blog好き’s nook review

Channeling my inner David Pogue.

(Note: I wrote this back during Christmas break… but I wanted to spend some more time with the nook before posting. After a month of good usage, I decided to go ahead with the post. Enjoy.)

So what have I been doing the past few weeks? Besides fortifying myself in my Florida McMansion after my waifu attacked my SUV with my God Knows Haruhi PVC statue thus causing me to crash into a tree after she read some text messages that she wasn’t meant to read? So, of course, this means that I have plenty of “me” time now. And what am I doing? I’m plowing through sketchy hostesses books.

I like to read, and I probably have read more books this year than all of Tiger’s mistresses have combined in their lifetimes (then again, not a hard feat). So when I heard about these eBook thingamagigs, I was excited… until I heard about Amazon’s copyright screening process. I also didn’t want to wait for a mythical Apple tablet, since it could only be the Endless Eight to the iPhone’s Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

So I waited for a decent eBook reader that didn’t involve a company whose name started with “A,” and viola, the nook. If you’re not a regular on Engadget, the nook is Barnes and Nobles’ answer to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s a small device that uses an e-Ink display coupled with a small touchscreen. Also has 3G wireless, wifi, an audio player, and days of battery life. Everyone talks about the touchscreen aspect of the nook, but the key selling point is the very understated power of being able to load books into it without going through Amazon (something almost always overlooked in nook reviews).

The nook is a work in progress, and I debated whether to write this post now or wait on it for a few months. I decided to wait. My first impression of the nook was the same as David Pogue’s: this thing isn’t ready for primetime. It’s definitely buggy (I got an android.dialer crash… wtf?), and it’s definitely not as fast as my friend’s Kindle (but faster than the Sony Reader). But maybe that’s the charm of it. It’s the Wild Wild West for eBook readers.

(And, really, B&N couldn’t have done a worse job at trying to preventing people from rooting the device, much like how much easier it is to root the iPhone 2G than the 3GS. That’s a plus or a minus?)

But B&N pumped out patches pretty quickly, and my nook has been running quite nicely. I’ve been taking it to the gym, and it’s a great conversation starter– just with a bunch of other dorks instead of with stupefying hawt bassists. I’ve also been taking it on business trips, and it’s a godsend for waiting through airport delays. I used to pack heavy paperbacks. Now? Just my nook and my iPhone are all I need.

(Only drawback? You have to turn it off during take-off/landing… grrr… well… there’s another drawback. In a recent trip, the flight attendant asked me about my “Kindle.” I felt like it was 2000 again and someone calling my iPod a “Walkman.”)


The nook plugs directly into any PC or Mac and shows up as an external drive. Then it’s just as easy as drag-and-drop to load it. It supports the ePub format, which took me about two hours of reading up on the spec to figure out how to make an ePub book. Frankly, it’s too complicated for being just a bunch of XML, but it does allow for some nice custom-made books. Like this Hitagi Crab or Haruhi Suzumiya that I cranked out using Baka-Tsuki’s translations.

(And, of course, a week ago, Baka-Tsuki pulled their Haruhi translations. Sigh.)

For this purpose, the nook works great. Now I can finish reading Zero no Tsukaima Toradora! Full Metal Panic without straining my eyes on my monitor. That’s really the main reason to get an e-Ink display anyway– the nook, Kindle, and Sony Reader all use e-Ink, which makes reading a lot less strainful on the eyes. I stare at a computer monitor all day at work, so the though of “relaxing” with a book on an LCD doesn’t excite me. But reading it off the nook? It’s like reading a paperback. It’s hard to get tired reading on this display. It’s portable, much easier to read in bed than a laptop too. And it’s glare-free, so I’ve been reading it outside… ah, glorious Cali– err– Flori– err California weather!

(The B&N store does suck when compared to Amazon’s. The Bestsellers and popular books are competitive with Amazon’s price and selection, but B&N does not have the same back catalog that Amazon has. Also, I don’t like how they price the back catalog… they were selling Eddings’ The Diamond Throne for $10 for the nook while the paperback goes for $8 in store. Why is this the same price as Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw? The subscriptions are also a joke, with only twenty magazines and five newspapers available as I write this. But I do get a Dave Barry blog feed so that… uh… nevermind. Another killer app of course is an RSS reader… which the nook has… but it only reads B&N’s RSS and Dave Barry’s. OTL.)

(Hey B&N… at least put a “Request the publisher for this book in nook format” link on the books that don’t have a nook version. Like what Amazon does for the Kindle.)


That book part of the nook is more or less ready. The part that’s not? Images. It doesn’t have an image viewer, so it cannot be used like a Kindle for reading manga. (It doesn’t have a text viewer either, you’d think that would be high on the list for an eBook reader.) You have to go through a clunky process of taking images and turning them into PDFs to read them with the nook. The killer app, I think, for the nook is if someone can port something like the iPhone manga reading app or MMCE onto Android. The nook’s screen is just barely big enough to resemble a manga’s page and would be great for manga reading, if it had a real image viewer. (Though the Kindle DX with its $400 price tag is still king in this category, with the iPad ready to take that throne.) So right now, if I want manga on the go, I’m stuck with my iPhone… which still sucks for this job.

Another thing not ready? The UI. It could definitely use some polish, and the second screen isn’t leveraged enough. For example, why aren’t messages or alerts displayed in the second screen instead of the slow e-Ink display? But it is getting better. B&N is still cranking out updates so I’m hopefully that they’ll fix some of the remaining UI issues. As someone who uses an iPhone, B&N really could have tried harder in trying to steal a few touch UI experts from Apple.

The nook is a device that has promise, but could be oh so much better. If B&N can fix the UI issues and get a real image and text viewer on this thing, we’d have a serious competitor to the Kindle.

