Barnes & Noble nook

Barnes & Noble nook

The nook is the new electronic reading device from Barnes & Noble.

It has a beauriful, 6-inch, e-ink screen as well as a separate color LCD touchscreen below, which is used for navigation, to view book covers, and as a virtual keyboard when necessary. You can shop for books and magazines and have them download immediatly via Wi-Fi or AT&T 3G wireless.

This e-book reader has 2 GB of internal storage, plus a microSD slot allows you to add more capacity, plus bring in your own personal content if you don't want to hook this device up to your computer.

The nook is $260, but any new orders won't ship until February 1 at the earliest; there will not be any nooks available at retail until after the beginning of the year. Orders placed now will receive a "holiday certificate" you can give to the recipient if you are ordering the nook as a holiday gift.


The nook is very similar to the Kindle 2 (its closest competitor) in many ways. At 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches it is slightly shorter and narrower than the Kindle, though slightly thicker and one ounce heavier.

Barnes & Noble NookAesthetically speaking, the nook is a nice-looking device. The entire look is very clean and understated; since there's a Touchscreen for navigation there aren't any buttons or controls beyond the power button on the top of the device and the page forward and back buttons on each side of the device.

It feels solid and substantial, and after a week and a half of use I can say that it seems to be very sturdy and well-designed. It's curved in all the right places, and you can even read with just one hand, though the user guide suggests that using two to support the device is more comfortable.

I tend to hold the nook in my left hand, with my thumb resting on the page forward button. It's quite a stretch to use the back button, but that isn't much of an issue for me because I don't tend to "flip" back and forth when I'm reading.

The page advance keys aren't actually buttons, but specific areas of the case that you press to move through the text. I like the fact that these buttons are available on both sides of the screen, so I can alter my grip as I like without worrying about how I'm going to move forward in the book. There's also a home button between the e-ink display and the color LCD; it is also flush-mounted so I'd describe it more as a touch-sensitive area than a regular button.

The nook is made of plastic, and the front is very shiny and slick, except for the area right around the page keys, which is very slightly textured. The back is made covered with a rubberized material that feels really good in the hand -- soft to the touch and not slippery at all, so you won't have to hold it in a death-grip to prevent the device from falling to the floor. That back cover can be replaced with a colored cover if you choose, in order to personalize your device (though those replacement device backs aren't expected to be available for another few weeks).

Underneath the cover you'll find the user-replaceable battery and the microSD card slot, which supports cards up to 16GB in size. The microUSB charge/sync port and headphone jack are on the bottom edge of the unit.

Dual Displays
The screen is crystal clear, and very impressive. It's the same screen as the one on the Kindle 2, since it's manufactured by the same company. You will still see the "flash" of black when the display is updated, but that's the nature of e-ink displays.

There are three fonts to choose from (Helvetica is my favorite), as well as five font sizes from very small to extra-large. No matter whether you want to cram it all on one page or spread it all out, you should be able to find a font and font size combination that works for you.

The screen contrast is great, and I have no problem at all reading whether I am outside in bright sunlight or inside at normal (and even low-) light situations. Since the screen doesn't have a backlight, you do need some sort of illumination if you want to read in the dark; B&N will soon be offering a booklight accessory, and third-party vendors such as M-Edge are also working on their own nook light products.

The secondary color LCD below the e-ink screen is small, but usable. Book covers look great, and it really is a nice way to surf through your electronic library. Making selections is as easy as using your finger, and I found the screen to be very responsive for scrolling through book covers, navigating menus, etc. I sometimes had trouble scrolling through menus if more than four choices were available, but I quickly learned to use a deliberate touch.

The virtual keyboard works well too, though you have to be careful to make sure that you hit the "keys" in the middle so that you enter what you want. The number pad in particular is quite small, though that would be easily fixable with a firmware update.

The nook comes with a printed quick start guide, a white USB cable, and travel charger. Additional accessories are available directly from Barnes & Noble, including a matte screen protector set (which I highly recommend), spare batteries and chargers, and a variety of cases.

