Jun 12 2011
The New Nook Simple Touch Reader: Awesome for Reading and Buying Books. Everything else? Meh.
When I told my husband why I needed—needed!—the new Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader to replace my 2.5 year old Sony PRS 700, I tried to impress with tech specs. I mentioned the 6.5” super crisp Pearl E-Ink screen with z-Force infrared touch technology (the same system used in Sony’s latest generation of touch screen readers), the 800MHz Texas Instruments OMAP3 processor (same processor family as in the Nook Color!), the 802.11 WiFi b/g/n connectivity, the spacious 2GB of internal storage with memory expansion of up to 32GB thanks to the micro-SD card slot, and the 80% reduction in flashing during page turns compared to other e-ink readers like the Kindle and Sony which use the same Pearl E-Ink screens. Added to that, this new Nook weighs in at a svelte 7.48oz, making it easier to hold during an hours-long reading binge than the 10.1oz behemoth that was my old Sony.
“It’ll be great!” I said. “I’ll take it on the bus and the train to work. It’ll fit in my bag. We can go everywhere together!”
To which my darling smart-ass husband replied, “…And you will love it and pet it and name it George.”
“Yeah.” I said. “I will name it George.”
So let me tell you about my week with George.
To start off, I should probably make a few things clear. Despite the talk on the interwebs about the Simple Touch Reader’s secret vestigial web browser, this device is not and never will be an iPad with an e-ink screen and a two month battery life. If you were delusional enough to expect all that from a $140 device, this probably won’t be the first time you’ve been disappointed. Or the last.
The new Nook isn’t meant to be a tablet or a web device. It doesn’t have apps (yet). It doesn’t play music, or YouTube, or games (low-frame rate versions of Angry Birds, aside). This device was designed to let you read and buy books. As the name says, the new Nook Simple Touch is a Reader—and when it comes to simply reading, it rocks.
In this case, smaller is better. George isn’t burdened with a keyboard like the Kindle, so he’s about the size of a paperback book, and he was made to be held. His rubbery coating may be a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but it makes the device feel solid in your hands. (I’m still traumatized by the memory of the day on the bus when a swift stop ripped my slick, sleek Sony right out of my hand dashed it to the floor.) The indentation in the back adds to the comfy grip and sense of security—I’ve taken George on the train and the bus all week and not worried a bit about losing him.
|The Book icon is always at the top left of your screen, meaning you’re never more than a touch away from whatever you’re reading.|
|The WiFi, battery, and clock icons show up on the home screen, and on the in-book menu you access by tapping the vertical center of any page in your book.|
|The home screen prominently displays your book, and your page-place.|
|The home screen also displays your three most-recently downloaded books, and a link to your library.|
|About one half of the home screen real-estate is devoted to books available in the Nook store. I don’t like it, but it’s subsidizing the cost of the hardware, so I won’t complain…too much.|
|No matter where you are, the “n” Nook button brings up the menu.|
|Two buttons inset in the right and left sides of the bezel allow you to turn pages with your right or left hand.|
The touch interface is mostly intuitive, and way better than dealing with buttons and an attached keyboard. Though the Nook STR does sport two extremely convenient page turn buttons on each side of its sturdy bezel, the influence of the iPhone/iPad is evident in the Nook’s single menu button at the bottom of the bezel. While I do think George is quite the handsome gadget, I wouldn’t mind less style and more buttons. At least one more button—even with the secondary in-book menu you can call by tapping the vertical center of the screen, I still really miss the Back button on my Sony.
The touch screen is convenient, but it’s infrared, not capacitive, so if you’re expecting iPhone-like responsiveness, don’t. Where the touch-screen Sony readers offer a stylus for precision in text selection and typing, the Nook STR does not. Consequently, I‘ve had trouble selecting text and typing notes, which makes features like Twitter and Facebook quote-sharing frustrating from the start.
The on-screen keyboard is sometimes troublesome, though I think it’s worth a little trouble to be free of the awkward bulk of a physical keyboard. The problem is that my endless (and often unsuccessful) quest for proper punctuation keeps me flipping back and forth between the symbol and letter keyboard screens and the caps screen. The keyboard doesn’t always update to reflect the proper letters, leaving me to type one letter while the screen displays another. Frustrating.
Stamina—er, Battery Life
Much has been made in other reviews of the Nook Touch’s two-month battery-life. That’s up to two months if you keep the WiFi off the whole time, and read for about half an hour a day. As if any Romance reader worth her Keeper Shelf would read for only half an hour at a time. As if anyone who had a WiFi device would voluntarily turn off the WiFi and pretend it wasn’t there. Sure, it could last up to two months, but with regular use and online store browsing the real battery life is probably a bit more than two weeks (for comparison sake, my Sony advertised a two week battery life, but for me it averaged a bit less than a full week.). Either way, this is not a device you need to plug in every night for fear it will leave you high and dry the next day (EVO 4G, I’m looking at you).
Note: Using the hidden not-so-great web browser drains the battery faster than anything else—no wonder B&N pretends the browser doesn’t exist.
Reading on the Nook Simple Touch Reader is a joy. George’s Pearl e-Ink screen is so much clearer than my Sony 700 that it feels like the words just fly off the page and into my brain. The reduction in page flashes (it flashes every 5-6 pages instead of every page) takes some getting used to if you’ve already grown accustomed to e-readers. At first, the lack of flash made me think the page hadn’t turned at all, but then I’d start to read the page and notice that all the words on it were different. Magic!
