PC World - The Barnes and Noble Nook evokes images of curling up in a corner with a good book near a cozy fire, perhaps with a mug of hot cocoa close at hand. And the Nook ($259, as of December 17, 2009) will indeed let you read electronic books; but unfortunately, not everything about this e-book reader makes for a comfortable reading experience.
The Nook (due for wider availability in January 2010) joins a growing array of e-readers, led to date by Amazon and Sony. The Nook's most directly competes with the Amazon Kindle 2. Both models are of similar size, have similar prices, and are the only models that provide direct-from-device wireless access to each bookseller's e-book store (Sony's Reader Daily Edition will add wireless connectivity, as will other readers to be announced at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show.
Assessing the Nook necessarily involves evaluating storefront access, title selection, and title presentation as much as it does appraising the device itself. And ultimately, despite its progressive design choices and clever navigation tools, the Nook feels like a first-generation product in need of a fair amount of future refinement.
The Nook's greatest design is its innovative use of a touchscreen strip below the 6.5-inch E-Ink electronic paper display that dominates the device. The touchscreen obviates the need for a keyboard or for multipurpose buttons or other navigational aids--such as the Sony Reader Touch Edition's buttons and the Amazon Kindle 2's physical keyboard and five-way joystick navigation. Where the Touch Edition's touchscreen overlay might irk some readers (because text lacks crispness), and the Kindle's buttons might feel retro in the iPhone era, the Nook's touchscreen offers a highly adaptable, context-sensitive means of navigating the device.
The touchscreen also adds a splash to color to a device that remains locked in a world consisting of shades of gray. Beyond being a navigation tool for the E-Ink screen, the touchscreen has an on-screen keyboard for data input (such as for searching or for adding notes) and colorful cover thumbnails that you can scroll through; if you flip past the list on the E-Ink screen above the touchscreen, the E-Ink screen moves to the next page to catch up with where you are in the LCD.
With its launch software, the Nook stumbles in a couple of ways. I call out the launch software in particular because Barnes and Noble says that it plans to fix some of the performance issues through a firmware update. But the anticipated update has yet to arrive (it was initially slated to arrive in the week following the Nook's launch; now the due date has slipped to late December). Until it comes, I won't be able to say whether the sluggish performance is strictly a software shortcoming or whether it implicates one or more of the hardware components along with the software.
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