The Nook: EW's hands-on review of the new e-reader

Is Barnes and Noble’s Nook this year’s Kindle killer? Nearly: The sleek e-reader offers some notable improvements, but it’s still plagued by problems common to the Kindle and similar devices. Perhaps that’s not a ringing endorsement, but don’t close the book on the Nook just yet.

Look and feel: At just under 12 oz., the Nook weighs about as much as a mid-sized hardcover book, though it’s only about as wide as the cover and as thick as a few chapters. The main, black-and-white screen occupies the bulk of the surface area; below it is a secondary color touchscreen, used mostly for navigation. Throw in the white trim, and it’s that iPod-on-steroids design we’ve come to expect.

Navigation: The majority of the Nook’s operations have been relegated to the touchscreen, leaving only forward, back, and home buttons as part of the device’s body. As you’d expect, the touchscreen changes depending on what you’re doing, displaying a keyboard, an options menu, a flip book of book covers, or arrow keys to move the cursor on the main screen. Those spoiled by the iPhone’s touch-responsiveness will find the Nook slow on the uptake, but when it comes to packing maximum control and flexibility into minimal space, this design element does wonders.

Reading: The matte e-ink screen displays crisp text when viewed from any angle –  it’s uncanny how print-like the screen looks. With the ability to change the font and size with a few taps on the touchscreen, reading under normal conditions is a breeze. Problems arise in both expected and unexpected ways when the lights dim: The Nook’s screen mimics print, so, obviously, no light means no sight, but in low light, the glow of the touchscreen washes out the text even more — at least until the touchscreen goes dark a few seconds later. Also, the Nook hasn’t managed to improve on previous e-readers’ achingly slow page-turn time. Rather than queuing up the next page in its memory, it loads each one as needed, which adds a second or two between pushing the right arrow and the new page appearing. No, not an eternity, but it’s surprising how much the delay interrupts the flow of reading. And the Nook’s bookmark system could do with a standard naming format. We’re not sure how helpful “3,OEBPS/superfreakonomics_fm01.html#point…” is.

Bonuses: You can loan books to friends using the Nook’s borrowing feature, called “LendMe.” It’s currently in beta, but it seems to work well — that is, if the book itself is actually loanable, as only about half the titles in Barnes and Noble’s store currently are. Open the book you want to loan, punch in your Nook-toting friend’s e-mail address, and they will get seven days to accept and download your book, and 14 days to read it. As with loaning out a real book, you can’t read a book you’ve shared with a friend, but oddly you can only loan a book one time. Downloading books is a snap, as the Nook’s 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities are speedy. The most unexpected cool feature, though, is “The Daily,” a section of the home page that displays your newspaper subscriptions, short humor pieces, and book excerpts. It’s only one click away from everything, and its dynamic content, along with “LendMe” feature, lays the foundation for a community built around the Nook.

Verdict: While it’s not perfect — or even markedly superior to the Kindle – the Nook is a sleek, easy to use device with a lot of potential.

Comments (37 total) Add your comment
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  • EWsMom

    No offense, but that’s one awful review. Check out the WSJ or NY Times for a more practical review of this device and it’s MANY, MANY flaws.

    • Louis

      I completely agree. If you want to know the truth about the kindle, read the New York Times review. They outline and explain it so much better.

      • Laura

        I recently went to Best Buy to look at eeradres and I kept touching the screen trying to make them work (I mean, come on, what isn’t touch-screen these days?) Imagine my disappointment when the things didn’t react and I realized you had to navigate with a directional pad yuck! As soon as I saw this I knew it was what I wanted. My husband reserved one for me last night at B N after we played with the one they had on display I can’t wait!

  • Lauren

    Good to know it has so many problems. is the kindle any better?

    • Melissa

      I love my Kindle.

    • sbwm

      Love my Kindle. Just the best.

  • Kiki

    I have a Kindle (and love it by the way), however it is slow, so I wanted to see how the Nook compared. I went a nearby Barnes and Noble and checked it out. First, it’s slower than my Kindle and and second, it crashed on me as soon as I touched the screen. It’s choppy and slow and annoying! I thought my Kindle was a little slow, but that’s the only complaint I had. Other than that I love my Kindle! Maybe Barnes and Noble should take some time to work on the technology.

  • ba’al

    I love my kindle, I have not had a problem mine. I agree the review is awful

  • Melanie

    I think the nook is neat. used it at a B&N and had no trouble. I just don’t think I’ll be spending 250 on any e-reader device.

  • masurix

    I have a Kindle and I love it. However, I feel like the quality of the readers is irrelevant right now. The real issue is how #&^*%#ing hard it is to get books on the darn things in a timely manner. Or at all. I’d LOVE to get every book on my Kindle but it’s just not possible. I’ve had issues where some books of a series are on it, and some are not. I’ve seen month-long delays between when a physical book is released and the electronic copy comes out. Until publishing pulls its head out, the e-books and their readers will be at a disadvantage.

