18 August 2010

Ereader review - the NOOK

I bought a NOOK! Okay, so it was about five weeks ago. What that means, though, is that I am finally ready to give my first review of it!

Are you familiar with ereaders? I was very familiar with them. We moved from the greater Chicago area to England in August 2007 (we are now repatriated, back to the greater Chicago area.) Moving to England meant that I had to determine a new source for my reading material. Eventually I began purchasing most of my books from amazon.co.uk. My family members also brought me books they were finished with, when they visited us. Amazon's first hardware device, the Kindle First Generation, was released only in the United States on November 19, 2007. That was the beginning of my fascination with ereaders.

Kindle, however, wasn't internationally compatible; it has to do with the type of cell hpone service provided in different countries. I found myself wondering, often, about the possibility of purchasing a Kindle and having a family member in the states load it up with purchases for me and then bringing it to me. I wasn't sure that was the way to go. I waited.

At some point I became aware of Sony's ereader. There was a Sony store near us where we often shopped. I visited the store several times. I held the Sony. I tried to imagine using the Sony. I was so close to just purchasing it. But I chose patience; ever a virtue. And I am glad I did. Many people told me that Sony is known for having good software but for not getting the hardware spot on. To this day when I see the Sony ereader I am still underwhelmed in comparison to the Kindle and the NOOK. My brother, Duffy, owns a Kindle. He visited us several times while we were living in England. When he visited I would borrow his Kindle to see how I liked it.

Just as we repatriated to the states, the international version of the Kindle 2 became available in 19 October 2009. That was just as we were officially preparing for our move. We landed in the US 12 December 2009. Again, I waited. I was hoping to receive the Kindle for Christmas.

Summer 2010 found me still without a Kindle, or any other ereader for that matter. 20 October 2009 saw the release of Barnes & Noble's ereader, the NOOK. What finally pushed me over the edge to make me purchase? My brother, Duffy, told me "Buy it. If you end up liking my Kindle better, I'm sure I'll trade you." Well, you can't beat insurance like that, can you? So I did it. I bought a NOOK!

Once I heard about the NOOK I began rigorously comparing it to the Kindle. I really thought I wanted the Kindle. I was hearing really great reviews of NOOK, however. When my brother came to visit in July 2010 we went shopping and I purchased it. We duly came home and fully charged it. After dinner we played with it and began learning how to use it. Which brings me to the point of my review of it.

Let's see. The main feature for which I was looking was the ability to highlight text and make notes about it. Both Kindle and nook have that ability.

Kindle has the little keyboard at the bottom. I thought that would be the best for me but then when my brother visited again and I used it I realized that the keys are positioned sort of oddly. With my current phone the keys are very close together and I can type with my thumbs. Seeing the Kindle keyboard configuration made me think it would be clumsy unless redesigned more similarly to today's texting phones.

Nook has a touchscreen. I wasn't any kind of fan of touchscreens until we were given a GPS. Our Garmin Nuvi touchscreen works brilliantly. I can touch it with my fingernail tips and it works perfectly. The Nook doesn't work that way. It is heat triggered. So one must touch it with skin. And I have long nails. After I bought it I was still afraid it might be a long-term issue for me. It only took me about 24 hours, though, to get used to it. I see the potentional that for someone with very big hands, (men in particular) having such tiny keys on the touchscreen could really be an issue. My brother thinks they should make an after-market accessory that is a heated stylus!! I think that would work really well and would probably lead to faster typing by users. Now that I am five weeks out I feel that I have mastered the keyboard as much as I am going to. And it still isn't perfect, but I can manage. Given an updated version my interest will be piqued enough for me to go to the store and try it out.

I continue to use my usual book light with my nook. My book light is a LightWedge, paperback size. I use it the same way that I use it with traditional books. Often my batteries provide me with so much light from my LightWedge that I don't even have to hold the LW against the book/NOOK. I often just keep it nearby to illuminate my reading. I have found that the NOOK works even better with the LW as there is no bother with turning actual pages. Brilliant! No fuss.

