The Kobo Touch, our top pick for casual readers.
A whole gaggle of new ereaders hit the market this month, just in time for the holiday season. We’ve updated our ereader comparison for this new slate: find it here, and find out why we don’t believe the hype about the Nook Tablet, and why the Kobo Touch is our top choice for casual readers.
In other news, we’re taking off for the rest of the week for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on our regular schedule next week, when we’ll kick off our third annual Best Books series.
See you then, and happy Thanksgiving.
[Chamber Four's ereader comparison]
One of the pitifully few comic books available on the Nook Color
A couple of weeks ago, DC announced that it would sell 100 of its digital graphic novels exclusively through the Kindle Fire. This was breathlessly reported as “another exclusive content deal” for Amazon. In reality, it was more of a PR maneuver by DC—the titles in question are all from DC’s backlist, and the exclusivity agreement lasts only four months. If this news hadn’t had something to do with Amazon’s brand-new buzzed-about minitablet, it would’ve been a non-story.
But Barnes & Noble, quite unwisely, didn’t treat it as a non-story. They felt retribution was needed, so they decided to yank all the paper versions of the pertinent DC titles from shelves in their stores, decreeing that the Kindle-exclusive comics “will not be allowed on Barnes & Noble premises.”
This is crazy. Not just because the deal only lasts four months, or because it’s bad business for a company to act like a petulant child. This is crazy because Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell any digital titles on DC’s backlist. The Kindle exclusivity agreement has no effect on B&N whatsoever, in the same way that the NFL’s exclusive deal with DirecTV has no effect on them. Barnes & Noble is not in the business of broadcasting football games and they are not in the business of selling digital DC comics. In fact, they barely sell digital comics at all, from any publisher.
This was one of my chief complaints with the Nook Color when it debuted almost a year ago. The device seems ideal for comic books, but it took six months for B&N to allow a pitiful handful of old titles to limp onto the Nook Color as individual apps—a purchasing system that manages to be really irritating as well as entirely impractical.
If the new, overhyped “exclusivity deal” was going to affect Barnes & Noble at all, they should’ve taken it as a shot across their bow instead of a declaration of war. They’ve now had almost a year to develop a woefully unrobust platform (and I’m a big fan of the Nook Color), and they’ve done next to nothing for it. You still can’t get The New Yorker on the Nook Color, and I still can’t find the cookbook from the commercial with the embedded videos.
In fact, of the things on my Nook Color wishlist from ten months ago, they have added, legitimately, three features: Goodreads, Evernote, and a note-taking app. That’s well and good, but rolling out those feature without, say, comic books points toward a misunderstanding of the Nook Color’s priorities. Those priorities should be:
2. Ease of use
3. Extras (like Goodreads, Evernote, etc.)
The fact that B&N reacted to DC-Kindle deal with such anger suggests to me some very serious problems lurking just out of public view. Barnes & Noble should be building relationships with eager content providers like DC, not burning them down. I have to imagine this reaction is misdirected frustration because the Nook Color isn’t doing as well as they’d hoped (cf. misordered priorities, lack of content).
It should be interesting to see how it plays out, but I’ll be surprised if B&N isn’t already doomed.
About two weeks ago, Barnes & Noble released the first major Nook Color firmware update to minor fanfare, which included an app store and various other improvements.
The update was four months late, first scheduled for January, and those four months, frankly, didn’t help much. I’ve spent the past couple weeks tooling around with the new Nook Color, and while there are definite improvements, nothing has really changed. If you want to root it, you’ll still want to (and here’s how). If you’re not interested in the Nook Color, you still won’t be. And if you were mildly frustrated by its wasted potential (like me), you’ll still be frustrated.
It’s a great device and a great deal—especially compared to the oversized iPad and the overpriced every-Android-tablet-out-there. It’s still great fun to use, it still does movies, it still does books and magazines and Pandora. But, it could be so much more.
