Yes, I finally have an ereading gadget to review–the nook!

The nook really wasn’t on my ereader radar until they came out with the less-expensive wifi version a few weeks ago. At that point, I was eyeing the Borders Kobo. But Borders made a critical error–they failed to install Kobo kiosks in their stores so would-be customers could try it out. Or rather, the kiosks were there–but only with Sony Readers and flyers for the Kobo. I know lots of people bought the Kobo over the internet, but I’m just not that trusting. I wanted to try the device for myself before buying.

Barnes & Noble did not make this mistake.

Armed with a recommendation by Liz Fichera, I went in the B&N store and there it was–a lovely kiosk with an entire row of actual nooks to play with, along with a friendly and enthusiastic salesperson. I left the store that day with my nook along with a lovely green protective folder. To my delighted surprise, the wifi version was much lighter than the 3g samples they had on display, which for me, is quite the perk.

The Display

We buy ereaders for their paper-like display, and I must say I love the display. The first time I saw e-ink, I actually mistook it for a cardboard covering over the screen–right up until I  saw something blink. Words cannot do it justice. It looks like paper–right until the page turns. Then, you have this ugly chaos of black flashes–if black can ever be said to flash–until the next page resolves on the screen. I’m told that this is a limitation of e-ink and we’re just going to have to live with it until they improve the technology.

The text is very easy on the eyes, and each line is nicely spaced apart. You can have the text anywhere from absurdly huge to absurdly small. And the resolution on the absurdly small font is absurdly good–no sign of pixellation unless I take off my glasses, hold the nook in front of my eyes, and peer at the top of an e or an o. And even then, I can only see an extremely faint hint of fuzz if I strain my eyes. And since I can see microprint on a five-dollar bill without my glasses (one of the few benefits of being extremely nearsighted), then it’s safe to say that you won’t see any pixellation whatsoever.

There are only six buttons. Four identical buttons on either side turn the pages back and forth. A button on the top of the nook turns the display on and off (where you get a screensaver that displays continuously). The sixth button isn’t really a button–it’s a touch zone to fire up the touchpad.

The Touchpad

One of the features of the nook is there is a separate color touchscreen display. And here is where I have my harshest critique. The color touchscreen display is rather shoddy. The resolution isn’t great and the screen’s reaction to your touch has a noticeable delay. Seriously, my ancient Palm Treo 755p has a better touchpad. It’s obviously an area where the manufacturers decided to save a little money. Had I spent the original price for the 3g nook, I might have been a bit more miffed about this than I am. It’s servicable, but not much else can be said about the quality of the touchpad. Let’s hope it’s durable.

One thing I do like about having a touchpad rather than a bunch of buttons is that it makes the nook greatly expandable. The interface is not limited by buttons. Barnes & Noble has already added features to the nook such as a web browser, which would never be your browser of choice, but gets the job done in an inventive way.

In-Store Features

B&N has tried very hard to make nook ownership quite clubby. If you go to the store with your nook, you can read books for free for up to an hour. And, you always have free access to AT&T wifi hotspots. I also currently have a coupon to bring my nook in and settle down in a corner of the coffee shop with some free coffee. Too bad I don’t drink coffee. There is also a free ebook featured every week. I guess they were worried that if you had ebooks, you would never feel the need to walk into the store. Even with all these club features, I think this is a valid concern.

The Experience

I read Liz Fichera’s Captive Spirit on my nook, and it was a very satisfactory reading experience. And not just because it was such a good book! I used medium sized text and was not having to turn the pages too often. It was cool to be able to close my book folder, leave it lying on a table somewhere, and to come back a few minutes later to find it waiting for me without having timed out. The default time-out before it goes to the screen saver is 10 minutes, which was quite reasonable.

One thing I have not found is free public domain books, except for three that come preinstalled (kind of–you still need a B&N account to open and read them). Kobo comes installed with 100 free classics, and you can download a bunch of them at the Stanza store with the Stanza iPhone software. I should think B&N would provide some free classics as well.

I was delighted with how it displayed pdfs. Jennifer Estep sent along her e-ARC for Venom, and I promptly loaded it into my nook. The text flows beautifully and the only way you know it is anything other than an epub is occasionally you have a page that is not filled all the way with text. Which considering how badly my iPod mangled pdfs, makes me happy.

I have only charged the batteries one time since I purchased it on Friday the 2nd. It wasn’t fully discharged when I bought it and I had to discharge it (through use) before I could charge it up to 100 percent.

I highly recommend getting a folder for it. I have a folder for my iPod touch as well, and such folders protect these devices very well. I have included a picture of the folder I selected.

I love my nook and I’m so glad I waited before getting it. If you’re looking for an ebook reader, I truly think it’s the best deal out there.