Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Initial Impressions of the Nook

I've been pretty interested in the Nook since Barnes and Noble announced it. An Android-based e-ink eBook reader? Hell yeah, I'm interested. So, when our local College bookstore, who's owned by BN, put up their Nook display, and had some sample units, I took the opportunity to get my hands on one.

I only played with the device for about five minutes, and the display units didn't have any books in their library, so my impressions of the device might not have been fully indicative of the device. Incidentally, my exposure to the Kindle is a similar time frame, so I'm not terribly biased, at least on based on usage.

The device is solid, and well built. It felt like the kind of device that I could toss in my bag and haul anywhere without any problems. The touchscreen had a nice finish, that wasn't too glossy in the sharp artificial light of the store, but also felt like it would be durable to the kind of treatment I know this device would be apt to get in my briefcase (trapped with other devices and cords, subject to pressure and general moving about. Plus, the back of the device is removable, for customization, installation of the MicroSD card, or replacement of the battery (potentially nice).

The interface on the touchscreen did take me a few minutes to wrap my head around. I was often scrambling trying to figure out what I needed to tap to move forward, and it wasn't always clear when something I'd do on the touchscreen would result in feedback on the e-ink display. This was most noticeable when I went to the devices on-board memory looking for files to read. Suddenly, the file list was on the upper screen, but I was given no feedback to know to look there to proceed. Selecting a file from that list, required hitting a small white dot on the right side of the touchscreen, which offered no visual indication that it was the select button.

Ultimately, I did figure it out, and it didn't take that long, but I don't consider myself a normal user when it comes to decoding UIs. This interface is going to frustrate a lot of people while they get used to it, but I suppose after a half hour or so of playing with the device, it's not bad.

There was one glaring fault I had with my time with the device. Annotations didn't seem to work really well. First, unlike the Kindle, the device's keyboard is touch screen, so you lose the tactile feedback of real keys, but more than that, typing felt really sluggish and the key layout felt off. On a real keyboard keys are offset just a bit, and the on-screen keyboard not having that made typing just feel a little off.

Worse though, was that once I highlighted some text and put an annotation to go with it, I couldn't actually seem to access it. I tried to follow the prompts, but though the display seemed to indicate that an annotation existed, I couldn't read it. This was likely user error, but it was still annoying. Long and the short of it, that I don't see my wife using this to annotate journal articles anytime soon, though certainly, I'll have her try to in store.

This device is, at the very least, on par with the Kindle, since I've heard major complaints about the Kindle's annotation feature as well. But I do really like that it appears to use ePub as it's document format (though I'm not sure what kind of DRM is on the books by default), and it looks like more books are available through BN than through Amazon, especially with the availability of Google Books through their service. My only problem with BNs service (and I think Amazon is this way too), is that once I've bought a book, I can't re-download it from BN if I lose it for whatever reason. This is, potentially, a deal breaker for me. Not necessarily for the Nook, but certainly for the the BN eBook store, especially if they use any DRM.

But I'll be writing more on that in the future. The kid at the kiosk had some fascinating things (untrue, the lot of them) to tell me about taxes and licensing. In the meantime, I'd definitely suggest getting your hands on a Nook, if you're the least bit curious about eBook readers. It's a great little device, and it definitely still has me intrigued.