Hands-on: B&N Nook is the king of connectivity and content

I have been waiting a couple of months for my B&N Nook and yesterday it arrived. I previously wrote why I think the Nook beats the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader and based that opinion article on the specifications that were revealed by Barnes & Noble. Now that I have had several hours to play with the Nook I have to say it looks like my previous statement was correct and you probably can't find a happier ebook fan today. I recorded a 25 minute video walk through most all aspects of the device, with a few more tasks to perform over the next couple of weeks. I also took a few product photos that you can find in my image gallery. Like most devices released today, the Nook is not perfect and there are a couple areas that could be improved. However, IMHO it is the best ebook reader for my needs and you won't be seeing me trying to make a profit on my Nook on ebay this holiday season.

I have been waiting a couple of months for my B&N Nook and yesterday it arrived. I previously wrote why I think the Nook beats the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader and based that opinion article on the specifications that were revealed by Barnes & Noble. Now that I have had several hours to play with the Nook I have to say it looks like my previous statement was correct and you probably can't find a happier ebook fan today. I recorded a 25 minute video walk through most all aspects of the device (uploading now), with a few more tasks to perform over the next couple of weeks. I also took a few product photos that you can find in my image gallery. Like most devices released today, the Nook is not perfect and there are a couple areas that could be improved. However, IMHO it is the best ebook reader for my needs and you won't be seeing me trying to make a profit on my Nook on ebay this holiday season.


Image Gallery:A walk around the Barnes & Noble Nook ebook reader device.
Image Gallery: B&N Nook retail packaging width=
Image Gallery: B&N Nook in hand

In the box

The Barnes & Noble Nook comes in a clear plastic case with a cardboard white slip cover over 90% of one end. Below this cardboard sleeve is a small cardboard box that contains the accessories. It took some effort to slide off this cardboard slip cover and also to get the Nook out of the plastic storage container. I think the unboxing experience could have been better, but it only happens once so it isn't that big of an issue. Inside the packaging you will find the following:
  • Nook
  • Micro-USB 2.0 cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • AC adapter
  • Rechargeable battery (installed)

Specifications

The specifications for the Barnes & Noble Nook include the following:
  • 6 inch Vizplex eInk display with 16 grayscale
  • 3.5 inch capacitive color touchscreen LCD
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Mono speaker
  • microUSB port
  • 2GB internal memory for approximately 1500 eBooks
  • microSD card slot for expandable memory options
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi
  • Wireless radio with support for AT&T data
  • Dimensions of 7.7 x 4.9 x 0.5 inches and 11.2 ounces

Content, content, content

From the Barnes & Noble site, here is what types of content are and are not supported on the Nook:

Supported formats: From Barnes & Noble, Fictionwise & eReader

  • EPUB
  • PDB
  • PDF

Other Sources

  • EPUB (Non or Adobe DRM)
  • PDB (Non DRM)
  • PDF
  • Graphics: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Audio: MP3

Not Supported: DOC, LIT, TXT, AMZ (Amazon), LRZ/LRX (Sony)

I have purchased books over the years from both Fictionwise and eReader and was very pleased to find out that all of my secure eReader content on Fictionwise and eReader library books work just fine on the Nook. I read the spec, but couldn't believe it myself until I tried it out. After you enter the applicable credit card info for each store/format (this is what is used to verify the content was purchased by you) then you will not have to enter the credit card info for other titles downloaded and loaded onto your Nook memory from the same store. The great thing about this support is that I get MAJOR eReader rewards on the eReader site so I can get a lot of free ebook content. Just the other day I was able to buy ebooks and get 100% back in reward points so I have $50+ of free credit sitting in my account and can now use it to purchase ebooks for my Nook. Granted, I will have to download and load these onto the Nook via the microUSB cable, but at least this is possible and may result in significant cost savings. The Nook gives you the flexibility to obtain content from multiple sources with both convenient and not so convenient methods.

I loaded up some Word documents, but they did not appear in my library and I confirmed that support is not available for this format. A few other content sources I plan to try include my local library system (my card stopped working recently), Barnes & Noble in-store content, and Sony eBookstore EPUB content since I do have a few titles there from my Sony Reader 505 days.

Wireless connectivity

When I had the Amazon Kindle, with wireless support provided by Sprint, I had to drive down to the end of my street to get connectivity so I could load up books and magazine subscriptions. I understand the new Kindles have wireless connectivity through AT&T so that would solve my personal connectivity issue. However, the B&N Nook gives me that same AT&T wireless support, in addition to WiFi access so I can obtain content in just about every location I live, work, and play and couldn't be happier. So far I am seeing excellent connectivity with both of these wireless technologies and think the Nook sets the bar for connectivity options with ebook readers.

When you pop off the back of the Nook you will see a peek of the AT&T SIM card inside so I took out my little screwdriver and pulled out the 1530 mAh Lithium Polymer battery and removed the SIM. I placed the AT&T SIM card into my N97 mini NAM and the AT&T name appeared when I started it up so I thought this might be a way to get some connectivity without needing to have another AT&T data account. I was unable to make phone calls or connect to any data connection so the SIM card is definitely locked to the Barnes and Noble Nook, which is expected and not unreasonable.

PC connectivity

When you connect to a computer then your Nook internal drive appears and you can easily click and drag the content loaded on your device to back up to a DVD or your PC for safekeeping. You will see the following folders appear on your Nook:
  • my audiobooks
  • my B&N downloads
  • my documents
  • my music
  • my screensavers
  • my wallpapers

It appears you can place your own screensaver and wallpaper images on the Nook and I plan to test this out soon.

As you can see above on the list of supported formats, MP3 files are supported. I put a few songs on the Nook at it played well through the mono speaker and through the 3.5mm headset connector. As you can see in the screenshots, the media player is decent and easily controlled via the small color touch display. The Audio Player application is available at the bottom of each of the separate color display menus so you can access it from various areas of the device.

Wrap up of initial experiences

As you can see in my video the device is quite usable and the color display doesn't take away at all from the ebook reading experience. I did show the Nook and Sony 505 side-by-side turning pages and the Nook is definitely slower than the 505. This is probably related to the Google Android OS powering the Nook and may actually be something that can be improved and sped up with a firmware update. Personally, the eInk refresh rates have never really bothered me because ebooks are so readable and convenient that this issue outweighs carrying lots of paper books around.

After confirming that eReader and Fictionwise ebooks work very well, with just a single credit card confirmation, I am ecstatic about the amount of content available to me on my new Nook. As I said in my video, you can save a ton of money by purchasing content through the eReader and Fictionwise sites and the Nook really sets the bar for obtaining content. I still need to confirm my local library support and will update this post with that info when I get a chance to test it out.

I also am pleased with both the AT&T and WiFi connectivity options that really unshackle wireless connectivity options you have to get content onto your Nook. Stay tuned for more as I really dive into using the Nook and make trips with it in early 2010. Please let me know if you have any questions about the Nook and if I get enough I may make a post focusing on answers to your questions and I will follow up to this initial hands-on with more details about the Nook (battery life, local library support, lending experiences, B&N store experiences).