One special note about the packaging: it looks great, it's definitely "Apple-inspired", but it's devilishly hard to open. There's a reason that the nook comes with a sheet of illustrated instructions for freeing it from its plastic prison, and I suggest that you follow them in order to avoid any unnecessary frustration.


Other reviewers have described the Barnes & Noble nook as both sluggish and confusing, with frequent crashes, but I didn't run into any problems of that sort. In fact, though the nook is definitely a 1.0 product, it has performed for me exactly as advertised -- though not without its frustrations, mainly because I have an enormous library of e-books.

Reading is an absolute joy, and page refreshes are right on par with what I would expect, given my previous experience with both the Kindle and the Kindle 2. E-ink screens simply don't refresh as quickly as computer monitors, but I quickly found a rhythm in which I would press the page forward button just as I was getting to the last line on the screen, so that when it flashed and refreshed I was ready for the new text that had just appeared.

One of the main selling points for the nook is the color LCD Touchscreen just below the main screen, and I enjoyed using it as well -- especially getting to see the book covers for the titles I've purchased from B&N. Some have complained about constantly going back and forth between the two screens, but I found it to be quite natural, perhaps due to my experience with the dual-screen Nintendo DSi.

The secondary screen is used to make purchases and perform most other tasks. Its main menu consists of five parts: The Daily (includes original content from B&N as well as book lending notices and other notifcations), My Library, Shop (where you purchase new books), Now Reading, and Settings. Within each of those menus is a variety of functions, and the color LCD screen is where you go through those options. Long lists, such as the listing of all the books in your library, are shown on the e-ink screen, and you use the cursor control arrows on the color touch screen to make your selections.

I didn't experience any sluggishness or lag while navigating the device (with one exception, detailed below), and didn't have any trouble figuring out the interface. It's simple enough that you could hand the nook to any non-techie friend, even your parents, and they'll be able to get started right away. The menus are clear and easy to understand, with big arrows that show you when further options are available. If you want to go back, just tap the arrow on the left side of the screen; the circle on the right side is what you use to confirm your selection, like an Enter key.

Wireless E-Book Shopping
On-device book shopping works great, as expected. You can browse bestseller lists, search for authors and titles, download sample chapters, and purchase entire books. Your e-book wish list is also accessible on the nook, which is a great feature -- if you've been shopping at and adding books to your wish list, it will sync with your nook. If you ever find yourself with time to kill and want to quickly purchase a book you've been thinking about, it's very easy to do so. It's also worth noting that books you purchase from your nook are automatically downloaded to your device; books purchased at will be added to the library on your nook, but won't be fully downloaded until you access them on your device.

The nook has both Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G wireless -- there's a SIM card in the battery compartment. It won't work with any phone I've tried, only in the nook. The AT&T wireless service works great for me; since I'm in a major city service is widespread and relatively dependable. Wi-Fi also works well; I had no problem connecting to networks that only require me to input a key or password. Since the nook doesn't have a web browser, there's no way to sign on to a network that has a splash screen and/or requires you to input both a user name and a password.

Early next year, nook users will also be able to access free Wi-Fi service at every Barnes & Noble store, and there are serveral advantages to doing so. You can browse the full text of ebooks when you use your nook inside a B&N store, as well as receive special offers and free ebooks. Unfortunately I was not able to test this feature, because it will not be implemented in the stores until early in the new year. This is a smart move on the company's part, because it will tend to drive additional traffic to the stores, but it isn't a free-for-all either: B&N recently announced that the feature would be limited to one hour per title in a 24-hour period. Only time will tell if that means you can read one ebook for an hour and then switch to another for an hour when your time with the first book is up, or whether it will actually be limited to one hour total per day.

Your library is actually divided into two parts: 1) books purchased from Barnes & Noble and 2) a My Documents section that holds everything else, whether they're eReader/Fictionwise books, PDF technical manuals, or ePub books from other sources.