When the Nook Color came out, I wrote a post about what I’d like to see in it, or what I thought it had the potential to be. This firmware update addresses some of those issues, but not nearly enough of them; I’ll break it all down in bullet points, after the break. …
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[Edit: As several people have pointed out, there are kids' books with audio, available on the iPad as individual apps. So that's a tie, too.
Edits: See books, newspaper, and final thoughts sections, below.]
I had a chance to play around with an iPad over the holidays. Here’s a comparison of the iPad and the Nook Color, which I’ve been reading on for about a month (full Nook Color review here). Obviously the iPad does a lot more than reading, but this post is designed to give avid readers an idea of whether a Nook will be enough for them, or an iPad will be worth the extra money.
And the short answer is: the Nook will be enough. It’s a close fight, but the iPad simply doesn’t seem to care enough about reading to win.
[Note: I only had a day and a half with the iPad; if you're a more experienced iPad user and I got something wrong, let me know.]
The iPad's more newspaper-like newspaper layout. (Click any picture for full-size.)
Newspapers: iPad wins (for now)
The iPad’s NYTimes app looks more like a real paper, and features big, beautiful pictures and embedded video. Best of all: it’s free (for now). The Times has plans to start charging at some point; once that happens, this will be a much closer race.
The Times app needs an Internet connection to work, where the Nook Color downloads the whole paper so you can read it offline. There’s no archive in the iPad version, only today’s news, and if you want a paper other than the Times, you’re out of luck.
I don’t really care about the layout, to be honest. Some people don’t like the Nook Color’s list-of-articles-style layout, and it could certainly use some navigational help (like a back button). But the iPad layout is basically the same, except for the front page of each section.
Photo essays like this one are awesome, but they take an age to download (after several minutes, only five pictures are available).
I am jealous, however, of the NYTimes app’s multimedia content. I’d like to see the digital edition of the Times include videos, photo essays, and blogs like the iPad version, I’d like to see it download an entire edition to your device like the Nook version. The iPad’s 3G is basically worthless, so you have to read the paper at a WiFi connection.
So: the Nook gives you more papers, and gives you the complete archiveable print versions of them. The iPad only gives you the NYTimes, it needs a WiFi connection and expires too quickly, but it offers a lot of multimedia content. Once price is no longer an issue, the winner of this fight will depend on how you read the paper.
[Edit: People have pointed out that there are other newspaper apps in the iPad store. I searched for a dozen prominent papers and came up empty. The selection is definitely worse on iPad, but I can't comment on the apps I didn't try.]
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Kids' books are one area that the Nook Color doesn't need to improve on.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Nook Color, and found it good, but unfinished. While it has its share of problems, almost every one of them could be fixed with software adjustments and firmware updates. Here’s my wish list for the big update rumored to be scheduled for January.
The biggest problem with the Nook Color is that its interface needs some smoothing. It sometimes takes an extra tap to wake the screen up, and navigating—especially in magazines—can be laggy and frustrating.
This isn’t the first time B&N has rushed a Nook to market: when the original Nook came out last year (just in time for the holidays), most reviews agreed that its interface was similarly laggy, and in later months B&N improved it markedly. Hopefully that happens again here.
Right now, you have to pin each note you take to a patch of text, and the firmware doesn’t distinguish between notes and regular highlights. If it did distinguish, and gave you more note-taking options (like, for instance, taking notes in magazines), it would make this a much more desirable device for students.
I’d also like to see more integration with a word processor—perhaps in the next hardware generation this could even happen through Bluetooth.
Apps – Instapaper, Goodreads, Evernote, Etc.
I desperately want Instapaper on this puppy, especially an Instapaper app that auto-downloads everything you’ve sent to your account, so you could read everything offline, like the way the Nook already does newspapers.
I’d also love to see an Overdrive app for managing library books and library audiobooks, a Goodreads and/or Copia app for social reading, a Google Editions app, and Evernote for proper note-taking. All of these (except probably the Overdrive app) are well within the range of possibility. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wattpad, Smashwords, Scribd, the list goes on. …
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The home screen features a desktop with resizable icons for books and periodicals, and a "Daily Shelf" row at the bottom where new content automatically appears.
