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First look: Nook's slow responses hurt its appeal

The e-reader's two-screen approach takes some getting used to

December 7, 2009 05:10 PM ET

Computerworld - After trying out a Nook e-reader at a Barnes & Noble store today, I'm willing to wait and see what Apple Inc. is likely to produce with its long-rumored tablet device, or other upcoming e-readers.

That's not an indictment of the Nook. But as a potential buyer, the device, at a pricey $259, and with each e-book release at $9.99, I want to see what else is coming on the market in the next few months. I've held off buying an e-reader, but have borrowed several, including the Kindle 2 from Amazon.

Some analysts are saying as many as 40 e-readers will hit the market in 2010. I'm looking forward to the bigger screens that might be coming from Apple or especially a device called the Que from Plastic Logic Ltd. which is due to be unveiled in January. The Que will focus on business professionals and will also be sold by Barnes & Noble.

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

Meanwhile, my few minutes of playing with the Nook demo unit were revealing.

Are two screens better than one?

While I'm not a big fan of having two screens on the Nook, it seemed like a brilliant move when the device was first unveiled. At that time, I was hoping the lower color screen would be a full browser, so a user could open a page from a book on the upper screen, such as a page with diagrams or drawings (like an anatomy drawing from a textbook), then browse wirelessly to a Web site below where the author could post a short video explaining the diagram.

That browser-and-e-reader combination could be where some larger textbook e-readers are headed. But I'm hoping that the combo will be made available on a smaller device that offers more general reading material. Barnes & Noble said when it announced the Nook that it may someday make the lower screen a full browser. I'm optimistic.

In the current iteration, the Nook's lower color screen opens to five small areas that you touch to activate content or functions. For example, the first area on the left is entitled "The Daily" which brings up, for now, three newspapers on the upper screen: The Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.

Then, if you want to choose, say, The Financial Times from the list of newspapers on the upper screen, you must move the cursor with touch controls on the lower screen. This awkward moving from screen to screen annoyed me. After several tries, I managed to open an article in one newspaper -- although I was aiming for its home screen or front page. After a few tries, I decided I'd prefer to browse for the home page of the same newspaper on my BlackBerry Curve, trading speed in browsing for a smaller font on a much smaller screen.

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