Nooks and Crannies

Over the last few months or so I have tested various e-readers and tablets. While I have been curious, I haven’t been genuinely sold on the readers, the method of obtaining “books”, etc. Last weekend I was given a Nook for a birthday present. Since Barnes and Noble allows one to return the Nook for a full refund within 14 days of purchase, I decided to put the device through its paces and learn all that I could about it before making a final decision to keep it or return it.

First of all I should make it clear that I did not get the Nook color. There are people who are delighted by the Nook color; however, I did not find it that remarkable; it was too close to being a table knock-off without the features and power of a table. It is certainly not comparable to the gold standard in the table market, the iPad. The Nook I am using is the e-ink pearl model with WI-FI–aka the second edition.

At 7.5 ounces, the Nook is very light when compared to tablet devices and only slightly heavier than its main competitor, the Kindle; and, my anecdotal testing in BN suggested that the Nook was certainly no heavier than many hardback books in the store. I haven’t checked if my Random House Dictionary of The English Language is available as an e-book but my copy is a massive 9 inches wide by 12 inched long by 4 inches thick and weighs in at a portly 9.5 pounds. Another book, The Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume One, has less gravitational pull but still manages to exceed 4 pounds in weight; it is also less expensive in its e-book edition. Clearly then, the weight of the Nook is not an issue as far as I am concerned. There is an unexpected annoyance though associated with holding the Nook, and that is, the comparatively sharp feel of the hard plastic edge of the device in contrast to the latex like coating on the bottom. I feel compelled to move the Nook around to avoid the cutting feel of the edge in my hand–I work outside daily in my garden so my hands are not tender–or to prop it up somehow. I purchased an enclosure for the Nook but have not used it when reading. I suspect that once mounted in the enclosure the Nook will lose its bite.

I have found both the screen size and the readability of the e-ink to be acceptable for the former and very good for the latter with the exception of extremely low light conditions; in that case, one must use additional lighting in order to read comfortably. One can select among several fonts (type and size) and layouts on the Nook should the default not suit the user.

The Nook touch screen is fairly responsive most of the time although I have had it freeze on me at times while other features simply don’t work as well as advertised. When it works, the touch and hold feature which allows one to look up the meaning of a word is most welcome; however, if the word is hyphenated or extended in any manner–spanning paragraphs, pages, etc.–touch and hold does not work at all. Highlighting text is a bit quirky and works best if one is simply selecting one word. If one wants to highlight a line of text, one must first highlight the first word of the phrase or sentence, remove one’s finger from the touch screen, then touch the screen again and drag one’s finger to the last word in the text one wants to highlight. If the text spans several sentences, the difficulty of selecting the text accurately becomes even more acute. Occasionally, the process of waking the Nook from sleep is a little flakey; after the Nook button has been pushed, the action of unlocking the Nook by sliding the lock from the locked to the unlocked position is unresponsive and often takes several swipes before the Nook will unlock–this is a minor problem but it is still annoying.

Barnes and Noble’s website advertises that there are over one million free e-book titles available which sounds great but the site itself lists only a hundred or so titles; unfortunately, in order to access the advertised number of titles one must use the Nook rather than the much faster method of using a computer. One very nice bonus to using the Nook is that one can borrow e-books from one’s public library.  Since I have library cards for three different area libraries, I have a better than average chance of finding reading material. The down side of borrowing an e-book from the public library is the set-up process one must go though in order to begin borrowing e-books. One must download Adobe software on one’s computer that will handle DRM (Digital Rights Management) as it pertains to each e-book. Adobe’s software authorizes up to 8 devices that can be used to read and or download the e-books. Additionally, the library website requires another small piece of software to compliment Adobe’s software: Overdrive Media Console. After reading through the instructions to do all of this I can see how many users would be put off by the whole process; they might also become very confused. It would be nice if the process were more direct; once the setup is complete, one must still go through two steps to get the e-book onto one’s reader: download e-book to computer, transfer e-book to the Nook via USB cable. On a borrowed e-book one is allotted a two week time limit. After two weeks the book can no longer be read but one must attach the Nook to a computer using the Nook’s USB cable in order to use one’s computer to delete the epub file from the Nook’s library. The same process is true for a sample e-book as well as any other file that the Nook can read that one has transferred to the Nook. In the case of a personal file one has loaded onto the Nook, once the file is deleted the Nook must be powered off and then back on before the file will be deleted from the Nook’s library listing. It would be nice for these processes to be simplified so that deletions could be handled directly with the Nook.

With all the caveats aside, as a reading device, the Nook excels. Hopefully, BN will continue to develop the Nook and to add features which make it easier to use as well as  address the issues which will make the Nook’s interface more stable. For the time being, there are enough pleasant nooks to offset the annoying crannies. As e-readers continue to improve we might find ourselves employing and encountering new metaphors in literature.  The meditative musings of Omar Khayyam might be alter slightly to reflect the impact of our ever changing technological culture.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Nook of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.