SLIDESHOW

Barnes & Noble's Nook: A Virtual E-reader Tour

Barnes & Noble's new Nook e-reader offers more than just the basics such as a touchscreen and a color display.

Barnes & Noble's Nook

Don't write off Barnes & Noble's Nook as just another e-reader. This is no thoughtless offering in the upcoming e-reader glut; it's a deliberate attempt by Barnes & Noble to capitalize on all the mistakes of Amazon's Kindle, with a better product at the exact same price.

The things you'd expect in an e-reader--Wi-Fi, an online book store, the ability to mark-up what you read with notes--are paired with things that haven't yet become the standard, such as a touch screen, a color navigation display and way to lend e-books to friends. If any e-reader illustrates how badly the Kindle needs a redesign, not just a price cut, this is it.

The Nook's $259 price point is exceedingly important at a time when e-readers are trying to break into the mainstream. Though Amazon popularized the e-reader, competitors such as Sony, Plastic Logic and iRex are trying to muscle in with varying angles of attack. Sony, for instance, offers a choice of three different models, with progressively better features and larger screens. The other two companies are vying for customers with deep pockets, offering a magazine-style experience on screens the size of computer paper.

Barnes & Noble's Nook goes back to basics with a compact E-reader geared towards the average user. There's no justification of a high price tag by saying the product is “business” oriented, nor is there any glaring omission in features that would make the Nook inferior to its competitors. It's just an exciting product that gives the e-reader market a well-needed kick in the pants. Ahead, we'll look at some of the features that justify my lavish praise.

(Note: Some of these images were taken from Barnes & Noble's Nook Web site, which has since been taken down. I've contacted Barnes & Noble for an explanation.)

The Form

The Nook measures 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches, giving it similar dimensions to Amazon's Kindle (the Kindle is a little bit taller and wider, but slightly thinner). Actual screen real estate, however, is the same 6 inches after you account for the navigation touch screen.

Touch Screen Navigation

Not all of the Nook is touchable. The top portion is a regular E-Ink display, but the bottom screen is like the touch screen of a smartphone, handling menu navigation and giving you a virtual keyboard for typing in notes.

The iPod of Books

By including a color touch screen, Barnes & Noble's Nook pops out compared to the bland grays of other e-readers. When looking through your library, e-books scroll by in a way that reminds me of the iPod's cover flow. Oh, and the Nook also works as an MP3 player.

A Little More Openness

Barnes & Noble took the bold, but clever step of letting users lend e-books to each other for up to two weeks at a time. That encourages more hardware sales (if I had a Nook, I'd want my friends to own one too), which in turn will lead to more book sales. Nook also supports the open ePub format, dealing a little more damage to Amazon's proprietary store.

Big Battery, Decent Storage

Barnes & Noble claims that the Nook lasts 10 days on a charge. It's not clear how the company came at that calculation and whether Wi-Fi was turned on for the duration, but it's safe to say you could take this device on a long flight. For storage, the Nook's 2 GB can carry up 1,500 e-books, same as the Kindle.

Features and More Features

Powering the Nook is Android 1.5, and it carries an admirable feature set. Users can stop reading on the device, and then pick up on select Blackberry and Motorola phones with a free Barnes & Noble e-reader app. I also like the ability to load photos onto the Nook as screensavers.

Accessorize!

It's not unheard of to throw some binding on an e-reader to make it feel more book-like, but the Nook's getting fancy with contributions from Kate Spade New York, Jack Spade, Jonathan Adler,Tahari (pictured). You might seem trendy with book in hand after all.

The Lure

Features aside, Barnes & Noble is in an excellent position to sell e-readers, because it's already got a killer retail platform. There's no need to strike deals with electronics vendors when you've already got all the floor space you need, plus a demographic that is obviously there because they like reading. Until brick and mortar dies, this might be the Kindle's biggest problem.