Hands-on review: All-new B&N Nook e-book reader (photos)

Barnes & Noble has managed to ship its all-new Nook e-reader to stores and customers starting today, June 1st, ahead of its original June 10th launch date. We managed to get a unit, and here's a hands-on review.
By Rachel King, Contributor
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Dubbed the “simple touch reader” for readers of all ages, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch said during the official announcement that this pocket-sized version of the Nook was “inspired for readers turned off by buttons, keyboards and complexity.” Lynch also boasted that this new version is the “easiest to use, most portable e-book reader ever.”

(Also see our hands-on review and analysis post about the all-new Nook.)

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Reflecting the all-new Nook itself, the box contents include the bare basics: the Nook, a micro USB charger with a wall plug and a thin user's manual.

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In terms of how it feels in my hand, it is somewhere on par with the Sony Reader Pocket Edition. However, the all-new Nook (which really needs a new name after awhile because it won't be "all-new" for long) actually sports the exact same 6-inch eInk Pearl display as the Nook First Edition. Except this time the display supports touch gestures. Thus, naturally, the second generation of the Nook also drops the bottom touch screen.

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The backside of the Nook is coated with a special type of paint so that the user doesn't feel a change in temperature when holding it. For example, it won't become icy during the wintertime and it shouldn't heat up during the summer.

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Weighing only 7.5 ounces, it's very easy to hold the all-new Nook in one hand, or even just by two fingers. B&N boasts that the all-new Nook features 50% more contrast on the display and is 15% thinner as well as 35% lighter than the original Nook.

There is a microSD card slot on the right side of the device. However, it's really only necessary if you need more storage space for digital books and periodicals if the 240MB of integrated memory isn't enough. There's no audio player or anything of that sort on this Nook.

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There are actually five buttons on the new Nook, which consists of the power button and four page directional buttons on the side. After waking up the Nook from sleep mode, users have to unlock the screen to access the device's contents.

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Once the screen is unlocked, users are automatically brought to the home screen the first time and then whatever the last menu was accessed on later entries. That could be the settings menu, a page in a book, etc.

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Over two million e-books and digital periodicals (namely, newspapers) can be accessed via the Nook eBookstore. Additionally, users can bump up the font size on these articles to make the print more friendly to the eyes of any reader.

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At this time, the all-new Nook is Wi-Fi only, meaning no 3G access. However, it can connect wirelessly to networks at all Barnes & Noble locations as well as 4,000 AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide for free.

When I tried connecting to my office Wi-Fi network, it was rather simple - even with the usual accept terms-type of pages. However, every time you close the Nook, you're automatically logged off the network too.

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Although images are never going to be as clear or ideal in electronic ink than with a color resolution, e-book readers like this still have a place (in comparison to tablets) because it's still easy to read and look at the screen in direct sunlight almost anywhere. Users can toggle with up to 16 levels of grayscale at a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels.

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One of the new features on this model of the Nook is a "pages remaining" function. Users can identifiy how many pages are left in a particular chapter as well as the whole book by swiping at the bottom of the display.

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Nearly all e-book readers these days offer multiple font style and size options, and the all-new Nook is no exception. B&N execs even touted the new Nook as ideal for grandparents and casual tech users who want something simple to use with larger font options. The all-new Nook certainly has the fonts to back that statement up, and the device is easy to use.

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B&N also boasts that there is 80% less screen flashing on the all-new Nook than on any other e-book reader. A user can go at least six pages without seeing that black flash between page turns, which actually becomes a nuisance once you get used to the fact that it's gone most of the time. Additionally, users can speed up page turning to a rapid pace by holding down the side buttons. There's almost no flash at all during this movement.

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However, there are times where the display is not entirely fast or as responsive as I would have liked. Don't expect this display to react as speedily as the iPad (certainly not the iPad 2) or most other smartphones and tablets. There were a number of times where I'd have to press to select a menu item a few times, but page turning was rather easy.

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As for the interface, the easiest way to explain it is that it's basically a dumbed-down, grayscale version of the Nook Color's UI. Users can create shelves, navigate and toggle between menus by the pop-up bars at the bottom of the page and shop directly from the device with a much cleaner layout.

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Naturally, like every other device these days, there's direct access to Facebook, Twitter and Google profiles. Avid Nook users can also sign up for Nook Friends for lending and general book club activities, but access to other book-friendly social networks such as Good Reads is being considered. (FYI, Good Reads is already available as an app on the Nook Color.)

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Straight out of the box, this copy of the all-new Nook had 70% of a battery life left. Normally, I always charge devices immediately before using them to start off with the most battery juice, but given how long the Nook can last, it wasn't absolutely necessary.

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The all new Nook is available for purchase immediately with a price tag of $139. Additionally, the first generation of the Nook will be sold for $119 and $169 for the Wi-Fi and 3G editions respectively while supplies last.

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