Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy new owner of Nook Simple Touch

Yesterday I bought a Nook Simple Touch e-reader, because I wanted a black and white "e-ink" screen for bedtime book reading. The iPad is great for many things, but book reading before bed is not one of them (the light from an LCD backlit screen before bedtime seems to rob the human body of melanonin which is needed for a sound sleep). Also, the Nook weighs much less than the iPad, which means my wrist doesn't get tired of holding it.

What really sold me was the Nook Simple Touch touchscreen user experience, which I found immediately pleasing and intuitive (much more so than the older and clumsier black & white Nook). The staff at the Barnes & Noble store quickly answered all my questions about the Nook's capabilities, and soon I walked out the door with a new Nook.

Books purchased from Barnes & Noble do use DRM, and I normally prefer to buy books from enlighted publishers who release in non-DRM form (such as O'Reilly Media; see the excellent Forbes interview with Tim O'Reilly who explains why he dropped DRM). However, some books are only available commercially under DRM, and I'm willing to compromise when the restrictions are reasonably relaxed. In this case, the DRM is more restrictive than I'd like, but it's not completely onerous. For example:
  • The Nook has a feature for loaning books to other Nook users (only for two weeks, though!)
  • The Nook supports open standard formats such as epub, so it can read my non-DRM books
  • The Nook supposedly supports borrowing books from libraries (a feature which I have yet to explore)
  • Ebooks purchased from Barnes & Noble are accessible on a multitude of devices, namely those for which the Nook app runs. This includes iPad, iPhone, Android phones & tablets, Windows PCs, and Mac OS devices. (I haven't found a client yet for desktop Linux)
  • Exchanging files with the Nook is easy, as it is recognized as a USB mass storage device on any Linux, Mac, or Windows PC. It also supports a micro SD slot (up to 32GB cards supported).
  • I can share books with friends by loaning them spare devices, just like I do with DRM'd audiobooks. As the devices get cheaper, this gets easier to accomplish.
I enjoy the "cloud" aspect of books purchased from Barnes & Noble. I can purchase the book in one website, and immediately access the same book on all my devices: Macs, PCs, iPads, iPhones, and Nooks. It's especially great to have full textual access to books on a real PC screen.

In some ways, this "cloud" functionality makes me more willing to forgive the DRM, because it actually reduces my effort in comparison with having to manually copy all my DRM-free books between devices. (I still haven't copied all my O'Reilly books to all my devices, and every time I purchase a new one, it's an effort to once again file it onto the appropriate devices.) 

It would be nice if the "cloud" aspect also extended to any margin notes or highlights added to text on the Nook. Unfortunately, such notes are local to each device. Hopefully in the future this will improve, or at least the backup/sync strategy for such notes could be made more obvious to consumers.

The missing killer feature: audiobook sync. When I buy an audio book, I want the text version to go with it, and I want to control my position in the book using the text version. I also want a special bookmark in the book to indicate where I have left off while listening, so I can seamlessly switch between listening and reading. Also, I want such bookmarks placed in the "cloud", so no matter which device I pick up to read or listen, the book knows where I left off reading. Alas, no platform yet boasts such a feature; the first to do so will surely draw the interest of audio book lovers.

Here are some reviews of the new Nook:
The Nook Simple Touch Is An E-Reader That Wants To Be A Black And White iPad

Consumer Reports: First-look review: B&N's Simple Touch Reader Nook is a worthy Kindle challenger