Last weekend I was frustrated in my attempt to fondle a live Barnes & Noble Nook. The only working unit was still locked away in an office and the person with the key wouldn’t arrive until 2PM that day (I was there at 10AM!).
This weekend, I went back to the same Barnes & Noble. What the hell, let’s see.
And they had two live Nooks.
After fondling the Nook, I went on to fondle three other eInk eBook devices and have drawn some conclusions some of you will find surprising.
The first Nook I tried was buggy as all hell.
All those reports of the touchscreen seeming to be unresponsive to taps? All those reports of the Nook then going on to do more than one thing, as if the taps were caught in a queue and then spilled out all at once? All those reports of the Nook dropping dead with an “Activity Reader” dialog on the eInk screen and a “Force Close” option in the LCD screen?
All of that is what happened to me with the first Nook!
And it had only three eBooks on it: all public domain classics!
I stood there frustrated and actually appalled that Barnes & Noble was asking money for that piece of shit!
The software version was 1.0. I don’t know what format the eBooks were in, but I suspect PDB.
eInk page turns were the slowest I have seen on any device. I really do think they were even slower than I recall from the original Sony Reader 500!
I mean really, really, really slow.
But wait! That was the first Nook. After I complained to the B&N rep about the device, he let me fondle the one he was reading a frikkin Stephen King eBook on!
I didn’t want to screw him all up, so I didn’t do anything more than page through his eBook, to see if it was any faster. It was marginally faster — but still slow to me.
That LCD at the bottom — there were reports of it displaying cover thumbnails in too low a resolution to be useful. Guess what? That’s correct! Really, you’ll have to identify books by their colors or illustration shapes because there’s no way you’ll make out titles if they aren’t ginormous on the cover itself to begin with.
The B&N rep acknowledged all the problems of the Nook. And repeated to me what I think has become a litany at Barnes & Noble since the Nook has been out in the wild: “This week there will be a software update to address all of the issues you are seeing. We know about all of these and are working hard to fix them. We will release an Over The Air update this week [yes — he said this week, despite the fact this week ends today, Saturday!] that will be the 1.1 [yes: one point one!] of the software.”
He was at least smart enough not to ask me if I wanted to pre-order!
Here is something I’ve only seen in one report: the weight of the Nook.
One report said it was tiring to hold.
That baby is a sold mass of technology. There is no airiness to it. Its mass is solid. And it has heft.
And holding it in one hand, as people are expected to do, with thumb near the page turn buttons, the muscle in my lower forearm was straining and kicking up an old repetitive strain injury from years ago.
Even if the Nook was running perfectly (and I intend to go back after the 1.1 update has been applied), the weight of it would kill it for me.
I then went on to J&R, where I asked to feel the weight of both the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet (the original, not the Android verion; it was all they had) and the Archos 7 Internet Media Tablet. The first has a 4.8″ LCD screen, the second has a 7″ one.
The Archos 5 was great in weight. This was one with an internal hard drive too — so the Android one with 32GB of Flash would be thinner and lighter. Really, a joy to hold. That 4.8″ screen is only a wee bit smaller than the 5″ screen eInk devices out there — but page turns are fast and Aldiko is superior as eBook reading software.
The Archos 7 shocked me. It was frikkin heavy. Heavier than the Nook. It made me stop to wonder about the practicality of mini-tablets as eBook readers. It would be very, very annoying to have to hold something that heavy for a period of concentrated reading. More on all of this later herein.
Next I fondled the new Cybook Opus. This is a 5″ eInk eBook device with built-in accelerometer. It came to J&R several weeks ago at a whopping list price of US$299.00. It has since, probably in desperation, dropped to US$229.00.
My fondle was limited because the pop-up menu seemed to be in Polish (the device is multilingual) and I didn’t want to take up the sales rep’s time trying to figure out how to change it to English (I had to ask for this unit from under the counter).
The accelerometer for switching between portrait and landscape worked as well as could be expected with eInk: a 1-second delay. It could rotate in all four orientations.
