Technology

Barnes & Noble Nook 3G + Wi-F Review

Overview 

Barnes & Noble’s Nook features some capabilities that are absent in its rival, the Editors’ Choice-winning Kindle e-reader, and the Nook is closing the gap even further by offering a reduced price of $199.

Not only does the Nook provide twice as many books to choose from (one million versus 500,000 from Amazon), as well as a color, touch screen display, but it also supports the open EPUB format, Wi-Fi access (the Kindle can only utilize its own 3G network), and a Micro SD memory expansion slot. In addition, included in the new 1.3 firmware upgrade are a Web browser, games and sorely needed faster page turning capabilities, all of which make the Nook an even more attractive e-book reader.

The screen is the most critical feature of any e-book reader, and similar to Amazon’s Kindle, the 6-inch electronic ink display of the Nook features 16 levels of gray. The Nook has been criticized for a sluggish page turning screen refresh when compared to the Kindle. Turning pages on the original Nook took two seconds, while the procedure took one second on the Kindle. It recently had a 1.3 firmware update, which now makes the Kindle approximately one tenth of one second faster; there really is no noticeable speed difference now.

The Nook 3G, weighing 11.2 ounces, looks fairly similar to the Kindle. Measuring 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches (HWD), it is slightly smaller and thicker than the Amazon Kindle (10.3 oz.), but the difference is very slight. What stands out is the clean style of the Nook. There are fifty-two buttons on the Kindle display, which includes a four-directional toggle and a complete QWERTY keyboard. The Nook only has five buttons.

The reason for this is that most of the navigation on the Nook 3G is handled by its secondary touch-enabled display. A small (144 X 480 pixel) color capacitive touch screen is located below the primary e-ink display. This displays menu options as well as small thumbnails of book covers. Page turn buttons are available on each side of the display, but the touch screen will be where you will focus most of your attention when using the Nook.

In addition, it really does work well. The main use for the QWERTY keyboard on the Kindle is to enter book titles and the names of authors, however, it is just as convenient to utilize the touch-screen keyboard on the Nook for this purpose.

Interfaces with touch screens offer sellers the ability to be more flexible in their tweaking of designs. Before you even read this, Barnes & Noble might have made the interface easier to use. It is still the same way now, with the display showing all of the options that include The Daily, which displays all of your current downloads and updates, as well as My Library, Shop, Reading Now and Settings. It operates just fine, even though it takes a bit of time to get familiar with modifying items on the mini display and watching the main screen respond. I actually thought this was much easier than trying to distinguish between Kindle’s Home button and Menu button.

If I had to make one complaint against the Nook 3G, it would be that it is not fast enough. When you initially open a book, you need to wait for a few seconds, but when you turn pages in the book, the speed is greatly improved. I wish this would get better as the manufacturer improves its software, but for the time being, I would have to say that the Kindle is a better device.

Bottom Line 
Nook 3G eReader’s latest features are very useful. I especially find this to be true when it comes to the turning of pages, which is quite fast and almost makes the Nook 3G ereader’s speed equal to the speed of the Kindle. The new features use the dual screens on the device to their best advantage, and the Web browser is far superior to that of the Kindle.

The Nook 3G eReader does not offer text-to-speech reading of e-books, a feature that is available on the Kindle, but most users probably will not miss this. Even so, at this point, the Amazon Kindle is still our Editors’ Choice e-book reader, however, the Nook’s new features combined with its reduced price of $199 make it a solid choice.

Features 
Over one million titles are available through the Barnes & Noble eBook Store. This includes approximately 500,000 copyright-free books in ePub format that are available through Google Books. Compare this to The Kindle Store, which only has 360,000 titles available.

In addition to the book catalog, Barnes & Noble is actively courting content partners to publish on the Nook 3G eReader . The New York Times, The Washington Post, and, of course, PC Magazine have already signed up. As far as the amount of available blogs and magazines, the Kindle still has an advantage right now.

Assorted e-book formats are supported by the Nook, such as ePub, FictionWise and PDF. Sadly, DOC or HTML files are not supported, which is an unfortunate exclusion. Especially notable is support for ePub. At the same time that Sony, iRex and most of the world’s digital publishers are coming out with standardized ePub versions, Amazon is still continuing to hold onto its exclusive proprietary formula.