Overall I had expected the Kindle's hardware configuration to please me more than the Nook. I have been pleasantly surprised so far! Overwhelmingly I feel that the Nook has a much more streamlined appearance; slicker. Important? Not if you already own a Kindle and aren't going to be replacing it anytime soon. Trust me, it's a big purchase and I wouldn't replace it just for that. But I have found that the Nook's design is pleasant and attractive. The toggle-button on the Kindle (for lack of a better term) now seems a bit obtrusive to me. It just looks as if it is in the way. I like the smooth sides of the Nook and the page-turn buttons are easy to push when you mean to but are not easily pushed by accident (something that could be quite annoying.)

As a true Bibliovore I am still embarrassingly and hopelessly drawn to the pretty cover photos on the Nook's lighted touchscreen. Yes, they are just images of the covers in color. But they're attractive. And sometimes it really is okay to judge a book by its cover. In this day and age, with technology being what it is, I feel that if a publisher isn't dedicated enough to design a cover that will attract the attention of potential readers then they are going to be taking a risk. The book has to have a cover...why not make it appealing! As a matter of fact I just chose a book in May2010 based first upon the cover. The reason I stopped to look at it was because the cover caught my eye! And then I noticed the author's name. I read the blurb. I bought the book. If the cover hadn't drawn my attention from the others hundreds of books I wouldn't have bought it. Case justified.

The lend/borrow feature, currently only on the NOOK, has me intrigued right now! There exists a Facebook group through which one may lend or borrow NOOK ebooks from complete strangers with ease. I haven't had the opportunity to use it yet, or to otherwise loan any of my NOOK ebooks. I have researched it and believe that a book may be lent to any owner of a NOOK ereader once. Only once. I believe you may not then lend the book out to anyone else in the future. With this appearing to be the case I have not agressively pursued loaning my NOOK books. If my brother or another family member ends up owning a NOOK I would prefer to loan to them. If there are multiple owners of NOOKs living in the same household they may all use the same account so that they are able to all share purchases. I think Kindle operates in the same manner. It's a great and, I believe, necessary feature.

Okay a big MISTAKE on the part of the designers of Nook, in my opinion, is with regard to the highlights and notes which one may add. The ability to highlight text and make notes was the second feature that appealed to me in ebooks. I added highlights and notes in the first book I read on my NOOK. I didn't know I would not be able to go to them with ease after finishing the book. You have to go through each and every page to find if you highlighted anything. I found a simpler way to locate my highlights and notes though. You must use the bookmark feature first to mark every page on which you are going to place a highlight or note, then you may use the bookmark feature to easily return to them. Going forward I will be placing an electronic bookmark and THEN highlighting and adding each note. Users are able to find all bookmarks after they are placed. I bet highlighting and notes are more direct and functional with the Kindle. I hope so. This really should be an easy update for B&N I would think. I eagerly await a software update that will delete the bookmark step from this process. I hope I am not disappointed.

I have now read eight books on my NOOK. So far I have had one error occur with regard to the device. Fortunately it was not a serious one since my education or career are not yet relying on the device although I see that as a true possibility. All the highlights and notes in one of the ebooks I was reading were lost. I called B&N to discuss this. They made a note of it but confirmed that there was no way for them to retrieve them. It would be great if there were a way to do a master-save of such things, at least occasionally. Even if it involved plugging into the computer to do it I would find it worthwhile. That was so disappointing.

B&N has an in-store feature which allows anyone visiting the store with their NOOK to read ebooks for up to an hour a day for free. I have visited the store and tried this. My first disapointment was with ATT who provides the internet service which allows for the functionality (or not) of this feature. The store's internet was down. I returned another day and it was either still down or down again. Frustrating. It could actually make some customers pretty upset as I know some people have bought the NOOK because of that feature. I have to say that I was disappointed also to find that my first few choices of titles were ones that were not available for this feature. I had not been made aware that some books allow this feature and some don't. I found that disappointing. I did eventually find a book that allowed for the free reading and after visiting with some new acquaintances I had met at the library recently I did sit and read for a bit. I even returned later that week and was able to use the feature from the parking lot, in my vehicle.

Battery life. The Kindle can be returned to Amazon for the battery to be changed. The NOOK's battery is replaceable by the owner. And the batteries are quite affordable. The Kindle battery last longer with each charge but that has been due to the fact that earlier versions of the Kindle did not operate with the ability to use the internet, as the NOOK does. Use of the internet really decreases the available charge very quickly. While enjoying use of the internet I am not in love with it via my NOOK. I am glad it has the ability but really don't care for it as the functionality of it is just difficult in my opinion. If I need the internet and have a hot-spot then I can use it. If I don't really need the internet I'll be waiting to go online at home.

