Barnes And Noble Nook EBook Reader Review

Tue, Oct 5th 2010, 21:49

The B&N Nook is evolving

The Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader has taken some serious bashing since it's been on the market, and perhaps deservedly so. In December 2009 it was sluggish, page turning speed was nothing gentlemen would talk about and it was crashing left and right. The unit was pre-ordered in serious quantities but the production rate could not keep up with demand. It was a disaster of a start, but that didn't take the enthusiasm away, and it looks like we now get a proper e-reader for our money. Less money than it was originally sold for.

The Nook is a direct competitor to the Kindle, so there is no way we can circumnavigate comparison with Amazon's product, but one thing is for sure: Nook and Nook 3G both have matured to the point where they can be recommended whole-heartedly.

Holding in your hands

It's a sizable object at 7.7 by 4.9 inches, and it's about half an inch thick, which gives the impression of holding a tablet PC or PDA in your hands. It's more robust, a bit more bulky than the Kindle, but not adversely so; all the space and weight is used to stuff features that make this piece of e-paper a viable option. It comes in two versions, one with 3G, the other without. The former adds 11.6 oz to your pocket, while the latter is only 0.5 oz heavier, or 328 and 343 grams respectively.

Reading the epaper

The E-ink screen used is 6" inches across, not a whisker smaller than what you can find in the basic Kindle. What it lacks compared to it's direct competitor, though, is some clarity and crispness. Pearl technology Amazon use in their latest reader is simply better than anything on the market, and that includes Kindle 2 and everything Sony has come up with to date. It's not a huge issue as the screen is fine as is, and the turning speed isn't all that bad either. If you have no point of reference other than paper and glue books, you'll be very well pleased with the performance. Yes, even under direct sunlight.

The casing is white with an option for gray back side on 3G enabled models. It's an uninterrupted square with back-forth buttons seamlessly integrated to both left and right sides. Left handed users will find it a nice touch.

Surprise, surprise... is that a touch screen?

When you first open the box and grab the unit, you will notice that there are no physical keys for letters, or system functions for that matter. There is a 3.5" stripe of touch-sensitive TFT LCD at the bottom. The e-ink panel and this stripe are separated by a horizontal black line depicting nook's symbol, a stylized lower case n. Touching that symbol throws you at the home screen and activates the controls that are available on the TFT. Everything you want to do apart from the on/off switch and page turning keys will include using this touch screen.

The first iteration of firmware was abysmal, in lack of a better word, but now is completely useful as long as you don't expect it to be smartphone fast. Book covers, menu items, even the virtual keyboard pops up here. When you're reading a book, there will be no backlight or picture on the TFT, but the touch panel will still function as a page turning appliance; swipe left for previous page, right for next.

WiFi? Sure. 3G? Yeah, about that...

Every Barnes and Noble store has Wi-Fi connection you can use with the Nook to buy books or browse websites. You even see specialized offers on the screen while you're in one of these stores, but what happens when you're nowhere near a hotspot? AT&T has included a SIM card with the device that allows access to its 3G network anywhere in the country for no additional cost, but the browser will not function using this connection. It's also unclear how pricing would vary once you use the device in the UK or other parts of Europe.

It's not a real issue, however, as it doesn't take more than ten seconds to replace that SIM card with one from your carrier capable of data transfer. The battery is also user replaceable, but it doesn't hold for as long as it would if it was integrated; with Wi-Fi or 3G activated you can expect to access your books on the e-reader for five days before a low-charge notification would pop up, without active wireless connections you can drag that period out to 10 days. The TFT display does add some overhead on power consumption.

Ebooks to read

The Nook is able to read ePub, PDF, JPG, PNG and GIF formats, but don't get your hopes up if you have a stash of TXT or DOC books. I'm guessing the lack of support for those formats is an intentional attempt at pulling the teeth of ebook piracy. It also dislikes Sony's and Amazon's ebook formats, but that's understandable, the feeling is mutual.

Don't worry too much, B&N stocks over one million ebooks with the majority of them being under $10. There are also quite a few titles that are available free of charge, or you can read a book in-store for 1 hour every 24 hours. That's not all, you can lend an ebook to one of your friends, who also have the Nook, but then you'll be unable to access that particular book for the maximum of 14 days lending period. I find it a reasonable trade-off as it's not unlike lending a real book to someone.


It looks like the Nook 3G could realize a considerable market share despite the rough start, and quick firmware upgrades render quite a few concerns voiced in earlier reviews invalid. It can comfortably be said that the Barnes and Noble Nook e-Book reader does not crash anymore, has plenty of features (it even reads micro SD cards) and is recommended as the first e-Paper you'll ever own, at $149 for the Wi-Fi only and $199 for the 3G enabled model both of them are real bargains.