NOOKcolor – The Pretty Alternative To Bland E-Readers

by | Mar 4, 2011 | Practical Tips, Product Review

NOOKcolor.  It’s an e-reader and it’s beautiful.  When I recently posted a review of the Amazon Kindle we got quite a response.  That makes me happy for a couple of reasons.  First, it tells me that people are reading the site and second it gives us some new ideas on what to write about next.  One of the clear message that we received was that folks wanted to get our take on additional e-readers on the market, specifically the NOOK by Barnes & Noble.  That discussion spawned the idea for the Acroment Color Nook Giveaway (be a Facebook fan by March 11th to be eligible).  So… before we give this thing away, we thought it’d be nice to tell you what you can win.  Without further adieu, I present to you my review of the NOOKcolor.

Note that since I’ve previously reviewed the Kindle I’ll be comparing quite a bit between the two devices.  If you haven’t you may want to read that post.  Also note that I’d previously referred to this device as the Color Nook when in fact it’s presented as the NOOKcolor.  A brand distinction that this marketing guy appreciates.

As with any product, the first thing you notice is the packaging.  Right off the bat, you can tell that you’re getting a “souped up” product as compared to the Kindle.  While the Kindle is SUPER easy it’s rather pedestrian in its packaging.  The NOOK comes complete with a nicely printed box that includes magnets in the bottom.  I’m not sure if Barnes & Noble is suggesting that I keep my NOOK in it’s box but this is a nice (if eventually worthless) touch.  If we’re comparing packaging I’d say the Kindle gets the nod for ease of opening but NOOK is by far the winner in appearance.

Turning the NOOK on for the first time, I was greeted with a nice intro video.  Not sure why but it surprised me that not only was the NOOK in color, but also included a very nice sound card.  I suppose I was really looking to this as a “reader” and had forgotten about some of the other media potential.

Another first impression was that this… thing… is… HEAVY.  Aside from the obvious color vs. black and white aspect this is the first thing that jumped out to me.  Here are some specifics (based on the scale here in the office):

  • Amazon Kindle (Wi-Fi) –   8 oz
  • NOOKcolor – 15.5 oz
  • iPad (Generation 1) – 1lb 8oz
  • Good To Great (hardback edition) 1 lb 4 oz
  • The Fabric Of The Cosmos (paperback edition) 1 lb 3 oz

The Nuts & Bolts:

  • 7 inch color touchscreen
  • 15.5 oz
  • Over 2,000,000 books currently available
  • 8 hour reading battery life
  • Full details can be found on the Barnes & Noble site

Pros, Cons & General Observations:

It Doesn’t Look Like A Book “ I’ve historically (at least until I got my Kindle) been pretty “old school” when it comes to this type of technology.  The NOOK takes another giant step away from the traditional concept of a book.  That being said there are some awesome little additions (inline dictionary, screen orientation, digital bookmarks, notes, etc.) that you just don’t get when you go the traditional route.

It’s Light, Small & Thin  About the size of a typical paperback an  very thin, the NOOK is a breeze to take on a trip in a backpack, briefcase or laptop bag.  While this one is heavier than some other e-readers out there its still about the weight of a typical paperback and especially when you’re traveling for long  periods of time the space you’ll save by NOT lugging multiple books with you is well worth the trade off.

Back Light   A huge upgrade over the Kindle.  Being able to read in the dark (or in a location where you don’t have much natural light) is a huge win for this device.  I was very worried about eye strain here, but I have to say that after reading on the device for many hours I didn’t see any issues.  I’d say it’s easier on the eyes than reading a computer screen but puts more strain on the eyes than a traditional paper book.

Color  It’s called the NOOKcolor (or Color NOOK) so it makes sense that this is a biggie.  I have to say that the screen looks amazing.  It’s very vibrant and really makes magazines, illustrations and video look tremendous.  The black on white layout of traditional text has good contrast and you have the ability to modify many of the screen settings (brightness, orientation, timeout) with a couple of clicks.

Bookmarks & Such (taken word for word from my Kindle review… it all holds true here)  I’m not a look up the word kind of guy when I’m reading.  If I don’t know a word I plow on through and try to figure it out as I go.  That said, if you’re the type of person who like to understand every word of what you’re reading you’ve got a built in dictionary, the ability to bookmark and highlight passages, add your own notes and annotations and search the book.  Very cool.

