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[December 07, 2009]
BLOG: TechBlog: Early Nook e-reader reviews are in [Houston Chronicle]
(Houston Chronicle (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 7--Barnes & Noble has finally started shipping its Nook e-reader [http://www.barnesandnoble.com/nook/], and today there are a slew of reviews from the top gadgets sites. The general consensus seems to be in line with early reviews of the first Amazon Kindle: lots of promise but lacking in the execution.
Actually, maybe that should be "lagging" in the execution, because nearly all the reviews mention how slow the Nook is. More specifically, there seems to be an irritating delay between the time you execute a command on its color touchscreen and when the results appear on the larger e-Ink display above it.
Barnes & Noble announced its Nook product in October but has delayed shipping the $259 device until now. It goes head-to-head with Amazon's Kindle 2 [http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0015T963C], which also sells for $259.
Like the Kindle, you can download books wirelessly to the Nook. If you use the device in a Barnes & Noble store with Wi-Fi, you'll be able to read any book for an hour within a 24-hour period. You an also loan a book to a friend for two weeks, and during that time, the title won't be readable on your device. (Once you have it back, that's it -- you can't loan the book again to anyone else. That limitation, I think, makes the loan feature less than compelling.
One great thing about the Nook: Its books are readable on other devices, including other e-readers. It embraces open platforms more than than the Kindle.
Now, if you've used a handheld device that incorporates a touchscreen, such as an iPhone or Motorola Droid, using an e-Ink reader like the Kindle can be frustrating. You really want to swipe the screen with your finger to turn pages, but instead you have to settle for pushing buttons on the side of the device. The Nook's smaller, color touchscreen is an attempt to get around the limitations of current e-Ink technology with a hybrid design, but from reading these reviews, it doesn't hit the mark.
From Harry McCracken's Technologizer [http://technologizer.com/2009/12/06/nook-review/]: Let's get one thing out of the way right now: The Nook isn't a Kindle killer -- not in this initial form, at least. For all its pleasing touches, intriguing innovations, and clear advantages over the Kindle, it feels like a less-than-perfectly-polished 1.0 product, just like Amazon's first e-reader did a couple of years ago. The user interface is surprisingly sluggish, there are some usability gaffes, and I encountered a major bug with the device's most-touted feature. Even the much-hyped lending feature has a major gotcha: You can lend a book once. Period.
From Gizmodo [http://gizmodo.com/5420216/barnes--noble-nook-review]: I found the capacitive interface to be handy, but it also revealed the bugginess of the early software. Scrolling could be sticky, tapping the home button or the screen occasionally did nothing, and using the directional pad to navigate text made me yearn for the Kindle's physical mini-joystick. The biggest disappointment was the page-turning swipe gesture. It failed to work half the time I tried it, and when it did work, I noticed that it responded slower than pressing the physical page-turn buttons.
From Engadget [http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/07/barnes-and-noble-nook-review/]: What really sets the Nook apart, however, is that thin color display that sits just below the main reader area. That display -- a color, capacitive, touchscreen -- is the way in which almost all interactions with the Nook and its online store are handled. Besides being the primary method of interacting with lists and reading selections, at various times it becomes your notation navigator, your search box (with keyboard), music player, and a Cover Flow-style book browser, amongst other functions. The general concept behind the screen is ingenious and very much in the vein of the iPhone -- a one-size-fits-all portal that can be whatever you need it to be. This works perfectly with some functions of the reader, and comes up short in others. In particular, one of the ways in which this navigation is hampered is by the color screen's need to interact directly with the E Ink display. Waiting for the refresh when you're moving around on the faster color screen can be annoying, though like many aspects of navigation on the Nook, it's all about learning the pace of the reader. See, it's not exactly that fast of a device anywhere, color screen or otherwise, so you have to get used to all kinds of little pauses and punctuation in the experience. That said, we still found it a little trying to wait for that upper display to refresh, but right now that's the nature of E Ink displays -- the technology is really in its infancy, and learning to live at a slower pace is the name of the game if you're serious about using an e-reader. Software aside (we're getting to that), the color display was reasonably responsive, though we did have some nagging issues with scrolling through lists; we often had trouble getting the screen to recognize downward swipes. It seems possible that the cause was the extremely narrow height of the screen, but it's also possible contact just wasn't being registered correctly. Still, the display looked good even at low contrast (we kept it down -- high contrast against the backlight-free E Ink looked a little intense), and being able to actually see what book covers looked like when we were shopping, tap out searches on the generous keyboard, or just shuffle our music while reading was very welcome.
Slashgear, which also reviewed the Nook [http://www.slashgear.com/barnes-noble-nook-review-0665189/], doesn't mention the lag between the two screens, but you can see it in a hands-on video.
The reviews mention that Barnes and Noble has made the device's performance a priority and plans fixes to be delivered wirelessly next month. May of the problems mentioned in the reviews are software-based and thus are fixable in theory.
This is an interesting point in the development of e-book readers. The most prominent players -- Amazon, Sony and now Barnes & Noble -- are about to be joined by a growing group of competitors. The devices you can buy now are essentially first-generation products, and while they're useful and their current owners generally love them, I think they're still primitive and overpriced.
Of course, everyone's waiting to see what Apple does with its long-rumored tablet -- if, of course, it really exists or ever sees the light of day. Even if the Apple device is a flop -- or is so high-priced that it's not really competitive with the Kindle, Sony's Reader or the Nook -- it's presence will have an effect on the market, just because it comes from Apple.
Even if you're not interested in Apple's product, I'd wait until after that event before buying an e-book reader. What's out there now is going to look very crude compared to what's coming in just a few years.
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