Monday, March 8, 2010

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

The e-Books team at Barnes and Noble was kind enough to send me a Nook e-Reader back in January. I've been using it consistently ever since and feel like I can now give it a fair evaluation. it goes:

When I first opened the box I was struck by the minimal cardboard packaging that housed the clear plastic case protecting the Nook. It looked sleek, advanced, and appeared as if it was floating within the recyclable shell. However, I'm sorry to say my admiration quickly turned to frustration and puzzlement when I found myself unable to easily remove it. I kept wondering if anyone at B&N's headquarters had actually attempted to open this first-hand. I carefully pulled, tugged, lifted, etc. but was so afraid of breaking the device that it literally took me a good 5 to 10 minutes to slowly but surely free it from the clutches of the package. I've heard others complain about having a similar experience so I hope B&N comes up with a better system.

The overall design of the Nook is a cross between a Kindle and an Alex, with an off-white exterior surrounding its dual screens: one black & white for reading and the other a narrow color touchscreen for navigation. It has a nice look and it feels pretty good in your hands. Even so, I immediately bought a cover because besides wanting to keep it protected, to me this makes it feel more like reading a book when held. They range in price from $19.95 to $125.00 and I picked one for $29.95 that I thought would be both simple and functional. I have to say I'm pretty happy with my choice and recommend it if you're a Nook owner that hasn't decided on a cover yet.

My Nook came preloaded with a couple of classics, like Dracula and Little Women as well as a sample chapter from The Lost Symbol, which is great since it gives you a chance to read a little and play around to get familiar with the device before having to buy anything. About a week later I received Pride and Prejudice and every now and then a sample poem, magazine essay, Blog post or some other content will automatically download to the Nook for me to check out and I like that.

I received my Nook after a slew of bad reviews, most notably by David Pogue of The New York Times, and must confess I was wondering if what I was holding in my hands could truly be as bad as Mr. Pogue and others reported. Most of those negative evaluations ran in December and thankfully by the early part of the New Year B&N had introduced a software upgrade to make some much needed improvements. This update launched once I registered the device, but I gotta tell ya, I almost completely missed it because the indicator that it was running appeared in the lower right hand corner of the E-Ink screen within a very small grey box that was difficult to read. But once I discovered this download was processing, I thought to myself, Ah, this will probably resolve the issues everyone's been talking about.

Well, not quite. Yes, a number of bugs were in fact eliminated and slight revisions were introduced, but unfortunately the biggest one requiring immediate attention, the slow refresh of all those tiny black dots that appear as words, go away, and return as an entirely new set of words (we're talkin' about E-Ink here), was still noticeably slower when compared to the Kindle or Sony Reader. As it is, this brief but noticeable two-and-a-half second flash between pages is one of the key things most people find a bit jarring, even when viewed on an e-Reader that's faster, so I was pretty disappointed when B&N delivered a bandaid instead of a real remedy.

But THEN in early February a second upgrade was announced, which I heard about from a tweet by one of the tech publications. I quickly downloaded the upgrade while on a train (again, tiny grey box/hard to see) and wallah!, suddenly my Nook had a slightly new look. The buttons on the color screen were no longer full squares, but were now a bit smaller and rounded. It's curious why this change was made, but my hope is that it demonstrates B&N's ability to take in constructive feedback and then respond to it effectively. It would be interesting to learn if this type of change was made due to "in-store" comments from customers as they were trying out the device. Perhaps a majority of users didn't quite understand what they originally saw on the bottom screen were buttons to be touched. If so, B&N has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the interactions between customer and employee and use them to their advantage.

Additionally, new revisions were made in the form of "wording" to describe functionality. For example, when selecting a title from the My Library menu, the screen displayed a large grey box that originally said something like "Opening program," which seemed cold and impersonal. But now the box reads "Opening your book" or "Opening your document" when viewing a self-loaded PDF. It's nothing earth shattering but these small changes show that B&N is working to make the user experience more inviting, which is nice, but the question must be asked...why is there a loading message at all? The competition has managed to avoid interrupting the user's experience and so should B&N. Oh, and that refresh issue I referred to earlier? It too seems to have been improved but by about a half of a second. So it now takes about 2 seconds to go from page to page on the Nook and about 1 on the Kindle. It's amazing how a split second can make such a difference, but when you're reading for long periods of time, those seconds really add up.

Another problem Barnes & Noble fixed with Upgrade #2 was the retaining of bookmarks within a personal document, which wasn't working beforehand. And this was a big one for me because I read manuscripts on my Nook and really needed this to work properly. And hooray, now it does. I must say B&N deserves credit for making it very easy to upload personal documents on the Nook. I've put on several PDFs by simply dropping them into a folder and to my eye the documents format pretty well. This is one area where Kindle falls short in my book but I'll address that sometime in the future.

Hopefully all the remaining quirks will be addressed with the next few upgrades and the Nook will just keep getting better and better.

Next week I'll focus on purchasing e-Books wirelessly with the Nook, the Google Android O/S that drives the color screen, and the companion e-Reader App for the iPhone.

If you own a Nook, what do you think of it so far?

1 comment:

  1. I bought a nook for reading my pdf files. After transferring, I could not read. no error message. Tech support was no help at all. They didnt have a nook to test my pdf file. Can you help me. I can send you my 1.5MB file to see if it works with you. Thanks . Farooq