Barnes & Noble's Nook: A new character in the e-book story
But New York-based B&N sold out its initial inventory, and this $259 e-book reader has been listed as back-ordered ever since. The company's PR department was unable to provide even a vague estimate of when it might have a review unit available, and so I wound up doing something unusual: borrowing one from a Post reader.
This fellow -- I'll keep him anonymous here, though he's welcome to out himself in the comments if he wishes -- had bought a Nook early on, received his in mid-December and asked if I'd like to take a look at the thing. I replied that I'd be more than happy to, which was why I spent much of the week after Christmas toting around a small electronic tablet and taking notes on the experience instead of slacking off like a normal person.
(Note to fellow journalists: This is one reason not to ignore reader mail and comments. You never know when you could use a little help with a story.)
So that's how the review happened. And now, a few technical details that didn't fit in the column, most from an interview yesterday afternoon with Barnes & Noble digital-devices vice president Doug Gottlieb:
* While just the Nook and B&N's Windows reader program can send loan requests now, the company plans to add that capability to the Mac, iPhone/iPod touch and BlackBerry versions of that application by March. (The BlackBerry reader software can't receive loans either, but Gottlieb said that should be fixed next week.)
* While the Nook uses only the ePub format, downloads to B&N's other reader programs come in the older PDB format (those of you with Palm handheld organizers may remember that file-name extension; yes, this is the same thing). Gottlieb said that the 2.0 releases of its reader software due late this winter will also accept ePub files; at that point, re-downloading a book will get you an ePub file instead of a PDB document.
* I copied a couple of PDF files to the Nook, and they looked pretty much as they did on a computer -- just without color of any sort. Larger PDFs may take a while to display, though. I also copied over some MP3s; the Nook's music player includes a shuffle function and runs in the background, allowing your reading to have the soundtrack of your choice.
* The Nook runs Google's Android operating system, but I didn't even mention that in the review because I never saw any sign of the underlying, Linux-based software. Naturally, that hasn't stopped some enterprising souls from hacking into a Nook to make it to do other things.
Overall, I -- like most reviewers so far -- didn't find that much to like in the Nook. This model and e-books in general seem stuck at an awkward, version-0.9, beta-test stage of development; maybe a year or two from now, after other competitors have joined the market, they will have grown more appealing. How about you? Have you bought a Nook or tried one out? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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