The good news is that you can sort your library by author, title, or date added, search titles, or view book covers to quickly find what you want; the bad news is that those options work only in the B&N portion of the library. You're on your own in the My Documents side, which is a real problem for me -- I've been collecting eReader and Fictionwise books for the last eight years, and have also bought quite a few Baen Webscription books as well.

The nook supports a nice variety of formats, including ereader/PDB, ePub (which is becoming the industry standard) and Adobe PDF. If you use a free tool like Calibre, you can create your own ebooks from Microsoft LIT, Mobipocket, text files, etc. So I have 799 ebooks, short stories, and PDFs in my personal library, which translates to 80(!) pages of document listings.

Unfortunately there is no way to organize your sideloaded personal content at this time, because the My Documents section of the library doesn't support folders. You don't have to worry about putting your documents into a particular place on the microSD card, but it's a disadvantage as well. Even if you have your ebooks and PDFs neatly organized into folders by source, author, or series, the document listing presented by the nook is flattened, with no hierarchy. This isn't a surprise, since it is clearly stated in the nook user guide, but it is still a disappointment. The user guide also states that "you can browse, filter, sort, and search the list of documents" so I'm hoping that this is a bug or oversight that will soon be rectified. Especially since the nook supports memory expansion cards up to 16GB in size -- they're inviting folks to stuff their nooks full of thousands of titles!

Thankfully DRM issues are gracefully handled; once you enter your name and credit card number once, you can open all all of your secure eReader format books without a hitch. Please note that only one set of credentials can be stored on the nook at a time, so if you want to avoid the hassle of switching back and forth between two different credit cards, for example, it would be a good idea to reset your credit card information on eReader/Fictionwise and redownload your books so they will all be locked with the same information.

The only lag I came across was when switching between the B&N and personal portions of my library, since I have so many legacy titles. Each time you switch to the My Documents portion of the library, the nook takes the opportunity to scan the microSD card for new content. That makes sense, but it's frustrating -- the more personal content you have, the longer it takes to scan. This isn't a problem if you read one book at a time, without switching between several titles, because you can just use the Now Reading button on the main menu to jump right back to where you were, without even entering the My Documents section of your library. That works pretty well for now, but I would like to see the automatic scanning feature be changed to an on-demand method, so that I can scan for new documents when I know that something new has been added, instead of every single time I access the My Documents portion of the library.

Searches & Annotation
Searching within a book works exactly as expected, though I would like to see some improvements. Searches start from your current location and you can only search forward and back. There is no option to start the search from the beginning of the title; you can get around that by navigating to the beginning of the book before you search, but you shouldn't have to do that. This is one area in which the Kindle does things better, because it presents you with a list of search results along with a snippet of text, so you can generally see enough to figure out exactly where you want to go without having to blindly jump around.

Bookmarks are easy to set and remove, though highlights and annotations required a bit more work and determination. When you highlight text, you have to select it using the cursor wheel on the touch screen below -- it works, but not very quickly. You can optionally hide highlights if you wish, which is nice when you don't want to be distracted by the highlighted text. Unlike the Amazon Kindle, there is no way to save the highlighted text as a clipping, accessible on your computer if you know what file to look for when you connect your Kindle.

When you add a bookmark an icon appears in the status bar at the top of the screen; when you add a note, a small arrow appears within the ebook itself, just to the left of the line you've marked. If you want to see the notes on a particular page, select the Highlights and Notes menu item when you're on that page--at this time there is no way to see a list of all the notes in a particular book. In order to see the note, you have to select the Edit Note option on the menu. You can see a list of bookmarks, and for B&N books they are identified by chapter title and page number. Bookmarks for sideloaded content are named in a more confusing manner, so you might have to try a couple of times to find what you want.

The ability to lend e-books to your family and friends is another one of the nook's unique features, and there has been some confusion about this aspect of the device. LendMe allows you to lend books to anyone you desire for up to 14 days; you are not able to read the title yourself during that period of time, and after that the book automatically comes back to your library. The receiver is not required to have an actual nook device; they can also download the free B&N eReader software for a variety of platforms, including iPhone/iPod Touch, BlackBerry, and PC/Mac computers. On the 15th day, the loaned book is automatically returned to your library.

