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There are a lot of firsts associated with the Barnes & Noble Nook 1st Edition eBook Reader. It’s the first eBook Reader to be based on the Google Android operating system. It’s the first reader to come with both 3G and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. But perhaps the most prominent first is that it may just well be the first device of its kind to be a genuine competitor to the celebrated Amazon Kindle. For more side-by-side comparisons and objective reviews, visit our eBook Reader page.
Comparisons to the standard setting Kindle are impossible to avoid so we won’t try. Like the Kindle, the case is plastic and has a solid feel. The finish is shiny rather than the Kindle’s matte, which we prefer slightly. They both take a back seat, however, to the elegant and sturdier brushed metal construction of the Sony Readers. The most apparent physical feature of the Nook 1st Edition is the secondary color touchscreen which is situated below the main screen. It serves a number of purposes but is mainly for navigating around the eBook reader's features. It’s also where the virtual keyboard appears for typing notes or over-the-air (OTA) shopping from Barnes & Noble. The color screen is nice when searching for books to buy in that it displays book cover images but otherwise we found it more gimmicky than practical.
An all important aspect of any eBook reader is the quality of the screen display. The Nook 1st Edition’s 6-inch, diagonally measured screen is less reflective that most competitors. We were able to read it easily in just about any lighting condition including bright sun. The one situation that was a little trying was where there were multiple overhead light sources and therefore many angles from which light could be reflected. Even then, however, it wasn’t difficult to find an angle that worked virtually glare free. Typical of E-Ink screens, the display is rather dull like a book’s paper to minimize eye fatigue. The display on this eBook reader has sixteen gray levels which makes it easy to find one that is ideal for an individual’s preference. Five font sizes can be selected to make reading easy and there are three selectable font styles.
Typical of E-Ink screens, there’s a bit of stutter when turning pages. Barnes & Noble has released a couple of firmware updates since the unit’s initial December release. We updated our evaluation unit soon after getting it and found that page changes were a bit smoother and opening content also occurred more quickly.
We have mixed reactions to the separate touchscreen which is located just under the main screen. It’s great for shopping which is likely the prime motivator for it being there in the first place. It’s not bad for navigating the eBook reader's many features but understanding the menu architecture required some practice. Still, it’s not half bad. We weren’t too happy, however, with the virtual keyboard that it affords. The keys are a little too small for those of us with fat fingers and it’s not as responsive as the typical cell phone screen. Those characteristics make its use a bit awkward. It’s OK but a lot of typing would be very inconvenient.
We found ourselves attempting to select entries or flip pages on the main E-ink with touchscreen gestures. It probably looked odd to anyone who may have been looking on in that it’s not a touchscreen. Perhaps it represents a little mental confusion as a result of using the lower touchscreen or caused by having recently reviewed the new Sony Reader Touch Edition. Nonetheless, we were able to adapt to turning pages with the forward and back buttons on the units sides and navigating with just the secondary screen.
The Barnes & Noble Nook 1st Edition has a better combination of features for downloading books and publications than any eBook reader currently available. Like all of them, books can be downloaded to a computer then to the reader. Like the Kindles, it can also download over-the-air via 3G cell phone networking. It specifically uses the AT&T network so the availability of services depends on what they can provide. There’s no charge for the service or any associated contract. The technical prowess of the Nook 1st Edition is backed by Barnes & Noble’s massive eBookstore which currently offers over a million titles and growing. Most books, including best sellers are competitively priced at $9.99. Some are more and some are much less. You can also subscribe to a variety of newspapers and magazines. The number of available periodicals is relatively modest at this time but it’s expanding rapidly.
Free samples of any book in the eBookstore can be downloaded. If a book is selected for purchase, downloading the whole thing typically takes just a matter of seconds via 3G or Wi-Fi. Books can only be downloaded within the United States. If you’ve already subscribed to a periodical and happen to travel overseas, it can be delivered to the device via Wi-Fi but a new subscription can’t be created.
Since the Barnes & Noble Nook 1st Edition supports the nearly universal EPub format so DRM free sources of free books such as those available from Google Books can be downloaded. That makes more than a million books which are in the public domain available to Nook users.
That the Nook operates on the Android OS may suggest that Android apps can be used on the device. That, however, isn’t the case…at least not yet. Web browsing isn’t available either. Given the nature of Android and Barnes & Noble’s decision to employ it, nonetheless, leaves open the possibility of future expansion into these arenas. Only time will tell.
We like the integrated dictionary included on the Nook. Using it is simply a matter of pressing Look Up Word on the touch screen then using the up, down, right and left arrows to navigate to the word in question. Tap look up and the definition appears superimposed on the reading screen.
A feature that’s unique to the Nook is the ability to loan eBooks to other Nook owners. They can be transmitted OTA just like when purchasing. Books can also be loaned in this way to other B&N reader applications on a PC or Mac, iPhone and iPod Touch, BlackBerries or certain other smartphones. Roll out of this capability will be gradual starting with BlackBerry and Android phones. Books can be loaned only once and for not more than fourteen days. While it’s on loan, it isn’t available to the lender, but that’s just like a real book, isn’t it?
Not surprisingly as a new device, there have been some software and firmware bugs, though minor. B&N has been aggressively solving problems and improving device performance with updates that can be easily downloaded and installed either via a computer or OTA.
One particular advantage that the Nook has over the Kindle is that its battery is removable and replaceable. Integrated storage capacity is 2GB, just like the Kindle 2 so about 1,500 average eBooks can be stored. The unit also accommodates up to a 16GB microSD card which makes storage effectively limitless.
Better yet, the Nook 1st Edition is equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity so you needn’t be at the mercy of 3G availability. Anywhere there’s Wi-Fi, including using a wireless home network, books can be downloaded at speeds notably faster than 3G. If you happen to visit a Barnes & Noble store with your Nook in hand, the Wi-Fi feature connects automatically and offers some interesting and unique functionality. It will offer the More In Store content feature that includes promotions specifically for Nook users. It also will allow customers to browse complete eBooks just like you could with a physical book. There is a one hour limit within any given 24-hour period, but still, it’s a nice bonus. If you like what you see, OTA purchasing using Wi-Fi couldn’t be easier.
MP3 audio files can be loaded onto the device and, thought there is a pair of diminutive speakers along the bottom edge, satisfactory listening requires using headphones. Audio files, as well as images, can be loaded onto the device but must be done by transferring from a computer rather than using either of the wireless options.
Barnes & Noble offers numerous options for Nook 1st Edition support. Their web site has an extensive FAQs section which we found to be most informative. It answers the questions that real people tend to have and it’s easy to negotiate. The site also has informative video tutorials. For further questions, they can be contacted by phone or email.
The competition is heating up rapidly in the world of eBook readers. Amazon’s Kindles have been the dominant force until now. While we don’t think that the Barnes & Noble Nook 1st Edition is positioned just yet to dethrone Kindle, it’s the best alternative to date. Having both Wi-Fi and 3G wireless download capability is a major point in its favor. The lending feature is also attractive as are the in store capabilities when visiting a brick-and-mortar B&N location. We also believe that the Android OS afford the Nook a lot of room for future enhancements. All in all, it’s a close call between the Nook 1st Edition and the Kindle. We recommend checking them both out before making a purchase decision.
3G and Wi-Fi connectivity makes the downloading of books a quick process.
The virtual keyboard is difficult to type upon and responds slowly.
With wireless capability and the Android operating system, the Nook 1st Edition is a strong competitor for the best eReader.