- October 20th, 2009
after months of rumors and whatnot, barnes & noble released their new ebook reader, the nook, today. an obvious competitor to the kindle ebook device that amazon has been selling for more than a year now, the nook (imo) marks the point where ebook reader will slowly but surely transition away from novelty gadgets and towards becoming a mainstay media delivery platform.
now, i don't have a review copy or any such thing, but i'm simply basing what i'm about to say pretty much based on initial reviews and the press release B&N put out, so i really can't vouch for the veracity of all this in the long run, but anyway...here are some of my views on the nook:
1. it does pretty much all the major things the kindle does. this might not seem like much, but when you see a lot of market segments where a popular item or device emerges and a competitor crash-carts a half-assed response...well...just look at all the iphone 'competitors' out there. getting much of this 'right' out of the box (imo) is a very important point. e-ink, font resizing, bookmarking, (and syncing said bookmarks across your phone and device), alway-there-wireless -- it's all there and that's a good thing.
2. it looks good. some people are hung up on aesthetics, no doubt about that. and frankly, there was no denying that the first gen kindle was laughably ugly. the nook looks pretty smooth and polished (if remarkably similar to the kindle 2.)
3. pdf support. yeah, the kindle 2 can kinda-sorta do this and obviously the (much more expensive) kindle DX can do this natively, but having proper pdf support should please a great many of its users, imo.
4. being able to lend out books to other users. this kinda takes one of the biggest gripes people beholden to dead tree editions are espousing: you can lend out your hardcopy book. i'm very curious how this feature will work and how effective it will be. i hope they make it easy to just e-mail a friend a book rather than resort to having to 'squirt' a book to another nearby user like the first two generation zunes could do with mp3s. that would be sorta tragic - but going by what i've been reading it does seem to be more like an e-mail system. hooray for that!
5. the nook is android-based. goggles android is starting to kind of emerge as a pretty credible phone/PDA platform as of recently and to me, the use of android vis-a-vis amazon's java-based solution has a lot of upside. i think that in the long run, it could have more legs in terms of extendibility and addition of new features -- especially in a short timeframe. amazon has been kinda been slow to extend and improve the kindle OS, but who knows, that might change soon.
6. it's from barnes & noble -- which means you can probably go to one of their brick and mortar stores soon and 'test drive' a nook and see if you like it. that's actually a pretty nice feature, really, especially versus the kindle which you either bought on blind faith, word of mouth or based on a chance encounter with another user.
1. well, it is from barnes & noble. B&N is a company/e-tailer i just haven't had much joy interacting with. their service and shopping experience in both the e-tailing and physical environment has been at times kinda disastrous for me -- and to be honest, i think there is a reason that amazon is who and what they are now and B&N isn't. this might be a extremely subjective point to make, but y'know...screw me once, shame on me. screw me twice, shame on you. screw me three times -- well, time to not bother with my patronage.
2. no text-to-speech. this i find to be an utterly puzzling omission. i can't really see how B&N could claim that they omitted it in order to mollify the ever-anxious book publishers, since all they would have had to have done is follow amazons lead and allow for it to be selectively enabled. there's a pretty vocal community of ebook readers who really look for this feature and it includes a lot of seeing impaired individuals. why effectively tell them to go elsewhere when you really don't have to?
3. the battery life. 10 days the web site says (with the wireless off, naturally.) in general, i tend to shave about 20% off of such given figures to arrive at a number that more realistically represents what a reasonably varied kind of usage might yield. with that in mind 8-10 days of use is just downright terrible compared to the kindle. mine can handily get in excess of 20 days per charge and i've gotten 30 on several occasions. part of this most likely due to the LCD screen for the UI, which can't be efficient, power wise.
4. the name. nook makes kindle sound positively enlightened (heh.) imo.
1. that energy-guzzling LCD touch screen. i know it's kinda wrong to not praise this, since it's practically the devices signature feature, but nevertheless, here i am. i don't really consider this to be a bad feature, but as the heading says -- a superfluous one. adding a LCD screen to browse book covers in the store in blazing color really isn't a terribly efficient or effective new feature -- it just looks 'cool'. for that you trade off the (rather useless) physical keyboard of the kindle and decimate it's battery life. is it a fair trade? i actually think it is. but if the LCD screen is the reason you decide to go for a nook rather than a kindle, you're pretty much just looking to score style points, imo.
as an aside, though, i do think the whole touch screen aspect is an exciting and important new feature (and one amazon would be wise to look to replicate.) that said, i can't say i'm overly fond of the whole 'one-on-top-of-the-other dual screen' arrangement. ideally, what would rock my world would be some sort of dual-layer display where the LCD-based UI-type functions could be overlayed over the e-ink screen (used for reading) when needed. this would allow the reading area to be bigger and the UI to be colorful, shiny and whiz-bang enough so people could show off their latest gadget to their friends and feel an inch taller or some such dross. well, maybe someday.
2. the SD card slot. i know this issue kinda gets a lot of hemming and hawing from kindle users (the K1 one had such a slot; the K2 and DX don't), but to be honest, i find it much ado about nothing. the whole 'use for making backups' argument to me is pretty moot since you can just plug it into a USB port and it'll register as a drive on your PC. backup to whichever location you see fit and be happy.
if you can fill up the 1-2 gigs of storage space on a kindle or nook with actual reading material before the device becomes completely obsolete -- well, my hat would be off to you. i've had mine for 6 months, have 60+ titles on it and haven't even broken 100 megs yet. so having the removable card never struck me as all that important. now, if you a lot of technical books with extensive illustrations, this might be a different story. it could also be a good way to segregate books based on a specific subject matter for some, so i could kinda see where something more purpose-built like the DX could have benefited from this, but overall for most users it really just winds up being a 'nice to have' feature.
3. the lack of an internet browser. the kindle has one, the nook seems to not have one. i'm not terribly happy about this since there have been quite a few times where i've had to surf out to the web to look something up while reading, but i guess B&N was less enthusiastic about this feature.
it does make me wonder if the nook has the integration with a dictionary the same way the kindle has. on my kindle, if i come across a word i don't know, i can just scroll down to it and the definition of said word is displayed down in the footer area (definitions are from the OED, so it's actually quite comprehensive.) not having something similar in the nook would be a major minus for me personally.
in conclusion: who is the winner?
in a sentence or less: we, the consumers.
the nook, imo, the right kind of device for the market -- in some areas, it definitely raises the bar from where amazon had set it. this should inevitably result in amazon having to raise their game in response. when that sort of stuff happens, customers usually are able to reap the benefits, so color me excited.
(prediction: amazon will roll out a kindle 3 sometime next spring and prices for these devices will fall to around $200.)