The sample eBook I opened — several were on the device — was an ePub. It was pre-set at a large type size and because of the Polish menu, I couldn’t find a way to go smaller.
The page turns were typical eInk. It was faster than the Nook. But the other thing is, the black flash was very, very noticeable and distracting and annoying.
The Cybook Opus weighs just about nothing. This is because everything is plastic. And it feels like cheap plastic too. Like disposable device cheap. Like drop it and it’s d-e-d cheap. Like this thing won’t last several thousand page turns on that too-small center clickwheel and those funky right-side twin page buttons. All that for a whopping US$229.00 too! If it was only US$25.00, it’d at least match the feel of the device.
My next stop was Borders, which was an impulse. I went in and fondled — again — the Sony Reader Pocket Edition and the Sony Reader Touch Edition.
Let me say it again: stay the hell away from the Pocket Edition. It’s like it’s in a coma! It’s slower than the original 500 ever was. I almost felt like I was back in the Nightmare of the Nook again with the overall slowness. This thing is not worth more than US$50.00 — and I price it higher than the Cybook Opus solely because of the better materials used.
The Sony Reader Touch Edition was a shock after all of these other fondles.
It was fast, it was responsive, it sometimes acted as if it wasn’t using eInk at all!
For example, hit one of the two page buttons at the lower left corner and hold them — and the Touch Edition rips through pages one after the other with no flashing whatsoever! It has speed!
The touchscreen is responsive in a way the Nook’s LCD was not and the entire device has an elan that cannot be beat by any other current eInk device.
If you must buy an eInk device, the one to get is the Sony Reader Touch Edition, period. No other.
Look, it simply doesn’t matter than the touchscreen layer over the eInk screen dims the contrast a bit. All eInk devices look like crappy light gray backgrounds anyway. So go for the speed. It really acts like a device with an LCD display most of the time. Except when invoking a page turn, then there’s that flash — but the flash is so much quicker than on any other eInk device (especially its sister, the Pocket Edition!) that the annoyance level is really seriously reduced.
Weight-wise, it just murders the Nook. It can be held for an extended period of time without feeling your arm muscle being pulled taut. And the metallic finish to it is classy and not distracting like the bright shiny Nook white plastic. Plus, I still maintain Sony had the right idea with page buttons in the lower left corner, allowing its device to be held like a paper book with your thumb there, as if it was in the fold of the binding.
Let’s do some comparisons here because this is a factor I really hadn’t considered before (so much for all those people who think I know everything!):
Looking at that, it seems that there’s only 1.1 ounces of difference in weight between the Nook and the Sony Reader Touch Edition.
The Nook is actually 12 ounces.
That puts it 1.9 ounces more than the Sony Reader Touch. That might not sound like a lot of weight, but read on.
What’s going to have to figure into building devices now is holding weight. I think the Nook is just too heavy.
And what of mini-tablets for digital books? It does not look very good:
The Camangi is heavier than the Nook. But will it feel like it is?
I thought this weight comparison was personally interesting:
Archos 5IT: 6.4 ounces
Palm LifeDrive: 6.8 ounces
The Archos has a larger and higher-resolution screen than my LifeDrive, eight times the storage capacity, and is also a larger device — but weighs less!
Finally, this is something to ponder:
iPod Touch: 4.05 ounces
If it takes four of those to make an iTablet:
iTablet: 16.2 ounces? — over one pound!
On the other hand, look at this:
iPod Touch: 4.05 ounces
Palm LifeDrive: 6.8 ounces
The iPod Touch has sixteen times the storage of my LifeDrive, a more powerful CPU, longer battery life, and is more than one-third lighter. Not to mention it’s more than half the thickness!
The 1.9 ounce difference between the Nook and Sony Reader Touch might not seem like much, but if you were to hold a LifeDrive and compare it to the weight of an iPod Touch, you’d get a sense of just how much an ounce here and there can make a real difference.
Apple knows how to design svelte devices that balance nicely in the hand. I hope this will continue with the iTablet — because its use as a reading device is critical to its ultimate success.