Page Turns  Rather than having “buttons” that you push to turn a page you’re doing more of a “swiping” action across the device.  If you’re an iPad or iPhone user you’ll be very familiar with this concept and even if you’re not you’ll pick it up very quickly (or not be able to get past page 1 😉 )

Pages Numbers  This one is interesting.  The NOOK tells me what page I’m on (372 of 560) in the upper right hand corner.  If I modify my text size it doesn’t modify the number of pages in the book (which I appreciate).  Instead, it may take 3-4 page turns/swipes to get to the next “page” of the book at a larger text size (vs. 1-2 swipes at a smaller text size.  A tiny but very nice addition over my Kindle.

The Books  With over 2,000,000 titles Barnes & Noble is WAY ahead of Amazon at this point.  Pricing for e-titles seems to be the same across both devices with the NOOK getting the nod on their pricing screen.  When doing a search for my favorite author Robert B. Parker I’m shown a list of suggested titles with the cost of the book right there on that main listing screen.  Kindle forces you to click through to see the price of a book.  The ability to sample a book is very cool, but I have to say that the sample size is on the short side… only the equivalent to a couple of pages.  If I’m REALLY considering buying this book and I don’t know much about it, the first couple of paragraphs won’t be enough to get a feel for if I’m going to like it.

The Magazines – If you’re a magazine reader this is where the NOOK will really stand out in comparison to the Kindle.  It’s breathtaking the way the the content is presented as it quite literally is an electronic version of your mag – advertisements and all.  Displayed on a page/screen user can click on a specific area of the page to zoom in (click again to zoom back to page view).  Pricing seems to be MUCH cheaper than newsstand pricing and just about every magazine offered (98 for the NOOK and 80 for the Kindle as of today) offers a 14 day free trial.  Tremendous.

Buying Stuff – This couldn’t be easier.  Click on the “Shop” button from the bottom of your device, do a search and pull up a list of titles.  From that main listing screen click on the price of the book, and the price button switches over to “Confirm”.  Another click and you’re done.  If you’ve downloaded a sample you’ve got an unobtrusive “Buy Now” button at the top of the page when reading that sample.  Click it and you go to the shop detail screen and follow the process as above.  You’re quite literally about 2 touches away from getting your next read.  The NOOK may be a bit slower on the download but I’m guessing that’s due to the fact that there’s MORE to download (colors, images, etc.)  That being said, its still pretty darn quick (ranging from say 30 to 90 seconds).  I have to say that this is one thing that both the NOOK and Kindle have nailed – they make it REALLY easy for us to give them some cash.

Backup and Cross Device Use – Every purchase that you make from the NOOK store (magazines, books, etc.) are yours for life.  From the B&N website: “Your NOOKbooks are yours to keep forever. Upgrade your NOOK, replace a lost NOOK or use our free NOOKapps to read on another device – your books are safely stored and can be downloaded anytime, anywhere.” That’s a very good thing.  Also a nice touch is that you can browse your NOOK content across multiple devices: iPad, iPhone, Android, and PC.  All of your content (including the page you left off, bookmarks, notes, etc.) is available.  In the digital age we live in this is a prerequisite and NOOK nails it.

It Is What It Is – NOOKcolor has a color touchscreen so the comparisons to the iPad or other tablets are inevitable.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is a tablet – it’s not.  Yes there’s a nice little web browser and some “extras” like chess, a contact book and a music player (among other things).  However if you’re buying this as a tablet you’re going to be very disappointed.  This is an e-reader at it’s core and for THAT purpose it’s very formidable.  If you’re in the tablet market this isn’t for you.

In Conclusion:

There’s no way around it – this is a beautiful device.  If you’re a magazine person this is absolutely the way to go to get your content delivered to you as it’s the truest representation without the clutter.  I’m not a big mag subscriber these days but I’ll go so far as to say that if you’re ordering more than a couple of subscriptions a month it’d be worth picking up a NOOK just for that.  The extras are nice, but if I’m being honest I’m not sure how much I’d use them.  I need a quiet environment when I read so I personally wouldn’t use the music options.  I’ve got plenty of places to store my contacts and if I’m looking for a chess game it’s not going to be on this device.  I didn’t even get in to the NOOK’s personalization options where you can keep info/photos on a MicroSD card – another nice bonus feature but not necessarily a selling point.  For me the decision would come down to my content.  For a purely black and white book reader I’d go Kindle but if I’m ever planning on reading newspapers, magazines or books with lots of illustrations/diagrams this is clearly superior and well worth the money.