World's Most Advanced Ebook Reader?

So reads the strap line for Barnes & Noble Nook. For those of you who aren't familiar with American book retailers, Wikipedia says:

Barnes & Noble, Inc. is the largest book retailer in the United States, operating mainly through its Barnes & Noble Booksellers chain of bookstores headquartered in lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

I should mention at this point that I have a great fondness for Barnes & Noble, having visited this amazing (and huge) store in Baltimore in 2000, it may have had something to do with this being the first book shop I'd ever been in which had a cafe (great idea btw.)

Equatable with Waterstone's here in the UK, B&N operate both on the high street and online, selling physical and electronic books and a range of ebook readers. In late 2009 B&N launched their own reader, the Nook, into an increasingly crowded marketplace, in direct competition with Amazon's Kindle 2. In what would seem to be lessons learnt from competitors, Amazon and Sony, the Nook featured both a 6" e-ink display and an LCD touchscreen, avoiding the Kindle's sluggish e-ink based menu navigation and the glare from the Reader Touch. Powered by Android and featuring both an AT&T 3G Sim and Wifi for OTA purchases, on first glance the Nook seemed to represent the next generation of ebook readers, but after initial reviews hit the internet, it seemed that was not the case. The Nook's Android (1.5) OS was accused of being unstable and buggy and page turns were slooow. Hackers at Nookdevs discovered the whole operating system ran of a MicroSD card, which gave users the impression that the slowness was a hardware problem, rather than a problem that could be fixed with firmware. Along with delays of Christmas Nook orders (well into the new year) and the talk of an impending "Kindle killer" from Apple, the Nook seems to have dropped from off the tech radar entirely for most people. I am not most people.

After determining my Kindle DX was just too big for reading novels (in the interim, my usage patterns had changed along with my job) and so after selling the DX, my options seemed to be the aforementioned Kindle 2 or the Sony Reader Touch. After checking out Mark's Sony Touch I felt the glare was too much for me; I liked the idea of the International 3G on the Kindle 2, but it's limited to Amazon and Wikipedia only, so not a huge advantage then. The Nook, on the other hand, had in the interim received two firmware updates, improving speed and stability, had been rooted (similar to jailbreaking an iPhone) and could now run a Web browser, Pandora and could download directly from Stanza and Calibre libraries using Trook. All using wifi, meaning they would work in the UK, unlike the Nook's 3G, starting to sound good?

Thanks to I was able to order a Nook and have it sent to the UK, for less than the price of a Kindle 2 (which adds tax, shipping and customs charges to its base price) and have been putting it through it's paces over the past week. Initially I had planned a technical review in this post, but after some sage advice, I'm going to hold it off for another time along the some hi-res photos. Leaving this post to focus on my initial hands on reaction.

    • The packaging is pretty, Apple pretty, but nigh on impossible to get into, unless you are a member of mensa. In fact it's so nice, that I've used the sleeve and an old moleskine notebook to create a tidy case.


  • The Nook is solid, but heavy, my wife reckons that it's heavier than the Kindle DX, but Wikipedia disagrees.



  • I've read that the design of the Nook is plasticky and cheap looking, but I find it quite stylish.



  • It fits nicely into your hand thanks to an ergonomically curved back.



  • All ebook readers should come with the default screensaver saying "Don't Panic." It should become law or something.



  • Boot-up takes forever and a day, although resume from sleep is very fast, possibly faster than the Kindle.



  • Once you update to firmware 1.1.1 page turns are fine, not bearable, not slower than the Kindle, fine, meaning not a problem.



  • Once rooted you can do all kinds of fun stuff like replacing fonts (I like Georgia) and using Trook, letting me download books and news feeds from my Calibre library



  • The touch screen is not an iPhone, but it's useable, more so than the Kindle DX's keyboard



  • Unless you turn Airplane mode on and set the touchscreen backlight timer to 10s, the battery drains within a day or two. With those set, you might get a week, we'll see.



  • Like the Kindle the Nook doesn't use folders to sort books, unlike the Kindle it offers no sort options, books seem to order themselves whatever way they feel.



  • Removing the back cover is ok, but it makes scary cracking noises, so be brave.



  • Inside you have a MicroSD slot, removable battery (sort of) and a sim card, remove more of the casing and as reported there is another MicroSD slot containing the file system and OS.



  • I like the size and shape.



  • The screen has great contrast and is helped further by the black strip around it. With black text on a grey screen, I'm surprised so many e-readers come in white, the black helps create an optical illusion that the grey background is whiter than it really is, making it more readable. True fact.



  • B&N's store has access to Google's library of 1 million e-books, I've found some real gems that don't even show up on the Google Books website. Getting these on a Kindle was a nightmare, well, not as easy.



  • There is no rotate function, because:



  • PDF reflow is awesome, you can scale up the fonts in any document (providing it has fonts), similar to the Sony Reader Touch.



  • PDB files can be searched quicker and jumped about in faster than EPUBs.



The Nook has been a pleasant surprise, it has its flaws, which I'll go into in my next post, but overall it's a great device. Is it the world's most advanced e-book reader? Probably not, especially when technology moves so fast. Is it the best e-book reader for me? Only time will tell.

I'd love to hear what my readers think about e-book readers, do you have one, would you buy another, what features do they need, or is there no point to them at all? Leave a comment below.

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Andrew Gribben @grib