard for it), and sorting by price, title, and release date. However, both stores are cluttered with multiple copies of the same eBook, often for different prices and sometimes even for different prices despite being the exact same version. In addition, one of the nice things about going into a physical bookstore is that the limited shelf space has automatically imposed some selection pressures on which books you see. While I like the increased set of choices offered by a digital store, it would be nice if they also gave me the option of looking just at books that would get placed in a bricks-and-mortar store if I wasn’t interested in sorting through a bunch of chaff at the moment. Selection is odd and sometimes limited in both Nook and online store, although still larger than in any other eBook store.

– The Audioplayer is sadly limited in functionality (or maybe I just can’t figure it out – it doesn’t exactly have a tutorial or help text, and I haven’t even figured out how to get it to keep playing as you switch books).

Et Alia:

– I got the Industrial Easel cover, and am fairly displeased with it. They opted to use a magnet to hold the cover closed, which I guess is nice except now I have to worry about having it resting on top of my computer (directly above my hard drive) when I charge it via USB. Further, the cover itself absolutely reeked for the first several days, the magnet was covered in a film which looked like it had probably been stuck on with the most consumer-unfriendly glue they could lay their hands on (it peeled at the corners, but frayed off in the middle when I tried to peel it off outright; the adhesive was an irritating clear-yellow color which reminds me more of machining than quality consumer goods). The case only covers front and back, not sides, so it is possible for something to slip under the front of the case and scratch the screen if e.g. a branch were to scrape at it at the wrong angle. The “Easel” orientation is barely passable, in that the easel can’t really push back at all against turning a page without collapsing… so you have to actually hold the thing in your hand anyways to change pages. A definite downside if you were using Easel because you had your hands full and could only spare a finger now and then to switch pages. It generally works, it was cheap, and the stench is mostly gone… that’s the best I can say for it.

– The warranty is definitely overpriced – a 2 year warranty for something like 1/4 the cost of the Nook itself. I got it, but the price says one of two things. Either they know they’ve got you hooked now that you committed to buy the Nook and are going to grab all they can get (in which case it’s an irritating bit of price gouging), or one out of four Nooks actually will get broken or fail in the first 2 years (in which case it’s a sign of appallingly shoddy workmanship).

– It interfaced smoothly and with no complaints whatsoever with my computer – unlike my iPod, which regularly engages in a passive-aggressive “I can’t see you!” tactics, unlike my camera, which takes about a minute to connect and goes into conniptions for a while after I disconnect it, unlike my USB drive, which only works on one of my 4 USB ports, unlike my keyboard and mouse, which only work via USB and no longer through the default mouse and keyboard sockets… a pleasant surprise to have something just work. I doubt they can get too much credit for that, as something that just works with my computer probably does so due to correct alignment of stars and moon more than programming savvy.

– The “LendMe” feature they’ve bragged about so heavily in marketing is basically just a publicity stunt, and maybe (in an ideal world) a sign of things to come. For selected books (precisely one of the books I’ve read so far, out of close to a dozen), it is enabled (it’s publisher choice). On the rare occasion it was enabled by the publisher, it lets you lend a given eBook once, to one other person who also has a Nook, for a time period not to exceed 14 consecutive days. I’m told this is a noteworthy concession by the publishers, who are prone to running around with buckets over their head to protect from the falling sky over just about anything involved in moving to the 21st century. One hopes that as a: new executives take control over time, and b: pirated copies of books become a more threatening replacement product, these restrictions will be eased.

– It’s expected of any eBook reader, but I still think it’s really cool that I can carry around potentially thousands of books, all available in a matter of moments (or minutes, if they don’t improve the library), in a nice convenient package like the Nook.

Closing Thoughts: The software and content are passable but in need of more attention. The peripherals are poor. The hardware is not quite as good as advertised but still far better than necessary. The core value of the ebook reader, however – letting you read eBooks – is executed extremely well. The device is well-designed to allow for future improvement. eBooks are significantly cheaper. A quality product, well worth having; one hopes its software will continue to improve via patches instead of being abandoned in favor of a Nook 2.0. And don’t get the Industrial Easel cover.



  1. You said:

    “I fully charged mine one night, turned on Airplane mode and read close to 1800 page-turns the next day (probably about 1200 mass-market paperback pages), and found power down to 50%.”

    e-Ink devices only use battery when their screen updates. So, the battery drain you saw was due to 1800 page turns, not time duration. Most people don’t read 1200 pages in a day.

    I don’t have a Nook (I’ve got a Kindle) but in 5 weeks, I read three books. Total of about 1900 pages. Plus sporadic reading on other content and lots of experimentation. Call it 2500 pages. I kept the wifi on for no more than a few hours during that time, and I’ve drained only three charges on it. So, I’m getting 10 days, easily.

  2. Nice review, JJ. I haven’t used a Nook personally, but I have played with my dad’s Kindle 2. Lots of the same comments, particularly about refresh rate. Generally I read with it on such a small font size that there’s a sizable amount of text on the screen and I turn pages rather infrequently that way. I wonder what percentage of ebook readers are self-proclaimed speed readers?

    I think one of your best points is about the software and lack of tags. Not sure how it’s handled on Kindle, but they do a similar thing on Netflix Instant Watch on Xbox; you have a linear view of all your movies that you can’t search, sort, or otherwise interact with. You’re forced to do a linear search through <= 500 movies to find what you want. It's shockingly user unfriendly, especially when the Netflix UI online allows such advanced searching capabilities and bins the movies into genres automatically.

    In order to avoid using the touch screen keyboard, I would recommend the Nook authors automatically add tags based on genre and author, but give you the ability to remove these tags or add any arbitrary ones. This would allow you to filter by genre, probably the most useful way of doing things. (I worked at a library for a few years and we primarily indexed by author, but certain sections e.g. new books, romances) were corralled off into their own separate area.

    I know George got a Nook; you might want to talk to him to see if he's found any workarounds for your problems.

    Finally, if you got that case on Amazon, I would advise you to write a similarly scathing review there to save some other poor sap from buying it. The magnet point is a great one, and one I probably wouldn't have thought of before buying it.

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