The Nook Color is Barnes & Noble’s new full-color LCD ereader, retailing now for $250 (more specs below). Basically, it has phenomenal potential, but it’s unfinished, which means we don’t yet know exactly how good it will be. 90% of the problems I have with the device could be solved with firmware fixes—I’m guessing B&N will roll out a major new firmware update in January, with the launch of the Nook Color app store. But I’m also guessing they won’t be able to fix every one of these problems.
Right now, this is still a very appealing ereader—and it is an ereader. If you’re looking for a tablet computer, get an iPad. But if you want a device for reading, and you want to read books, newspapers, and magazines, the Nook Color is well worth the money, and it’s only going to get better.
Let’s get into the details. …
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Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color yesterday. Here are some specs, thoughts, observations, and links.
Specs and overview: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $250. It will ship Nov. 19, and it’ll be in stores soon after that. It has WiFi, but no 3G, and an LCD screen instead of Pixel Qi or Mirasol (which would give it better battery life) because of price considerations and performance.
It’s difficult to get good hard spec numbers right now, especially processor speed and memory capacity, but it has micro SD expandable storage, and it comes with an 8 Gb card (16 Gb cards run about $30). It supports Adobe ePub and “boasts” an 8-hour battery life with WiFi off (I’d say you shouldn’t hope for more than 3-4 hours with WiFi on). Battery life is its weak point, without a doubt.
That said, there’s a whole lot to like here. Despite tech blogs keying on the word “tablet,” this is not a tablet computer, it’s a (possibly excellent) color LCD ereader. Real tablet computers of decent production value are very expensive, like the iPad starting at $500, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab starting at $600. Anything much cheaper than the Nook Color, like the Pandigital Novel at $180, is too crappy to use. So do not expect the best Android tablet out there, expect a great magazine/newspaper reader, with a few perks.
Weird/cool bonus features: You can now take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, and read any part of any ebook in their catalog, for up to one hour a day, at which point, you presumably have to get up and go find the paper copy. With the Nook Color, you can also share passages from books via Facebook or Twitter, and lend (or evidently request to borrow) ebooks from friends.
You can also still get library ebooks, and read your ebooks on your phone or desktop via Nook apps available on most platforms (the Nook apps are quite nice, much better than Kobo in my opinion). However, I have little hope for the dedicated, curated Nook Color app store. Nook apps will not challenge iPad apps anytime soon.
Thoughts on content: One of the things I learned this summer after publishing our fiction anthology is that Barnes & Noble does its content right. I’ve been very skeptical of their ereader endeavors in the past, but they are clearly committed to ebooks, and committed to providing content. The same simply cannot be said of Apple and its lackluster ebookstore. If the hardware holds up, the Nook Color will be outstanding for readers.
The bottom line: If you want a tablet to play games, watch movies, email, Twitter, etc., get an iPad. But if you want a tablet primarily to read—especially to read magazines, newspapers, kids’ books, etc.—then the Nook Color is your clear front-runner. I don’t hold out any hope for a competitive or even decent app store, but the content will be there, in a way it’s not on the iPad.
Feel free to wait until you can lay your hands on one in stores to test its interface; that and its battery are its obvious potential weak spots in the early running. Basically, for the right user, this device makes a whole lot of sense.
Things I’m unsure of: How well will its interactivity work? Will it be able to highlight and note-take in a useful manner, as no E-Ink reader currently can? Will my grandmother be able to use it? If so, the Nook Color could be even better. I initially assumed the Nook Color would have lots of comic books, but haven’t seen confirmation; if no, that seems like a big oversight.
Some more links: Here’s a hands-on video at Engadget. Engadget says it’s sluggish, but the video has me sold. TeleRead has a video of the release event here—I usually hate product launch events, but some crazy dancing pageantry makes the first 3 and a half minutes pretty watchable indeed. (Second half here and Paul Biba’s write-up of the event here.) Various other impressions by ZDNet, Salon, publishing Twittersphere reactions. And the Nook Color page at B&N.