He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Kindle, Schmindle

I'm what you could call a sporadic reader. I read books when I can, managing a handful of pages at a time. Apart from having the attention span of a gnat I'm a busy chap. In between the dull stuff like commuting, computing, children, cage-fighting* and my genetic research on pygmy goats, I do my reading by stealing the odd ten minutes here and there.

Nonetheless, it's a pastime I enjoy. Given half a chance, I'd happily hole myself up in a wood-panelled reading room with the complete works of an author and a case of red wine. Just call me an bibliophilic alcoholic**. Until that glorious moment arrives, however, I'll continue with my career of petty time-theft.

My ad-hoc reading behaviour is the reason why I've been looking at the purchase of an e-reader . The long battery life, convenience and the ability to stick your entire bookshelf (however big or small that may be) on the device seems appealing. I've had an iPad for three years now, but despite iBooks, the device is a positively rubbish format to read on. The iPad is just too heavy a device to keep in your hand for sustained periods of time and the reflective screen isn't easy on the eye. Whilst I could invest in an iPad Mini to address one of those concerns, the battery life on e-readers tends to be so much better - and e-ink seems the right technology for the application.

I've been looking at reading devices for the last six months or so now. The market is starting to reach the stage where there's a good few of them about. Apart from the ubiquitous Kindle, there's the Kobo, some offerings by Sony and a few other random devices, but the one that took my eye*** was the Nook, which is Barnes & Noble's baby. I got it for just £59 from Waitrose, who offer a no-quibble guarantee and a two-year warranty. On that basis, I thought I'd take the plunge.

And here it is - well, some bits of it anyway.


The contents of the box are fairly minimal, with just the device, a USB charge lead and a basic manual - however it's all well packaged and fairly easy to get to grips with. The Nook's a slim device, made from a sturdy rubberised plastic. Despite the lightness and plastic construction, it doesn't feel cheap. There's a power button in the centre at the rear-top, a micro-SD slot on the slide and a micro-USB charging slot at the bottom. On each side, there are two buttons that are subtly built in to the frame which allow you move to the next or previous page, a nice design feature which means it doesn't matter if you're a lefty (like me) or a righty. You can change their page turning behaviour in the settings.

When you take it out of the box, the message on the screen says, "Charge me up for thee and a half hours", something I wholeheartedly approve of. You can't switch it on for a sneaky peek, because the battery appears to be as flat as the proverbial pancake, but at least this ensures you give it a good proper first charge before you use it.

Once you're done, it's time to press the power button and switch on. In all honesty, that's probably the only time you'll ever press the power button for the entire lifespan of the device. After a twenty-second-or-so startup, the setup is stupidly simple. If you've got a Barnes & Noble account, you can enter that - otherwise you'll need to set up a new ID. Then, it's just the matter of entering your WiFi details and you're done. 

Navigation between screens is simple - it's a touch screen, after all. When you're reading, you've got the option of either swiping to turn pages or using the buttons on the side. The little "n" button at the bottom will always take you to the shop or library any time you like and you can tap to bring up reading options. There's a handful of different fonts, sizes, line-spacing and margins to choose from - although I generally found that accepting the publisher defaults meant that the page looked a lot nicer.

However, that made me think of other things. What if you're dyslexic? Could you change the contrast? What if you'd prefer white on black? From digging around the system, I'm not sure such options exist. This might put you off if you've got a need for such functionality.

The simplicity in the device lay in the fact that it's only got a very limited selection of screens and options. You're either browsing your library, buying stuff, changing your settings or reading - it's as simple as that. The one thing I'll say about the layout of the system is that it's incredibly intuitive. You can't get lost because there's so little to hack around with. You read, you decide what you want to read, or you buy things to read. It's nice to have something so uncomplicated. If you've used a Kindle, I should add it doesn't have a web-browser, audio-player or text-to-speech ability. I'm fine with that. My toaster doesn't write haiku****. The world hasn't stopped turning yet.

In day-to-day use, the device is light and doesn't strain your wrist when held single-handedly. To the average pairs of eyes, the contrast seems reasonable enough. Barnes & Noble claim that the battery will last two months on a single charge. I can't really testify yet as to whether it's an accurate figure or not, but with some fairly heavy use over the last few days, the battery strength has only gone down about 10%, so it's a possibility.

There seems to be plenty of space to store your stuff. With about 20 books on the device, it's only used about 2% of the available storage. Of course, if you want more space you can always bung in a micro-SD card, but chances are that what’s available will be sufficient for most. It's light, easily portable, simple to use and easy to read. Having used a Kindle touch, I prefer this. In direct comparison, this seems to fit nicer in your hand, too, but maybe that’s just personal preference. As always, you can connect the reader to your computer using the USB cable (where it mounts as a drive) and transfer data across. It supports EPUB and PDF, but not Amazon's MOBI format - but that's not really much of a surprise. What does look interesting, however, is the "LendMe" functionality, where your other Nook-owning friends can be leant books (for free) and vice-versa. I'll need to find another Nook owner first of all, though. 

As a final note, it's a good device. It only does one thing, but what it does, it does really well. The interface and simplicity of use it definitely works in it's favour - and if you can get one at the same price I did, you won't be making a mistake. I have no doubt that in not very long, its features will be superseded with other funky stuff, but this will do me just fine.

I should also add that this won't stop me from buying the odd "real" book. There's still nothing that can beat a good thick colour hardback - yet.

* I made that bit up.
** On the other hand, don't.
*** Not literally, you twat.
**** I didn’t make that bit up. Or did I?
blog comments powered by Disqus