I’ve got to be honest – I’ve always been somewhat sceptical about the whole idea of eReaders; I love books, I’ve grown up with books, and I’ve always felt that there’s just something about having a book in your hands that no electronic device could ever replace (anyone who remembers Asimov’s short story “The Fun They Had” may feel it strikes a chord...). To some extent I still feel that way; however I’ve quickly become quite attached to my Barnes & Noble Nook.
The Nook comes well packaged, mine made it across the Atlantic with no signs of any damage. Plugging it into the computer and charging it from nothing to full took only about 20 minutes, and a single charge can last anything up to a month (although less if you use it regularly, obviously). The key to the Nook is in its simplicity – it has probably the smallest operating manual of any device I’ve ever seen, and only two buttons (on/menu and off), with everything else being done via the touch screen (which is nicely responsive – it took me a little while to realise that it sometimes responded slowly because I was being too heavy-handed; only the lightest touch is needed). This was initially apparent by my failure to get the unlock feature to work every time (there’s an auto-lock feature that prevents Nook being switched on accidentally) – you have to unlock it by dragging the lock icon to the right. Lightly does it...
In addition to the small printed user guide, there is a slightly longer guide on the Nook itself that’s worth reading – there are a few options such as changing font size etc that you might need, and the functions are explained clearly and without fuss. The only slight problem you might have is if you don’t add a default credit card on startup (if you don’t already have a Barnes and Noble account) – I couldn’t find a way to add one later on the Nook itself, and so had to go online via my PC to set up an account before I could actually buy any books. If you have an account, there is an occasional free book you can download, but you must have a credit card set up before you can download them too.
The first thing that struck me when I started using the Nook is that reading from its screen really is different to reading from a computer screen; of course I’d heard that claimed many times, but until I saw it for myself, I had never truly believed it. The text is really clear and easy to read, easy on the eye, and simply tapping the screen brings up options to change your font type and size, margins and other page layout options, etc. The Nook was even a hit with my family, who were all like me a little sceptical of eReaders in general, and who like me suffer from poor eyesight. The screen is a nice size and the device itself is extremely light, and fits snugly into my palm. (If you have very small hands you’d probably have to hold it differently, but it should still be comfortable.) Images show up as low-res monochrome images; they look fine as an accompaniment to the text; if you want something to look at graphic novels / picture books / photographic collections on, the Nook obviously isn’t it (although the colour Nook may be, I suppose).
Unlike reading from a computer screen however, you need to be somewhere with good lighting to be able to read the Nook’s screen properly. Not a disadvantage (considering you shouldn’t read in bad light anyway) as something that mildly surprised me, considering the Nook obviously has backlighting of sorts.
The Nook has 236Mb storage space as standard, and if you need more it has an SD card slot. While clearly Barnes & Noble would love you to keep buying books from them, you can also transfer files from your PC (via the same USB lead that you use to charge the Nook.
The Nook costs $139 new. The only real problem I have with this is that the books you can buy for the Nook are either the same price as paperbacks or only slightly cheaper – I really thought you’d save money getting the ebooks. This does somewhat lessen the appeal to me, although on the plus side you do get some free books when you activate your account (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – all public domain books you can get free anyway, incidentally).
Then again it wasn’t until after I’d tried to purchase a book that I found out my not living in the USA / Canada meant I couldn’t anyway! Not only that, but it seems that Barnes & Noble aren’t planning on releasing the Nook in the UK, nor selling any books for it. Of course you can buy ePub books (not the only format supported, but to my mind the best) at other vendors, all it means is downloading it to your PC first then porting it across – slightly less convenient, but not a tragic problem. Of course there are a number of online sources where you can legally download free ebooks (either out of copyright or other non-for-profit publications).
[www.epubbooks.com seems to be a good source of legally available public domain ePub books.]
When you need to input text, for instance to search for a particular book or author by name, a qwerty keyboard pops up at the bottom of the screen. I’d actually rather have had the letters listed alphabetically in this instance, for some reason that would seem more natural to me on a touch screen.
When using the Nook, you turn pages by tapping or dragging finger across screen. The page doesn’t update instantly, rather one page fades out as the other fades in (though this happens very quickly if you repeatedly change page). There are 2 built-in screen savers – Authors and Nature – the first of which makes you realise just how strange some authors looked! (Kurt Vonnergut and Oscar Wilde look... interesting, to put it very kindly.)
Apparently the Barnes & Noble Nook has become popular in America, rather against market expectations. I suspect that I am now one of very few people in the UK to actually own one of these devices! As I mentioned at the start, I have quickly become quite attached to it, although not being able to easily buy books (and the relatively expensiveness of ebooks) is a bit of a downside (obviously the former will not affect most people who read this [I’m assuming that the vast majority will be people in the States or Canada). You can get apps for the Nook, including games and utility software, although browsing through the Barnes & Noble site made me think it was mainly the slightly more powerful versions of the Nook that they were designed for.
I can’t compare the Nook to Amazon’s Kindle as I’ve never used one; however in terms of price and functionality there seems to be little to choose between them. This particular version of the Nook focuses on being simple to use and therefore very much an entry level device; since my opinion is that if you want to buy an eReader, it’s an eReader and not a mini computer you’re likely to actually want, that seems to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Overall, the Nook is a simple and very readable device for reading ebooks on; it doesn’t do a lot else, but what it does, it does nicely. Ease of use and simplicity are very much the focus of the design rather than range of features. It broke through my scepticism of eReaders in general very quickly. If you are an avid reader of modern (or at least, modern enough to be commercially viable and within copyright date) books then unless you buy a lot of ebooks that are marginally cheaper than their paperback equivalent, you’re hardly likely to actually save money over the paperbacks. You’d save on space and perhaps gain a certain amount of portability (if you were likely to want more than a couple of books available... two paperbacks are hardly difficult or bulky to transport), but that’s more or less it. You’re paying quite a bit so that you can pay the same or almost the same as if you’d bought the paperback. Which isn’t the fault of the Nook itself, but is still something that needs to be taken into account.
However since older, free ebooks are available, it becomes more worthwhile for readers like myself who have a hundred or so classics to catch up on - granted, you could have just downloaded them onto your PC anyway, but it’s much nicer reading on the Nook than a PC screen. It really depends on the sort of reader you are. For me, despite my unhappiness with the price of ebooks in general, the pros outweigh the cons and I find reading on the Nook a pleasant experience; therefore I’m giving it a 4-star rating. I think I’ve given you enough information to decide whether you feel it would be deserving of a higher or lower rating for your personal circumstances.
Disclaimer: I was sent a Barnes & Noble Nook through the Epinions “Review It” programme. My review represents my honest and unbiased opinion; I treated it exactly the same as if I'd bought it.
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