Barnes & Noble's Nook has two unique features--the ability to share books and a second, small LCD touchscreen beneath the e-ink main reading screen. Both are great ideas, but are flawed in implementation. We find much promise in the Nook's innovative design, but we'd wait until a second generation version irons out the bugs before considering this over the refined Amazon and Sony eReaders already on the market.
Consumer Reports also issued a report entitled "Nook Review: Glitches Make the Kindle a Better Choice," suggesting the eReader may have been rushed out to make the holiday buying season. The bugs themselves are not catastrophic, but when taken together they do compromise the product. Page turning is one annoying thing--in one side-by-side simultaneous test, the Kindle finishes turning the page while the Nook is still mid-turn, a delay which can add up and become an annoyance (Barnes & Noble says they will try to improve the speed with a firmware update next year, but we'll have to wait and see). The Nook's buttons themselves can require quite a strong push to register, especially compared to the Kindle's page inward pivoting advance buttons.
The Nook's touchscreen is also rather slow and unresponsive compared to the touchscreens we're familiar with from iPods and cellphones. In theory, it's a brilliant move to put the LCD touchscreen beneath the main e-ink reading pane--if you put a touchscreen over the main e-ink screen as the Sony PRS-600, PRS-700, and Daily Reader did, the crispness that defines the e-ink screen is compromised and legibility worsened. The LCD (3.5'', 480 x 144 pixels) allows the use of color, so you can flip through book covers and such in a more vivid environment. Just like iTunes, you can sweep through the book covers of your collection, which is more engaging than selecting the text titles as with the Kindle. Again, a cool idea, but not realized well in the Nook.
The book-lending idea is the Nook's second unique contribution to the advancement of eReaders thus far, but it is very much a work in progress. This allows you or friends who own a Nook (or even just Barnes & Nobles's eReader software on a smart phone) to borrow books from your Nook library for up to two weeks. While it's lent out, you can't read the book yourself, and not every title is loanable (the feature can be restricted by the publisher). Reviewers have been confronted with repeated requests to share, then told the request cannot be completed.
The Nook is powered by Android, the new, popular Google mobile phone operating system. However, mobile apps cannot be used on the Nook at present. We give the Nook credit for being one of the first eReaders with a user replaceable battery--you don't need to send the whole ebook reader off for repair. The rechargeable lithium polymer battery can be changed with the use of a small philips screwdriver, however Barnes & Noble do not yet list the price for the replacement battery. The Nook can operate for up to 10 days with wireless off (not bad--Kindle and others can stretch to 14 days plus), or only two days with wireless on.
The Nook has audio capabilities for headphones as well as two small speakers, but lacks the Text to Speech ability of the Kindle.
Connecting: The Nook is impressive in that it includes access to a free AT&T cellular data signal (like the Kindle) and also a WiFi capability. If it detects a WiFi hotspot it will seek to switch to this faster network instead of cellular. In either mode you'll be able to browse and purchase ebooks in seconds, but, unlike the Kindle, you can't browse the larger internet.
Just as the Kindle uses Amazon's online storefront as the main source for ebooks, so the Nook is reliant on Barnes & Noble's BN.com store. After syncing an account, any purchases on the Nook simply debit the credit card registered to your online account, so checkout is a dawdle. If you purchase an ebook on BN.com, you can download it (or re-download it) an unlimited number of times to your Nook.
You can read your Nook eBooks across a wide range of devices if you download the free Barnes & Noble eReader app on your iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry smartphone, or Windows and Mac computers. One neat feature is if your wireless connection is on, then the eBooks purchased from BN.com will sync between your Nook and other reading devices with the eReader app, so you always return to the last page you read.
Accessories: There are a wide range of covers sold for the Nook, ranging from $29.95 to $39.95 (with designer ones up to $125), as well as several different colored device backings for $18.95.
You can purchase a Nook AC power adapter and a 3 foot USB cable kit ($15), so you can recharge from a wall socket. There is also a Lyra Light available, with a bright white LED on a flexible handle, which provides 20 hours of light drawing on a pair of CR2032 watch-type batteries. You can also purchase a matte film to protect the Nook's screen, which includes a cleaning cloth.
Price: The Nook is priced the same as the Kindle 2 at a relatively modest $259.
From immediately after its November 30th launch it has been backordered to at least early February 2010.