It's official: Nook e-reader will allow book lending over Wi-Fi, 3G

Barnes & Noble also backing open e-book format on $259 Android-based device

Barnes & Noble Inc. officially launched its own e-reader device, the Nook, late Tuesday, saying it will go on sale in late November for $259 and offer wireless access via AT&T's network and Wi-Fi.

As expected, it runs the Google-backed Android mobile operating system (version 1.5) and comes with a dual screen -- an E Ink Vizplex display above a smaller color touchscreen to do searches via a virtual keyboard -- the company said in a statement on its www.nook.com Web site.

Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner called the device a "game-changer" for the e-book market, one he said "will force Amazon's hand..." Amazon makes the most popular e-reader, the Kindle.

Barnes & Noble's Nook
Barnes & Noble's Nook.

Nook weighs 11.2 ounces and is 7.7 x 4.9 x .5 inches in size. The upper electronic paper display, with 16 levels of gray scale, is 6 inches diagonally, while the lower color LCD display is 3.5 inches.

A first in e-readers will be the ability for users to lend their e-books for up to 14 days at a time. With LendMe technology, an e-book can be shared to a friend's Nook, iPhone, iPod touch, and some BlackBerry and Motorola smartphones, possibly the upcoming Cliq, which is based on Android. Desktop and laptop PCs with Barnes & Noble eReader software can also receive the books being lent.

Users can also listen to songs uploaded through a computer to the Nook, as well as audiobooks and podcasts, using standard headphones.

While Android and the dual screens are considered firsts by Barnes & Noble, similar features were announced Monday by Spring Design Inc. in an e-reader called Alex.

Weiner wrote in a recent blog that Barnes & Noble has entered an increasingly crowded space for e-readers because it "wants to flex its bricks and mortar retailing muscles" by selling an e-reader in its 770 stores, where customers can come in a drink coffee and try the device.

That kind of sales approach might help the bookseller with e-reader sales over Amazon, which makes the Kindle device, but has no physical retail stores, he noted.

Further, Weiner said that the Nook could be Android's "pre-emptive shot at Apple," which is expected to announced a tablet computer in the first quarter next year, too late for 2009 holiday retail sales.

Barnes & Noble made strong comparisons to the Kindle 2 with its Nook announcement, posting a comparison chart that noted both are $259. Distinctions in the chart note that Nook has a replaceable battery, something not available with Kindle 2, as well as the touchscreen and a Micro SD expansion slot that can accommodate a 16GB card, which can hold as many as 17,500 e-books.

Weiner was especially pleased that Barnes & Noble decided to support an open e-reading format known as e.pub, sponsored by the International Digital Publishing Forum. With that, he said consumers have a wider range of choices than with the Kindle, which supports it's own proprietary .azw format.

Only the Kindle DX supports PDF files, he noted, pointing out that users can borrows books from public libraries with digital lending programs, but the vast majority of those libraries support both e.pub and .pdf.

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