Of course, the Nook’s page-turning buttons aren’t its most notable interface feature. It’s that 3.5-inch color touchscreen that sits below the E-Ink display. You can flip pages with it as well, and you use for just about every other aspect of your interaction with the Nook, from buying books to taking notes.
If you’re expecting the touchscreen to boast all the transcendent, fluid slickness of an iPhone, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not that gorgeous, and the Nook would have been nearly as pleasing if the screen was monochrome. The big advantage isn’t aesthetics–it’s efficient use of the Nook’s limited real estate. Unlike the Kindle’s all-too-physical keyboard, the Nook can use the same space for a keyboard or menus depending on what’s more appropriate at the time. It also beats Sony’s E-Ink touchscreen, which makes you peck at an on-screen keyboard with a stylus.
The touchscreen’s showstopping feature is supposed to be a view that lets you choose books in your library or the B&N store via tiny cover thumbnails, in a rough approximation of Apples’ iconic Cover Flow feature. It’s the one aspect of the interface that really benefits from color. But it’s not the default, so it takes an extra tap on the screen to access it–and some of the covers of public-domain books I’d downloaded had type so tiny it was impossible to identify them. Worse, on my test Nook, the cover view was crippled by a bug that sometimes left the reader selecting a book other than the one I’d tapped. (A Barnes & Noble representative said the bug stems from a cacheing problem and that it’ll fix it soon.)
Mostly, I stuck with the less flashy plain-text list of books. It works fine, although I found it odd that selecting a book doesn’t immediately plunk you into its text. Instead, you get an intermediary screen, and must then choose the Read option. (I didn’t figure out that pressing and holding on the book’s title in the first place would also let you start reading until one of the Nook’s inventors pointed it out to me.)
Except in cover mode, the touchscreen gets used for navigational devices for which color is either less than essential or entirely irrelevant, including the keyboard you use for searching and note-taking.
How’s that keyboard? Adequate–which, in the land of the e-reader, counts as a compliment. I found it about as usable as the Kindle’s pill-like keys, and more tolerable than Sony’s touchscreen keyboard, which expects you to peck with a stylus. There’s no iPhone-like autocorrection of typos, but I was able to type relatively accurately. And unless you’re a copious note-taker, you just won’t do that much typing on this device, period.