Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Look at Nook: After Upgrade #3

This past weekend my Barnes & Noble Nook received a software upgrade, which would make this the third since the launch of this e-Reader.

In two previous Blog posts, part one and part two, I gave my impressions of the Nook and discussed the positives and negatives. Throughout I kept mentioning how an additional upgrade could significantly make this a better device.

So I was glad to learn of this latest download and had high hopes regarding its impact.

Unfortunately, instead of an improved reading device, what I got instead was the addition of games like chess and sudoku, the option to surf the web, and a few other revisions. You can read about all the new features here.

Now I don't know if there's been any huge demand from Nook users for such applications, but as far as I'm concerned, even if there was, B&N should have ignored it. This was an opportunity to once and for all address a number of key negatives plaguing this e-Reader. Most notably the refresh rate between page turns, which does now appear to be a tad faster, but still suffers from an odd meshing of the text as it changes from one page to the next. It's kind of hard to describe, but for a split second the page you're reading and the page you're about to read blend together displaying a black blob. It's really disappointing that upgrade #3 didn't at least manage to improve this experience so it would be as good, if not better, than when reading on Amazon's Kindle.

But let's talk about the Chess and Sudoku for a moment. The question here is why. Why bother adding these features when what most people are looking for is simply a great e-Reader. It would be one thing if the Nook was a device that was more like an iPad with a full color screen, but instead the chess board or the sudoku boxes appear in both the E-ink screen and the narrow color screen making for a dual experience that is split in two and ultimately unsatisfying. Plus the chess board is not fully visible on the color screen, so you have to constantly scroll up and down to view and move the pieces, which is very awkward. However, even within this small view size, the color looks so much better than the grey and white display above that the comparison just illustrates how visuals like these long to be in color and will have you wishing the screen above was just as vibrant.

But, playing the games is not nearly as awkward as trying to surf the web. I know technically this device can access the Internet, but it should be kept a secret because the experience is extremely clunky, difficult to navigate, and visually unpleasant. This attempt to position the Nook as a multi-purpose device was a poor decision and should've been reconsidered. All these new features do, in a world where Apple's iPad exists, is shine a big spotlight on the shortcomings of the Nook's capabilities. And I say this with no joy because I believe this device has real potential and could be a very good e-Reader that has an advantage in that it can be improved every few months with software refinements, but NOT if this trend continues.

Barnes & Noble wisely took a page from the iPhone by releasing an e-reader with minimal buttons so that 98% of the functions would be executed on a small color touch-screen, where the look and navigation can be changed dramatically. But this wise choice is not being used to their benefit. Instead of wasting precious programming time on games and poor web browsing, there should be much more focus on developing a great reading experience so all future upgrades are viewed as true improvements, not distractions. Being able to change the way the device works without requiring customers to invest in a new version of the Nook gives B&N the opportunity to recognize the customer's needs and deliver them over and over, each time gaining consumer confidence and loyalty.

My conclusion is such enhancements are meant to justify the current $259 price tag for the Nook, especially when it won't be too long before multi-functional devices like the iPad and Dell's Mini 5 Tablet will be priced competitively.

And now two new Nook devices are on the way? I have to say it's difficult to get excited about such an announcement when the current version has a few key remaining issues that need improvement.

Anyone else tried the Nook after this latest upgrade? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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