My thoughts on the Nook

Elsewhere, someone asked me about my e-reader device; I thought I’d share my answer here.

Bought myself a refurbished black-and-white 3G-and-Wifi Nook via an online day-after-Thanksgiving sales, paying $99 (a non-refurb Wifi-only unit is normally $139, and the 3G-and-Wifi is $189).

I bought it not because I expect to use it a lot for my reading, but because I’ve started publishing for these devices, and figured I should have one to see how my books are really going to look, and to understand better how the reader will interact with them.  The reason that I don’t expect to use it much for reading has nothing to do with the technical situation, and everything to do with me being a cheap-ass bastich. I rarely buy new full-priced prose books. I’m a buyer of used books, of remaindered books, and borrow from the library. (I’m also simply not reading that much prose at this point; longer works I’m more likely to experience as audiobooks, listened to while I exercise or drive.) So this is not a lifestyle item for me.

From a technical aspect, it’s quite a nifty little device. The screen is quite readable. The battery lasts long. Books are easy to add to it.

From an interface aspect, it’s a mite weird. It’s made up of two screens – an always-on black-and-white e-ink reading screen that takes up most of the device, and a full-color touch screen at the bottom which is usually off. All of your control of the device except for flipping pages is done via the touch screen, with a menuing system to let you pull up your various books, control your settings, search text, order books, and do the few-non-book-reading things the unit does (two games, a web browser, MP3 player). The problem is that using the touch screen builds up one’s touch-screen instinct, so that when you use the touch screen to bring up a list of your books on the main screen, the instinct is to tap on the name of the book you want – which is for naught, because the main screen is not a touch screen. You have to use up-and-down arrows that appear on the lower screen to scroll through the list on the upper screen. (And to confuse things further, to get to the next page of your book list, you can’t use the touch screen but have to use the page-turn buttons that are to the sides of the main screen.)

The primary format for the books are the industry-standard-to-the-extent-there-is-one ePub format, which is not true of the Kindle. This makes it theoretically the more useful device for books not gained through ordering directly from the device.

The extras are not well thought-out from a user interface point. The games – chess and sodoku – seem chosen because “these are the games people will most want”, not “games that work well with our two-screen system”, and they are very awkward to use. (In contrast, one could do very good poker or blackjack with the system, using the touch screen to display and interact with your hand, and the reader screen to display everyone else’s. But one cannot add programs without “breaking” the system.) The MP3 player is simply a list of files – no way to build playlists, to organize into selectable subdirectories, if I recall correctly there’s no bookmarking – so the various things one would want to have either significant amounts of music on it or to use it for audiobooks are not there.

That does bring me to another point – despite having the audio hardware (the speakers aren’t anything you’d want to use for music but the headphone jack is fine), it doesn’t have the Kindle’s ability to read a book out loud to you. I’m wondering if this were a late-in-the-design decision so that they didn’t run into the publisher conflicts that Amazon faced over the feature…. but both as a user and as a publisher, I’d rather it had that.

All of this may make it sound like I’m not happy with it – I am, it’s a nifty device, and even with the few books I’ve been willing to buy for it, I’m happy with it. It’s easy to toss in a bag and have a number of options of things to read, and unlike many not-specifically-ebook devices, it reads just fine in the bright light of the outdoors. You can’t read it in the dark, of course, but it’s always easier to add light to a scene than to remove it. It’s just that as an old software guy, the things that the software could do but doesn’t are a mite frustrating.

Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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