The purchase of ebooks with a NOOK is so simple it's scary. Add a credit card to your online account with B&N and that's really all there is to it. You can search B&N online using your computer or via your NOOK. Once you've found the book you want you may choose to download only a sample. Often the sample is 20 pages but recently I've come across a few that are a shockingly brief seven pages! If you wish you may purchase it without downloading a sample. If you download a sample you are given a chance to purchase it at any time you wish. The process of actually receiving the book after selecting it is amazingly quick. I think it could take up to one or two minutes but at times it has been only a matter of a very few seconds and the ebook is in my NOOK, ready for my enjoyment!

When there is any risk of it getting wet I place it inside a gallon-size zip baggy. Doesn't bother me a bit. Kindle makes a cover that they only claim is water resistant but not waterproof. I hear that it is not attractive and seems expensive since it appears to be just a fancy baggy. For now I'll stick with my baggy. I did purchase a two-year warranty for something like $69. We do not generally purchase warranties as we don't often feel they are worth the cost. Since I purchased my NOOK for its portability there was no way a warranty wasn't going to be worth saving me the fear of something happening to it.

I stumbled upon an additional feature without realizing it existed. While reading, occasionally I would move or reach for something and my hand would glance across the touchscreen and my page would change. Hmmm...I was determined to get to the bottom of that. It didn't appear to be a glitch; it seemed too intuitive. I even visited our local B&N. There I was told that it is a feature but not one that is touted. Why? Maybe they just don't have the settings perfected yet. The manager of the B&N could not get the feature to work. I was determined to figure it out. A few more hours of attention as I read and I nailed it! The secret is to only glance the touchscreen with your thumb or finger and not to linger. Too firm a touch or too long, and it won't work. Even though the touch has to be just right I love the feature. Sure it is easy enough to push the page-turn but this just feels so much more natural to me. If I touch the screen too firmly and "wake" it I just use the push button to turn that page. I use the touchscreen to turn my page now about 95% of the time I guess.

Yes, I have linked the Amazon Kindle here in case anyone wants to purchase it even though my review leans toward the NOOK. We all have different preferences and that is good.

The Nook can store about 1500 ebooks with the 2 GB storage. Up to a 16 GB memory card may be added to it as well, so it can hold a lot of books. It can also hold music if you want to use it for that. It will also hold photos. I have put a few photos on mine as screensavers/wallpaper just because it is going to take a long time for me to get enough ebooks on it to start chewing up the available memory. I figured I may as well use the memory I have available.
For now, even with the issues I have explored above, I am very pleased with my nook. Actually, I am sold on ereaders as a whole. I am as much a book-lover as the next person is...but the convenience of carrying around ONE item and of that one item being able to become nearly ANY book I want it to be is PRICELESS. I take it everywhere with me. I will look at future releases of ereaders. When such an advance is made to ereader technology that I can't do without it I will be looking to purchase a new one. I love mine that much.


Edited to add:

I just found out that B&N has placed their business up for sale. Seems their financial numbers were down due to fewer people visiting actual bookstores, along with the cost of creating a new ereader and marketing it.


This could end up working for them eventually as the loss could be recovered through sales of the NOOK. If, however, people are scared of B&N folding and no longer supporting the NOOK, then things could become ugly for them as well as for we owners of NOOK.

Long-term my prediction would be that even if a decision is made to sell the store sites, someone should be able to come along and make the ereader/ebook business portion profitable; perhaps very profitable. Of course it is my hope that B&N will be purchased and some things will be changed up so that both parts of the business can again return a profit. We are in a time of change though. I do feel that B&N was on to something when they developed their ereader with the ability to read in-store for free, loan books, etc.

However, I was dissappointed by their actual coffee shop, the place where a lot of this could occur. Living in England, the coffee and tea shops there are places people flock to for such activities. Here in the US and in England I have seen even McDonald's restaurants with more of that sort of character than my local B&N store possesses. It wouldn't even be a difficult revamp in my opinion. Make it cozier. Change up the boring and pricey menut. Make the readers of NOOK want to visit your store, buy a muffin and a drink, and possibly chat with some other well-read people.
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