Each book title can be lent only once, not multiple times; I assume that limitation was set to prevent people from abusing the feature. That said, however, some publishers are opting out of the LendMe feature in much the same way that some of them have opted out of the Text-to-Speech feature on the Kindle 2. Books that are compatible with this feature are marked with a special LendMe icon on the Barnes & Noble site.

In addition to the colored back covers that will be available soon, you can add your own JPG, GIF, PNG, and BMP images to the nook. There isn't a built-in image viewer, so you'll use them as wallpaper and screen savers instead. The quality is simply stunning, even though we're talking about an e-ink screen with 16 levels of gray. I loaded several different photos onto the nook and they were all automatically resized to fit the screen as appropriate; there were black bars on the side of one particularly tall and thin image, which I preferred to having it stretched out of all proportion.

It may be a relatively unimportant feature, but I appreciate the ability to easily personalize the nook in this fashion. Every time I pick it up I see a different screen saver image. So it not only holds my entire library, it also represents some of the places I've been and the people I know and renews pleasant memories.

Audio Player
The nook is a reading device, not a music player, but there are times when you might want background music to go along with your reading. The nook support MP3 music files; you can place them in the My Music folder on the nook proper or anywhere on a microSD card. The features are very basic -- there is no way to create your own playlist, and as with personal content, folders are not supported. The nook just creates a single playlist on the fly from all of the music it finds on your device.

I was pleasantly surprised by the volume and the quality of music put out by the built-in mono speakers on the bottom of the nook. If you want better sound quality and a more private listening experience, you can plug your own headphones into the jack on the bottom of the nook.

While the Audio Player feature won't win any awards and certainly won't replace your iPod, it's a nice little bonus feature.

Battery Life
I've been getting much better battery life with my nook than B&N promised, which is fabulous. The FAQ states that the battery should last for about ten days of reading with the wireless turned off, or just two days with wireless and the music player turned on. I have left wireless on constantly, in order to get automatic updates on The Daily content, and have found that the nook lasts for almost a week without a charge.

The nook comes with a USB cable and a charger which will charge the battery in about 3.5 hours if you plug it directly into an outlet. If you use your computer, it will take a bit longer. I tested the nook with a microUSB charger I already own from Gomadic, and it worked perfectly.

Heavy readers will be glad to know that the nook's battery is easily removed and replaced. Additional batteries will be available in early January for $29.95, and will come with the small screwdriver necessary to make the switch.


Even though the Barnes & Noble nook is still somewhat rough around the edges, especially as compared to the Amazon Kindle 2, I simply love it. Everything works as promised, and my only frustrations are related to my (admittedly gigantic) library of legacy personal content.

Barnes & Noble NookThere are some improvements that need to be made, especially with content organization and annotation, but those can be addressed with future firmware updates. The hardware is lovely, the color Touchscreen is functional and elegant, and ergonomically speaking I strongly prefer the nook to the Amazon Kindle.

If you don't already have a lot of legacy content and plan to purchase all of your ebooks directly from B&N, you're practically guaranteed a wonderful experience right out of the box (assuming you can get it out of the box in the first place). If you have a lot of legacy content, be prepared for a few frustrations -- you won't be able to see your book covers, or sort/search/filter your library, and bookmarks will be a little cryptic.

Barnes & Noble has already announced that it will be aggressively pushing out firmware updates, and I just can't wait to see what's in store for my nook in the future.


* Delightful reading experience
* Supports eReader, ePub, and PDF formats
* Color Touchscreen LCD ideal for navigation and viewing book covers
* Book lending allows you to share with friends and family
* Good personalization features with exceptional grayscale picture quality
* Functional music player


* No way to view a full list of search results
* No way to sort or search your My Documents listing
* No book cover view for personal content
* Bookmarks for personal content books are cryptic at best