Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
I’ll start this review off with one big caveat: I’m pretty old-school when it comes to reading.As much as I love gadgets, I still prefer to read books on dead-tree matter instead of a screen. I’ve never owned an e-reader, and I couldn’t get used to reading books on my iPad’s bright LCD screen.
So using the Nook Simple Touch is actually the only extended period I’ve ever spent with an e-reader.
And I really, really like it.
It didn’t completely sell me on e-reading, but I certainly see the appeal: The Nook is light, displays text that’s almost indiscernible from print, and can store about 1,000 books. (That applies to competitors like the Kindle, too.)
Keep on reading for my full review.
Not A Looker
The Nook got a lot of “Oohs” and “Ahs” when Barnes & Noble CEO unveiled the Nook to the press in New York a few weeks ago. It was a lot smaller than we had expected.
While it has the same 6-inch screen you’re probably used to on e-readers, the Nook chopped off the physical keyboard in favour of one controlled by touch. The result is a device that looks more square than it should.
I know this sounds superficial, but the Nook’s design is really my only major problem with the device. It feels too square, and would be a lot better if it had a more “book-y” size ratio. The newest Kobo pulls that off pretty well.
So Easy, Your Grandma Can Use It
Aesthetics aside, the Nook’s killer feature is supposed to be touch. I was glad to see Barnes & Noble finally ditch the keyboard in favour of a touch-based E-Ink display.
The controls work pretty well, but those of you used to the nearly instant response of iOS and Android touchscreen devices will notice a bit of a lag. From the home screen I could easily get to “Two Mississippi” before a new book loaded. There’s also a slight delay when typing on the on-screen keyboard.
When reading, you can swipe your finger left or right across the screen to turn the page forward or backward. It feels so natural that I developed my own system when reading: I’d hold the Nook in my right hand and use my thumb to swipe and turn pages.
If swiping isn’t your thing, there are buttons on the side for page turning too.
Photo: Ellis Hamburger
Page turns are very fast too. Depending on how much text or images appear on a page, you can get through about six turns before the screen blips and refreshes. That’s a lot better than the Kindle, which flashes on every single page turn.
The downside to that speed is you can still see some remnants of text from the previous page. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there. But therein lies the trade off with E-Ink screens. You either get faster page turns with leftovers from the previous page, or your screen has to take the extra half a second to completely refresh between pages.
I prefer the former, so the Nook wins here.
And then there’s battery life. When Barnes & Noble said it managed to squeeze some incredible battery life out of the Nook, it wasn’t lying. My review unit arrived with about a three-quarter charge in the battery. After a week’s use, the battery meter has barely twitched.
B&N says you can get two months out of the battery with Wi-Fi off and 30 minutes of use per day. I believe it.
Don’t Expect To Do Anything But Read
Like the Nook colour, the Simple Touch runs on Android. Although this is the way old version 2.1 of the mobile OS. That really doesn’t matter though. It has been completely revamped for reading anyway.
You won’t find apps and other cute add-ons here. B&N’s purpose was to create a reader for just that: reading. If you want apps along with your Nook, try the Nook colour.
Just like the first Nook, you can download books directly to your reader from Barnes & Noble’s online store. You can also subscribe to newspapers and popular magazines that have been optimised for the Nook.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
But while reading books is fine on the touchscreen, newspapers are a different story. I tried reading a few issues of The New York Times on it, and found myself having to tap around a lot to get to the story I wanted. Hopefully NYT and other publications revamp the design for touch-based readers like this.
The social features are pretty much what you’d expect. You can share what you’re reading on Twitter and Facebook, plus lend books to other friends with Nook readers or apps. It’s nothing special or groundbreaking, but I do like that you get recommendations from the Nook store based on what your pals are reading.
Should You Buy It?
If you want an e-reader to read and only read, definitely. I don’t have enough experience to judge whether or not the Nook is better than the Kindle, but many, including Consumer Reports, think it is.
E-readers still haven’t hit that $99 sweet spot, but $139 seems more than fair to me for such a great reading experience.
There is one reason to wait though. The Kindle is due for a refresh soon, and it’s very possible Amazon will knock our socks off with a fancy new reader. If you can wait, see what Bezos and friends have to offer first.
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