    • Ashok

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  • kbird

    i got my nook today and i LOVE it!!!! i know i have only been using it for a few hours but i have already downloaded 6 books which only took seconds,had a friend loan me a book, and set a picture of my pet as the wallpaper. my husband who thought it was a waste of money, has been trying to pry it out of my hands all day so that he can use it…and now wishes he had put it on his christmas list. at this point his will have to be a valentines day gift since any orders placed at this point wont be delivered until feb!!! and to the person who had the demo nook crash in the b&n store, that wasnt a nook problem, that was the wifi in the store not working properly. it happens at my local b&n all the time. my nook is quick and delightful!!!

  • Ken

    The biggest thing that all of the reviews I have read fail to recognize is that ALL of the issues the “Flaws” that the nook has are software related which can and will be fixed by automatic software updates via the 3G access. Looking at them objectively there are several immediate HARDWARE advantages to the nook over the kindle or any of its competitors. First being the obvious touchscreen control for navigation which will get better as users make suggestions and B&N implements them. Second the user replaceable battery; considering the type of person that is currently purchasing eReaders battery longevity is an important feature. Being able to carry a spare or simply replace it when it fails is huge. Lastly is expandable memory. One of the main reasons i purchased a nook was the large number of PDF documents (some exceedingly large) that i deal with on a daily basis. The internal memory on the Kindle is simply not enough when using my eReader for reference material. For the normal consumer as time goes on more memory capacity will become crucial. I almost forgot WIFI. Even though there is currently not a browser built into the nook, once again that is a software issue. The hardware is all there giving nook the potential to be a superior device. I’m just hoping B&N gets their software development team on board.

  • Billy

    I got my nook this weekend and I love it. Its first generation software is not without its problems, but that’s true of every piece of hardware out here. But its nothing extreme to keep you from getting it. I have a kindle too and I prefer the nook over it.

    • Alan

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  • David in NYC

    It’s actually a spot-on review. I have a Nook and have been using it for a week. It’s not perfect, but I love it. And it has one major advantage that will kill Kindle in the end: the software is open-source and from Google. I’m going to put my money with the leader in digital technology and a 136-year old bookseller, not a closed software program provided by a company where books are only a small portion of what they offer (and, which is run by a megalomaniac who probably had half the pro-Kindle comments here posted by Amazon employees). Buy the nook! Once the updates start coming over the wireless feed — and they will come soon and often — Kindle won’t stand a chance.

  • John R.

    I think people are looking too much into which brand they prefer and not enough into the particulars of each device. I think the Kindle has a better refresh rate for turning pages, and a different interface. I think the Nook has some interesting potential in its Android platform but we’ve yet to hear whether the device will be opened up for developers – as of right now that seems unlikely given the lukewarm reception B&N has had thus far to questions about it. If you’re going by today, based entirely on the device, the Kindle has more wireless features than the Nook – it has an experimental browser and access to Wikipedia. We’re all hopeful the Nook opens up but to buy based on what might happen is a bad idea.

  • James

    Not mentioned here, but both support pdf now (nook always had it in the tech specs, kindle must have jumped on the bandwagon in recent weeks). That’s a big deal if you subscribe to any e-journals and want to use your e-reader as the primary device for reading these. So that was a win for nook, until it actually came out and kindle had gone ahead and added that feature in the meantime :).

  • D12556

    I would like to see a reader that opens like a book (or DS) with two screens in order to better mimic an actual book reading experience. It could easily be configured into the size of a mass-market or trade size paperback- even the thickness wouldn’t feel like a problem. I also would like to see the ability to ‘flip’ the page like in a real book (much like an HP touchscreen) and I don’t know why you can’t save the page the same way you save a game. Also, What about color? All of this technology already exists. Why has it not been used?

    • Hi

      You question about color can be explained in the -type- of technology that these e-readers are using. They use e-ink which mimics the appearance of ink on a page. As far as I am aware, color has not been developed for e-ink.

  • Mary Anne Howell

    I have the Nook for 3 days now and I also have owned the Kindle2 and DX. I like the Nook the best – the refresh rate of turning pages is equal to the Kindle. I read so many bad reviews I thought I was going to have to return it but I was pleasantly surprised

  • Eric

    e-readers suck. Long live the books!

    And another thing, if you’ve dropped that much money on a device that doesn’t even have 1,000 good titles, you’re wasting your life.

    One final thought, apple will develop an e-reader and it will dominate everybody else. It’s what apple does. Think iTouch meets a kindle on steroids.

    • Colin

      @Eric
      That’s a tablet. Not an e-reader. Two very different things.
      Go away.

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