18 Responses to “blog好き’s nook review”

  1. The thing about ereaders like the Nook and Kindle is that it takes so much effort to create custom books; manga is even worse. Well, not really, but that just shows you how lazy I am! iPad + analogue to CDisplayEx = awesome


  2. Looks shiny to be sure. I’m a huge fan of these kind of gadgets. Now I have to look into this one.

  3. These e-readers do show promise. But still someone needs to figure out a way to write notes directly to what you are reading, I’m looking at you i-pad. That would be my killer app.

  4. I bought a Kindle 2 when it came out, and I love the device. I have read some manga on it, but I find the font size will occasionally be too small for easy reading. I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve seen of the nook and really hope it can provide some proper competition against the Kindle.
    Definitely feel that battling the nook should be the focus for Amazon and not so much the iPad.

  5. Curious, does this review take into account firmware 1.2? I’ve heard that fixes a lot of the speed/UI problems.

  6. I stare at a computer monitor all day at work, so the though of “relaxing” with a book on an LCD doesn’t excite me.

    It’s for exactly this reason that I’ve never got too excited about ebook readers, but from what you’ve said maybe it’s not an issue…but then I’m also very fond of the real things and don’t have a problem with taking a paperback or two on a flight.

    Gotta say I was hightly underwhelmed by the iPad. It looks the business, but I want a small ultra portable macbook, not a giant iPhone complete with Apple’s arrogant decisions on what programs I can and can’t use, and what popular web formats I can and can’t view. Still hopefully the competition can learn from Apples victories and mistakes with it though.

  7. I’ve been using my Sony Reader touch for about five months now. Great device for collage textbooks (incredibly hard to find) and manga. Love the eink touch screen. Props for having an ereader. Now if only I could get my gps to sound like a hawt nimble bassist or chiri-chan then my gadgets would be perfect.

  8. May I suggest converting manga to ePub format instead? It’s just HTML in a ZIP package with XML using defined formatting standards, and Calibre will convert your CBR and CBZ files to it easily. Also supports direct nook file management. Easier than PDF as it just repackages the archive and maybe resizes the images to fit the resolution of the reader screen if they’re too large.

  9. I always thought that e-readers in general were only a good idea if there was some way to make them more accessible for any and all types of books. Bringing one to school definitely beats lugging around two or so college textbooks.
    [quote]I stare at a computer monitor all day at work, so the though of “relaxing” with a book on an LCD doesn’t excite me. But reading it off the nook? It’s like reading a paperback.[/quote]
    Totally thankful for this little bit. Reading baka-tsuki’s translations on the screen can be quite the pain after the first hour.

  10. I’ve been terribly disappointed by every ereader I’ve seen, for all the reasons you mention, and more.

    I’m waiting for a 10″ inch screen with higher resolution (1200 pixels tall would be nice, and an 11″ screen would be better). That’s what HanLin had promised was just a few months away… for years. Now they’ve stopped promising it. I spend enough time with technical manuals, manga, and kanji I’m unfamiliar with that I’m not compromising on the screen size/resolution.

    And I agree that the epub format is a pain in the behind.

    (Side note: The only justifiable I can see for that LCD would be quickly navigating manual-type books, and even then I’m still not convinced that it isn’t retarded. It’s so huge for a device that would otherwise be nice and compact with a better battery life.)

  11. I’m kind of

  12. Hmm, the text in that page of k-on looks kind of blurry. Is that the display or the camera? I’ve been toying with the idea of getting an ereader, but the drm scares me off. I don’t want my purchased books to be tied to a certain device/store. However if I could read manga on it… hmm… And then there’s the iPad, too…

    If the hardest part of reading is just converting a set of images into a compatible format, I’m sure someone could whip up a script that automates the process.

  13. @Mac: Judging from specs at least, ideally you’d want Plastic Logic’s Que. Expensive as hell though. Kindle DX has a slightly smaller than 10 inch screen, with a 1200 px height for considerably cheaper ~$490. Not cheap itself, but that’s a reflection of demand.

    @daisuki: That’s an issue with conversion, or rather, resizing to fit the screen with PDF. You’d really want to resize it before converting to whatever flavor of book format you want for optimal results. That’s why I was too lazy to bother putting manga on my Kindle.

    @Haesslich: I’m irritated that neither the Nook nor the Kindle can handle a folder with a bunch of .jpg in it. Honestly; they both have a decent spec’ed ARM11 CPU. At least since the Nook has been rooted to be a regular Android device, they might be able to write a comic viewer for it.

  14. ragingduck: The issue isn’t that they can’t handle the images, so much as the software won’t render them well unless they’re resized. The Sony Reader DOES offer image viewing by ‘album’ (aka virtual folder), but you might as well zip them up into an ePub for ease of navigation’s sake.

  15. I’d totally be willing to convert images before re-zipping them. There’s more image and compression batch tools than Haruhi-Kyonko fanfics; same can’t really be said for ebookmaking.

  16. Again, look at Calibre. It’ll take the CBZ/CBR files most of that manga’s already in (or if it’s just plain out ZIP and RAR, you can rename it) and make ePub books out of them. It’ll even batch-resize to the right resolution for your device, and grayscale them if they’re in colour.

    It doesn’t get much easier than that short of paying someone to do it for you.

  17. I wish I knew how to convert this stuff off of Baka-Tsuki…you should make a quick tutorial post sometime. ^.^’ Although I know that’s not the kind of post you typically make. Seriously, though, I’d love to get some Bakemonogatari on my ebook reader. Although this Sword Art Online series you ePub’d a bit of is pretty good as well.

  18. Interesting, and helpful, I was wondering about whether it was possible to read manga on one of these, however after explaining that you need to convert them to pdf, that really makes me not want to buy it, I agree that the manga viewing app for iPhone should be brought to this device.

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