Monday, March 15, 2010

A Look at Nook: After Upgrade #2 (Part Two)

In a previous Blog post I had written a basic overview about Barnes & Noble's eReader called the Nook.

Since then I've made a point of buying a few eBooks directly with the Nook, spent time using the color touchscreen to navigate, and tested the B&N App that enables continued reading on smaller mobile devices like the iPhone. Here's what I found:

First let's talk about the buying experience. Touching the green Shop button immediately brought up a welcome screen touting "The world's largest eBookstore" along with a list of products to choose from including magazines, newspapers, and more. I selected eBooks and what appeared was a list of B&N's bestselling titles. Yes, all 1,073,713 of them! I suppose I could've planned spending the next few months of my life scrolling from page to page to see them all, but clearly the better move (call me crazy!) was to select the Browse Subjects option. I was then presented with a list of usual suspects like Biography, Fiction, Mystery, Etc., and with a swipe of my finger scrolled up and down to view all the available categories. I found the best way to do this was to flick with my fingertip, because trying to move the listing with any pressure could mistakenly bring up an unintended genre. If you've ever used an iPhone, you'd find the screen on the Nook simply doesn't respond the same way and requires a more deliberate touch. I chose Fiction & Lit Classics and decide to search for Moby Dick using the virtual keyboard, which worked nicely. There's no Advanced Search, so the more accurate the entry, like both the title and author name, the better the results.

Several editions were available ranging in price, including some for free. At this point I felt it was a good time to try the Show Covers feature to display color jacket images within the bottom screen. This concept takes a page from Apple's cover flow, which we've become accustomed to in iTunes and on iPods, but unfortunately the side to side scrolling of book covers on the Nook is a bit slow and choppy. But it's a really nice feature and can be improved with the next software upgrade for sure. I found a version of Melville's classic that I liked, bought it, and in approximately one minute it downloaded. All told, not as fast as purchasing an eBook with a Kindle, but then again neither the Kindle2 or Kindle DX feature an additional color screen or the convenience of a virtual keyboard for searching. And again, with another upgrade or two, B&N has the opportunity to streamline the buying experience to remove some unnecessary steps and messages, which will go a long way to making it more user friendly.

A return to My Library found next to the book's title a tiny "LendMe" icon. This feature isn't currently available for all books and is only possible between Nooks (insert joke here). With that in mind, I don't feel this is worth discussing because at the moment it's probably a challenge just to find someone you know with a Nook of their own - Remember Zune? But in time this might end up being a bonus that benefits close friends, book clubs, or family members if the eReader grows in popularity.

So, I began reading my purchase with no intentions to share and while my eyes were fixed on the black & white E-Ink screen, the color screen went dark to avoid being a distraction. Pretty cool. And what's even cooler is how I could swipe this dark field with my finger to turn the pages, which I find preferable from pressing the arrows located on each side of the Nook's casing. Unfortunately, what wasn't so cool and downright frustrating was how this neat feature didn't always work properly. It seems the more the Nook is swiped, it trips up, but with a lot of patience the function eventually begins working again. Add this glitch to the list of really good features that hopefully will be improved with an upgrade. There are also a number of navigation issues in great need of redesign, reapproach, and reprogramming, so perhaps they too will be addressed sooner than later.

I admire how E-Ink works, I'm just not a fan overall. I prefer dimly lit rooms at work and especially at home so I find ALL eReader screens difficult to read most times. And the contrast between the bright colorful screen at the bottom of the Nook only serves as a constant reminder of how dull the top screen appears. Besides battery life, the argument for using E-Ink is that it's easier on the eyes. Personally I find myself straining to read E-Ink screens and just don't agree with this point of view. Plus here's a New York Times article that debunks that theory (so there!).

The color screen is based on Google's Android Operating System and if there is a next generation Nook in the future, it's possible B&N will forego E-Ink and redesign the entire device so that it uses a full color touchscreen. In a world soon flooded with iPads, Slates, JooJoos, and Couriers, this isn't difficult to imagine.

One additional function that would be great to see a future Nook include is playing audiobooks. I find it a bit odd that B&N sells MP3s that can be downloaded and played on a number of mobile devices EXCEPT for the Nook!

And finally...the B&N eReader App.

Well, I was looking forward to testing how the books I bought would synch between my Nook and iPhone, but I'm afraid this just didn't work for me. I tried several times during the past week and couldn't even get books in My Library to successfully download to my iPhone for the chance to compare the experience to using Kindle's App, which was created for the same purpose. I'm truly hoping this problem is unique to me and I will update this post when/if it gets resolved.

In the meantime, if you own a Nook or know someone who does, please take a moment and share your experience here.

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