Another great feature is scrolling. Try high-speed scrolling on other e-readers, and you’re likely to get a strobe light effect that makes it difficult to scan the text as it goes by without giving yourself a migraine. Not so, the Nook STR. Though scrolling is still a little flashy, I’ve had no problems scanning text, and no headaches. George’s scroll feature is the closest I’ve come while using an e-reader to flipping the pages of a book.
Out on the Town
The STR comes with free AT&T WiFi, which means free WiFi at Starbucks and other commercial locations served by AT&T. George picks up and connects to WiFi easily, and remembers past connections perfectly.
After several forays into local coffee-houses, I decided to try the Barnes and Noble In-Store experience. I took George to my local Barnes and Noble, sat down on the balcony and fired up the store. George connected to the WiFi right away, but did not stay connected. The system kicked us out several times, and denied me the 1 hour of in-store reading, per book, of books that support the in-store feature. The Nook sales associates were baffled by my experience, but were so polite and certain in their assertions that in-store WiFi problems were rare that I decided to give it another try. I returned later in the same week, and encountered the same problems accessing content and staying connected to the network.
To be fair to those very nice B&N associates, I went to another B&N location a bit further afield to try again. When I walked into the store, George locked into the store WiFi, and choirs of angels began to sing. This in-store thing, when it works, will eat hours of your day. It will lure you into the café for tiramisu to eat while you spend up to an hour reading book after book. It will seduce you to try books you haven’t tried, to browse and browse and browse, and not even the oh-so-useful built in clock in the in-book menu screen will be enough to jolt you out of your reading reverie.
Three and a half hours. Was I really there for three and a half hours? Did I really come so close to actually ordering a second tiramisu? I was! I did! Oh, George, you devil.
B&N has made a big deal about the social networking features available on the Nook STR. You can post quotes to Facebook and Twitter. I wasn’t really impressed. Actually, I was annoyed. Among the many stipulations to which I was asked to agree before I could start using the social networking connectivity was this: “NOOK by Barnes and Noble may access my data when I’m not using the application…” It weirded me out. But I should have expected something like that after I had to agree to the 140 page EULA (See Terms & Conditions in the Legal Menu) during the initial set-up.
140 pages. Who’s going to read something like that before setting up their shiny new gadget? Not many people. There might have been a clause on page 133 that sold my soul and I’d never know it until Mephistopheles showed up to collect. For all that Barnes and Noble wants me to connect with and make online friends, their terms and contract aren’t friendly at all.
Once you finally manage to select and share those piddly little tweet-sized book quotes on Twitter, B&N automatically and irrevocably appends your tweet with the #NOOK tag, and a shortened link to the book on the Barnes & Noble site—that’s not sharing, it’s advertising! And if you didn’t purchase your book through B&N, you can’t share it at all. The option is grayed out on the menu.
Paying for it
Though you can buy ePub content from other online stores and sideload using a USB connection, B&N aims to make it much easier to order directly from your reader. While the browsing and shopping experience don’t measure up to Amazon, there’s still plenty in the B&N store to tempt your interest. Buying books through B&N is easy. Too damned easy.
How easy? You click “buy”. Then click “confirm.” That’s it. A few seconds later, the book is ready to read.
For security, B&N does offer the option to password protect purchasing, a feature which might also stand as a buffer between the customer and those oh-so-appealing impulse buys, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Like the Kindle, the Nook was designed to sell content, and it does that very well.
On the plus side, unlike the Kindle, the Nook reads ePub format, which means I didn’t lose all the books I’d purchased for my Sony when I switched platforms. I had to use Adobe Digital Editions to transfer the Sony DRM content from my computer to George, but it worked great. The day before buying George, I bought Magic Slays from the Sony store. I started reading it on the Sony and finished it on the Nook with only a two minute delay to transfer the content.
Note: While you can read content from the Sony Store on the Nook, you cannot read content from B&N on the Sony. Also, while the Nook STR does read PDFs, there does not appear to be a zoom feature for PDF images. This made several PDFs and images I viewed pretty much unreadable. Specifically, the map in the opening pages of Game of Thrones, which I read in-store for an hour, was useless.
Though I adore George, there are several issues I hope Barnes & Noble will fix or change in the next software upgrade for the Nook Simple Touch.
1) Problem with reviews written on the Nook STR.
The perfectly-punctuated and spaced review of Ilona Andrews’ Magic Slays that wrote and uploaded with George came out looking like this on the B&N site:
2) The screen unlock
Every review I’ve read of the Nook Simple Touch Reader has complained about the screen lock which requires the user to push the “n” button and then slide a finger across the screen. I’m complaining, too. The feature is annoying, and it doesn’t always work on the first swipe. Grr! Also, it would be nice if the screen had a security/password option. The password option on my Sony was clunky and difficult, but it was there, and I used it.
3) The Vestigial Browser
This feature isn’t in the menu or in the official specs, but if you enter a url in the search field, the Nook will open a simple, quasi-functional web browser. The browser proves the device can support fuller Internet-connectivity, if only B&N would enable it.
I’d love to cover other topics in this review, like my experiences with the mysterious the vestigial browser, and rooting options but I’m running out of space. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments. If you have questions, about the device, ask and I’ll do my best to answer.
The Nook Simple Touch Reader is no super-powered Kindle-killer, but is a lightweight, elegant and intuitive refinement of the e-ink reader device. Despite its flaws, I adore my STR, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an e-reader with an emphasis on the “read.”
Bettie Sharpe is a Los Angeles writer and gadget enthusiast. Her novella Cat’s Tale: A Fairy Tale Retold will be available June 27th from Carina Press. Her short story “Each Step Sublime”will be part of the Agony/Ecstasy Anthology edited by Jane Litte and released by Berkeley Heat in Fall 2011. Learn more at bettiesharpe.com