Barnes & Noble Nook – A UK Perspective

When it comes to ebook readers, I think it’s fairly safe to say that there are three main contenders in the market – Amazon with the Kindle, Barnes & Noble with the Nook and Sony with the Pocket Reader range. Three contenders in the US market that is. If you live in the UK, your choice is more restricted with only the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Pocket Reader being widely available.

Regrettably, Barnes & Noble don’t exist over here but there are plenty of bookstores such as Waterstones and WHSmith. There are others readers available too, such as the Samsung E60/E65, the Kobo, the iriver Story but I’ve never met anyone who actually has one, whereas I know several people with Kindles and Sony Readers. The latter was previously reviewed on GNC in the autumn.

Like many of my compatriots, I’ve looked longingly at the Nook while on holiday. It seemed to have the best of both worlds – although it has access to a closely integrated store in the same way as the Kindle, it reads the more open epub format like the Sony Pocket Reader can. It doesn’t have the full touchscreen of the Pocket Reader but it does replace the Kindle’s keyboard with a small colour touchscreen, which I like.

But a little research showed that Barnes & Noble won’t sell ebooks outside of the USA, so I was reluctant to purchase a Nook in case I ended up with an expensive paperweight.

Further research on the forums suggested that sideloading ebooks onto the Nook worked fine, i.e. copying ebooks via USB, so in the end, I took the risk and imported a Nook back into the UK. I only purchased the wifi version rather than the 3G version as even if the 3G worked (and I doubted it would), there wasn’t going to be much I could do with it if I couldn’t buy directly from Barnes & Noble.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after a few days of playing around.

The good news is the you can easily purchase books from the likes of Waterstone’s and read them on the Nook. The first step is to download and install Adobe’s Digital Editions on to your PC or laptop. When the program is run, you “authorise” the computer to store and manage your DRM’d ebooks (not that you have any at this stage).

Once that’s done, the second step is to go to the ebook store of your choice and purchase what you’d like to read. When you download the purchased books, Adobe’s Digital Editions will automatically launch to receive them and once completed, you can see and read them within the software.

Finally, when you connect your Nook via USB, Adobe Digital Editions will ask you if you want to “authorise” the Nook reader. After accepting this, the Nook appears as another container within Digital Editions and you can then copy your newly purchased ebooks to the Nook. Disconnect the Nook from the PC or laptop and the ebooks will appear in “my library” on the Nook. Select one of your choice and you’re reading. Excellent!

That’s the main concern dealt with so what else is good? I didn’t exhaustively try to break B&N’s regional restrictions but some content, e.g. The Daily blog, is available to be read.

Disappointingly, the built-in web browser doesn’t allow downloads. There are many ebook stores such as SmashWords which offer un-DRM’d ebooks which could be downloaded direct to the Nook because there’s no need for Digital Editions to manage the DRM. Unfortunately, when you try to download anything directly to the Nook, the web browser refuses to do it. A little irritating.

The audio player works ok, though it relies on the small colour screen to select tracks. This is fine if you have a small music collection or you shuffle the playlist, but it’s not great if you have a big collection and want to listen to ZZ Top.

If weight is an issue, Nook is definitely a bit heavier than both the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. Folio covers seem to work better on the Kindle with its latching mechanism whereas the Nook seems to rely on “pockets and elastic”.

Overall, I like the Nook. The loss of the connection to the Barnes and Noble shop puts in on a par with the non-Kindle ereaders in the UK and it’s really a choice between the touch screen of the Sonys and the colour navigation screen of the Nook. But the main point of this article is that if you are in the US and you like the look of the Nook, you can be confident that you’ll be able to purchase and read ebooks from bookstores here in the UK.

EnTourage eDGe, a dual screen tablet and ereader

Jeffrey and Esbjorn hear what Doug Atkinson of enTourage has to say about the Pocket eDGe, a clamshell-style device with dual screens. It has a 7″ TFT tablet screen on one side and a 6″ e-Ink reader screen on the other. And to be clear, it’s not two devices in one, it’s one device with two screens.

The eDGe will be running Android 2.2, though the tablet screen is only a resistive touch screen and hence uses a stylus. 3G RAM, microSD slot, USB port, 2 MP camera, headphone jack and microphone round out the features. The reader supports ePub and PDF. The tablet can play a wide variety of audio and video formats, including mp3 and mp4 respectively.

No doubt it’s an interesting concept with lots of flexibility. If you are interested, it’s on sale now for around $349.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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Ectaco eBook Readers and Translators

Todd and Tom get together with Jerry Cimadomo and Greg Stetson of Ectaco to review their range of ebook readers and translators.

First up was is the Jetbook Mini (shown right) at $99, which runs off 4 AAA batteries giving 90 hours of continuous reading. It comes with free software which converts a wide range of ebook formats into a one suitable for the device.

Second was a new model that will be out in a couple of months. Aimed at the school market, it will come preloaded with a pile of educational material. It goes beyond being a simple ereader with features such as voice recognition so that language programs are able to give feedback on pronunciation. Around $250.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Pandigital Android Tablet and Colour eReader

Pandigital today added a 9″ colour Android tablet with wireless 3G connectivity to its existing line of Multimedia Novels. Aimed at the ereader market, this is Pandigital’s first integrated wireless device offering access to Barnes & Noble’s ebookstore across AT&T’s network without contract.

