Hands-On Review of Barnes & Noble's Nook E-Reader

Before we go any further, here’s a T-Grid comparing the Nook with Amazon’s current Kindle and another big-name competitor, Sony’s Reader Touch Edition.

[Click chart to enlarge.]

(Note: the original version of the chart at left had some incorrect counts for Nook and Kindle in the New York Times bestsellers row; I’ve corrected them.)

I promise we’ll dig into the Nook at the moment, but for the sake of physical comparison, here it is with some rivals. Counter-clockwise from the lower left-hand corner: The Nook, the current Kindle, the original Kindle (just for the sake of nostalgia, okay?), and the Sony Reader Touch Edition.

Ready to move on? Good.

Hardware Wars

All three of the e-readers we just compared have 6-inch E-Ink displays, but they build those screens into cases that are substantially different. The Nook is a bit taller and wider than the Sony Touch Edition, but less so than the Kindle; it’s 0.5-inch thick, which counts as chunky in this comparison. It’s also the least posh-feeling e-reader, being unapologetically made of plastic while both the Kindle and the Sony are partially clad in metal.

Overall, though, the Nook’s intermediate size feels better in the hands than the Kindle or Sony, and it’s more (coat) pocket-friendly than the Kindle. The slight curvature of its backside makes for comfy grasping, and reminds me of a well-loved paperback (see the first image to the right). And the extra thickness is at least partially explained by its removable back, which reveals a MicroSD slot for memory expansion and a swappable battery (see right image). The skinnier Kindle has neither a path for memory upgrades nor a battery you can remove.

Oddly enough, Barnes & Noble’s e-reader is the only one of the three to have nailed the most basic input action of all: turning pages. The Kindle’s left- and right-side buttons vary in a confusing manner, and the Sony has sliver-like page turning buttons on the left side of the case. But the Nook has easy-to-press, identical forward and backward buttons on both sides of the screen, making it as inviting to southpaws as it is for righties. (Technically speaking, they’re not buttons but rather pressure-sensitive areas of the case that click when you press them.)

At a Glance
  • Poky performance that may or may not be owing simply to an as-yet-unresolved software issue makes an unqualified recommendation of this attractive, innovative device impossible. Read the full review

    Pros

    • Wireless connectivity
    • Easy-to-turn pages

    Cons

    • Sluggish performance

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