After a brief delay, about half of those who pre-ordered the Barnes & Noble Nook will soon be receiving their e-readers. With that in mind, the combatants are now out of their corners and are ready to do battle in the e-reader ring. In this corner is Amazon’s Kindle: a neat device that has a bright screen and easy navigation. You can enjoy all the books you want on the device as long as you buy them from amazon.com. Just arriving in town, in the other corner, we have Barnes & Noble’s Nook. The Nook has two screens, one for e-reading, the other smaller screen (touch, in color) for navigating and shopping. With the nook, you can buy books from barnesandnoble.com as well as any e-tailer that supports the universal format ePub. That includes Sony’s book stores, Google’s free public domain book list as well as (and here’s the clincher) books from public libraries. Nice, huh?
To be fair, Kindle has a large number of public domain books it has wrapped in its proprietary .azw DRM, but again we’re talking walled garden.
Here’s what I like about the Nook:
Freedom to buy books from multiple sources as well as read library books: The book I downloaded from my public library (in secure PDF) was easily transferred to the Nook using Adobe Digital Edition software. When connected to your PC via USB, the Nook shows up as a device in the software, and from there, it’s a simple drag and drop to the device.
The Daily: The first tab on the color-screen menu is called “The Daily,” a nice little what’s new page with some sort easy and commentary from such authors as Dave Barry and Steve King. This is just one of the little surprises that give the Nook its personality.
The ability to loan books: with The Nook, readers can loan anyone with either Nook or Barnes & Noble software on their desktop or smartphone, a book for 14 days. Not all books can be loaned (the titles are chosen by publishers) and one book cannot be lent to the same person twice. When a book is lent, it will show up in the recipients’ “the daily” section.
The mutlichannel experience: While not in place yet, bringing your Nook into a Barnes & Noble store should result in a few surprises. The Nook will automatically connect to B&N’s free AT&T wireless and present special book offers as well as other in-store special (i.e., free coffee at the B&N coffee bar).
The navigation buttons: In this case, I am referring to the page turning buttons alongside the e-reading window. They are nicely recessed and have small raised bumps to allow you to push without looking directly at the buttons.
Here’s what I am still pondering about the Nook
The color screen: At first, I found the color screen distracting because it interfered with the reading experience in the e-reading window above. The color screen goes dark after 30 or so seconds and becomes a navigational tool meaning you can swipe the screen to turn pages. I found the swiping on the color screen to be less responsive than what I am used to on my iPod.
Device synching: Perhaps and early bug, but the book synching between my Nook and my desktop PC e-reading software does not work. I know a software update for the desktop and iPhone app is being planned.
Here’s what I don’t like about the Nook
Newspaper e-reading: Like all other dedicated e-readers, the newspaper experience is not very good. The content is rendered in ePub, so it looks slightly better than the Kindle, but not enough to be of significant interest.
Odd navigational features: Some of the reading navigation such as up and down arrows and opening content take place in the lower color window. I find it awkward; there should be some sort of controller by the e-reading window to handle those functions.
In reality, the battle is not an all-out war as the Kindle is in ready supply and Barnes & Noble is fulfilling pre-orders; you cannot walk into a Barnes & Noble retail store and buy one just yet. Once the Nook is on the shelf in its close to 800 B&N stores, a number of other e-readers will be in retail channels (such as the Alex) or close to shipping. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the Nook does when there are other e-readers on the market that have similar features (two screens) and support ePub. Clearly, the Nook will have a window of opportunity, but just how big that window is remains to be seen.