The tablet has a 9″ full colour touch-screen LCD display which when coupled with Android allows a huge range of applications to be downloaded and enjoyed by the customer, including surfing the web, viewing photos, watching movies and many other activities (although it cannot access the Android Market).  It also makes the Multimedia Novel perfect for reading ebooks, colour magazines and children’s stories.

By providing access via AT&T’s 3G network to Barnes & Noble’s NookBook store, the Multimedia Novel has access to over 2 million ebooks, newspapers and magazines most priced at $9.99 or less.  There are also over a million free classics available.

“The Pandigital Multimedia Novel line became incredibly popular in 2010 thanks to its breadth of features, top-notch ereading experience, and affordability,” said John Clough, president, Pandigital. “Our new 9-inch Android multimedia tablet and color ereader promises to move this experience ahead dramatically with its large touchscreen for enhanced viewing, versatile Android platform, and connected ebookstore with broad wireless coverage provided by AT&T.”

Under the hood, the tablet is powered by an ARM 11 processor and comes with 2GB of internal memory plus an integrated SDHC card reader.  Wired connectivity is via a mini-USB port. Wireless connectivity via 3G and wifi. Screen resolution is 480 x 800.

The Pandigital Multimedia Novel (R90A200) will be available from several national retailers in January with a suggested retail price of $279.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-350) Review

There’s no doubt that ebook readers are very much du jour, and Sony are keen to be part of that trend with the recent additions of the Touch and Pocket Editions to the Sony Reader line-up.

Reviewed here is the Pocket Edition (PRS-350), which is the smaller of the two models, with a 5″ touch screen.  Overall, it’s about 14.5 cm tall, 10.5 cm wide and only 9 mm deep.  At this size it can go in a (big) coat pocket and fits easily into most handbags.  As you can see from the pictures, it comes in silver, but pink and black are also available.  It’s also very light at only 155 g.

The e Ink Pearl screen is common in ebook readers but if you’ve not seen or used one, there are a couple of defining features.  First is that the letters on the screen appear to be on the surface of the screen.  It’s not like a laptop or tablet where you know that you are looking through glass.  Second the screen doesn’t flicker at all.  Not a bit.  Thirdly, text is very smooth – you have to look incredibly closely to see any pixellation or “jaggies”.  Fourthly, there’s no backlight so you need external light to read. Finally, when you do turn a page, the screen briefly flickers into a negative image as it morphs from one page to the next.  It’s a bit odd but you get used to it very quickly.

In terms of the screen, I didn’t think that the Reader screen was any better or worse than any of the others that I’d seen.  Admittedly I didn’t have a Kindle or Nook to hand to compare but all seemed normal and perfectly acceptable.

Beneath the screen, there’s a small legend and a row of five buttons along the bottom for page back, forwards, home, zoom and options.  Buttons were ok but there could have been a bit more feedback from them.

Connectivity is limited to a micro-USB connection and the Reader appears as a removable drive.  Consequently, all books have to be downloaded to a PC or laptop and then dropped into the folder.  This is sometimes termed  “sideloading” and while it’s not as convenient as wi-fi connectivity, it’s pretty idiot-proof and you’ve a backup copy of your books on your own computer. 

In use, the Pocket Reader is straightforward.  Pressing the home button takes you to a screen which shows your current reading material.  Having a touch screen means that most navigation can be done with by tapping on the screen, either with your finger or the included stylus, which slides into a silo on the righthand side.  The device never responds quite as fast, as say, a PDA or mobile phone, but I think it’s just the nature of ebooks readers at the moment.

Tapping on the option to see all the loaded books gives a list sorted by author, title and filename.  Selecting the book will open up the title and let you start reading.  The zoom button allows adjustment of the font size to five different sizes (XS through XL).  I found that the “S” setting was about the best.  To move through the book, you can either use the backwards and forwards buttons or else slide your finger on the screen to the turn the page.

One cool feature was that double-tapping on a word brings up a dictionary and show the possible meanings of the word.  Great for when you come across a word that you aren’t familiar with.

In terms of formats, the Reader can handle epub, pdf and rtf natively.  I found that epub and rtf formats worked best and that pdfs suffered when being resized to fit on the smaller screen.  Even with epub files, there were huge variations in the quality of the books.  Of course, this isn’t the fault of the Reader but rather a reflection on the ebook industry.  EPUB-based ebooks are widely available from the likes of WHSmith and Waterstones but as Amazon uses a proprietary format, you can’t get ebooks from there.

I had the Reader for just over a week and during that time I read a couple of novels and I never had to charge the battery after the initial charge.  It charges through the USB connector so there’s no power brick included.  I’d be confident that I could take this on holiday for two weeks and not have to worry.

However, my biggest issue is….how do you hold the device?  Being used to years of paperback reading with one hand I’m having to re-learn how to hold a book.

Overall, I liked the Pocket Edition Reader.  The Reader is small but the screen is clear.  Battery life is excellent and there are plenty of ebooks available.

Sony currently have the Pocket Edition on sale in the UK for £159 with the Touch Edition at £199.

Thanks to Sony for providing the review unit.

[Apologies if some of the photos are a little out-of-focus.  My camera had a hard time focussing on the screen]