The merit of each strategy is a matter of debate, but by supporting ePub, over 500,000 free titles in the Google Books catalog are available to be read by the Nook.

Download and Storage 
The Nook 3G eReader includes 2GB of internal memory, which is enough to store approximately 1,500 titles. A microSD slot is also provided, expanding your capacity tremendously. A 16 GB card has the capacity to contain 17,500 extra ebooks. Due to the fact that you are able to use wireless in order to get to your online library, the capacity for local storage is not as significant. The device runs another version of the Android system, but Adroid fans need not become overly excited about this. No third-party apps are supported by the Nook 3G eReader — at least not at this time.

Due to the Shop button being always present in the list of menu items, it is probably even easier to buy books with the Nook than with the Kindle. The book is delivered within a few seconds after the user chooses to purchase it. While the Nook utilizes AT&T’s 3G network and the Kindle utilizes Sprint’s 3G, the tests I conducted revealed no coverage difference in New York City.

Let’s put it this way: unless you have great AT&T coverage in your location, you might be a bit unhappy with this unit. However, unlike the Kindle, you will also be able to download books using the built-in Wi-Fi or any Sony ebook reader; the Sony Daily Edition is expected to be released in the near future.

The capability to let other Nook 3G eReader users borrow books is another good point for the Nook. If you have a book in your personal library that you like, you have the option of sharing the book with someone else; the other person will be able to read your book for a period of two weeks. It will disappear from your library for that period, but show up again upon the loan expiration.

Within the upcoming months, Nook customers are going to receive custom content on their devices; this could range from free sample book chapters from an author who lives in your vicinity to free coffee at a Barnes & Noble store. Whenever you are physically inside any B&N store, you will be able to access the text of all books in the eBook Store. You can browse the whole text of any book in the online shop just like you can inside a bricks-and-mortar store.

Performance 
During my tests, it only took a couple of seconds for each e-book to load; the touch commands took a full beat to respond. The Nook 3G eReader is not as fast as the iPod touch, but I think this might be due to the fact that the electronic ink display has natural latency.

A micro USB cable (included) is utilized to charge the Nook, and we have not yet performed a battery run-down test. However, devices that use e-ink displays usually have long battery lives. This is because once a page is turned, minimal power is needed. This being said, Barnes & Noble representatives have acknowledged that the battery life will be negatively affected if a backlit, color mini-display and Wi-Fi were to be added.

The Kindle is capable of running for two weeks before it needs to be charged, but the Nook only lasts approximately ten days before needing to be charged. Even so, it appears to be a good trade-off with the second screen plus the wireless connectivity.

Web Browser 
A Web browser is included in the Nook 1.3 firmware upgrade. It provides a minimal black and white view of web pages and allows users to access points for which web sign-in is required. This is important because the browser can only be utilized with Wi-Fi. The Nook 3G eReader has a color touch screen, which is a huge advantage when using a web browser; the Kindle has a browser that is still in the experimental phase, and it has a limited E-ink display.

When using the Nook, you can browse or scroll the Web page, and there are several buttons and links you can click. Plus you can see the LCD control center on the A box located on the E-Ink display. It’s kind of slow and definitely does not provide the smooth, fast touch Web browsing available on the iPad, but it is easier to navigate with the touch LCD than it is using the joystick button featured on the Kindle, and the Nook is easier to hold than the iPad, which is much heavier.

Games: 
There is a new games menu, but at this point only two games are available: Chess and Sudoku. Although I am not a big Sudoku fan, the Nook’s rendition of it is well-done, providing four progressively difficult levels and making it simple to place numbers. You can play Chess only against the unit, and again it is easy to use the bottom touch LCD to make the moves. However, for those who need more of a challenge, the game does not have additional levels besides the three installed levels. The game allows you to take back moves and view the entire history of all moves using standardized algebraic chess notation. I sincerely wish that the game that involves playing against other human opponents is added, because this game is a lot of fun when a person is bored.

Free Books 
Included in the update is another beta capability: “Read in Store.” This permits you to read certain e-books at no charge while you are in a Barnes & Noble store. You are allowed only one hour per book and, according to B&N’s blog, some bestsellers as well as some classics will be available. As I did not have the opportunity to try the in-store books, they will be discussed in a future write-up.