Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NookColor reviews - a look at several of them


Paul Biba of Teleread had the first blog and Twitter alerts I saw on the various reviews, and three of the big gadget blogs came out about the same time.  By the way, I've had email and comments that some Kindle owners don't like to see blog entries here about other e-readers as they come here for Kindle information, but the blog is about a Kindle world and in that world, there are competing devices and other aspects of all this, which have their effect, and many seem curious about the other readers even when delighted with what they/we have.  I'll report today on what's been said in early reviews, as it involves a large change in the dynamics of the e-reader arena.

  Bear in mind that the NookColor is an LCD-screen reader rather than an eye-calming but slow monochromatic e-Ink one, but even for those of us who have e-Ink readers which will remain our primary readers, many of us are interested in a secondary reader that is color-capable for shorter-term reading (magazines, travel books, photography) and for children's books, not to mention comics.  Also, some of us want a DRM'd ePub reader and the ability to use the library if we want though I can understand why Amazon might not want to latter feature.  I saw a posting from someone today who mentioned that in a year of using the Nook, she'd never had to buy an e-bok.  Not the best news for e-book-selling companies and understandably sensitive publishers :-)

  As I wrote in several postings to this Amazon forum thread last week, I've thought Barnes and Noble made a very smart move with an LCD reader, going for "the rest of the story/audience" (those who are not interested in an e-reader unless it's in color) and that I would be interested in getting the NookColor as a secondary reader for color-focused travel and photography books as well as for magazines if it's easy to use -- and it appears it has a very good start.

Those who ordered early will probably start getting them tomorrow but B&N has said the quantity is limited, and orders made today are due to ship Nov 26..

Since Paul's early alert (on Crunchgear, Engadget, and Gizmodo reviews), other sites have weighed in, including Wired, Laptop Magazine, Network World, with hands-on reviews.  Here are notes I took for interested Kindleworld readers.  They look like lengthy quotes but I left out usually 65 % of what was said, so please read the full reviews for a much better handle on it all if seriously considering a purchase.

Engadget's Joshua Topolsky
' As far as the web browser goes, the experience is pretty standard Android 2.1 fare, though as with the homescreen and general navigation on the Nook Color, the fun of using the device is hampered by touch response and refresh rates that seem way behind the curve. The team working on this software really needs to clear up some of these lag issues to make the Color a more viable choice for those considering this instead of a dedicated Android tablet. Of course, this price point helps to make a powerful argument.
Videos were another issue -- we couldn't get anything besides M4Vs to play, and even then we had trouble with some HD trailers. Obviously this isn't a crucial task for this device, but having a strong set of codecs and some decent video support would be really nice (and should cost next to nothing for this platform).
Dealing with galleries and PDFs, on the other hand, was a joy. We jumped into really large PDFs with no trouble whatsoever (though it is weird that you don't flip through them like books, rather swipe up and down). Galleries loaded up reasonably quickly and the included image viewer gives you a healthy amount of options (along with pinch zooming). The Nook Color also does Microsoft Office documents, and we were able to view DOCs and PPT files with a reasonable level of success. Just like most things on the device, it wasn't the fastest experience in the world, but it worked well.
We really liked reading with the Color, and even though the device doesn't sport animated page turns (a la the iPad), it does offer great options for notation and word or phrase discovery (you can do dictionary, Google, and Wikipedia searches right from a contextual menu).
We hate to beat a dead horse, but as with the rest of the interface, the magazine experience is hampered by the sluggishness of the UI.

Score: 7 out of 10
Beautiful industrial design
Clear, crisp display
Lots of quality content available

UI is buggy, sluggish
Android 2.1 is dated
No apps or app store yet '

CrunchGear's John Biggs
"...The newspapers are a real dud, at least right now. The New York Times appears just as it has on the Kindle and Nook for years now – a list of headlines and then a series of long articles. There is no interface for tapping articles in a newspaper layout right now although this is expected soon along with the article view in the magazines available in the Kindle store..."

Biggs says that it won't run Angry Birds, but Engadget tried a development model that did run it.
' Another problem is that there is no visible “back” button for returning to screens you’ve just visit[ed].  It is a one-way system and very rarely is there a visible way “back” to the main pages for each of the features.  If this sounds confusing it’s because it is.  The persistent menu always keeps you on an even keel, though.  However, you must forget everything you think you know about mobile OSes and allow for the Nook’s own special interface.
The trade-off, then is clear – absolutely clarity vs. eye-soothing e-ink.

While devices like the Galaxy Tab and the iPad do many things adequately, the NookColor does one thing very well.  Many may be put off by the idea of a single-purpose device like this and I don’t blame them.
  While the screen is surprisingly bright and clear, I took this outside hoping I’d be able to read the screen under an overcast sky.  Nope.  It was as washed out as the iPad in direct sun....
...the $249 you’d spend for a NookColor may be better spent on a more capable Android or iOS device. But if you’re looking for a color e-reader for reading a few black and white books as well as some color enhanced e-books and kid’s titles, this incarnation of the Nook is hard to beat. '

Gizmodo's Matt Buchanan
(who makes so many good, often unique, points I've probably included too much) :

  "This is a capable little thing, potentially the first of a new kind of cheap tweener tablet with functionality that's both broad but limited."
' It's dense. As in, deceptively heavy—15.8 ounces, despite being legitimately thin. ... I hope you don't mind glare when you're reading.

At 7 inches, this Technicolor Nook is ironically still best for reading straightforward ebooks. And it's about as good as reading can be on a backlit glass screen (more pixels and less glare would be more better, but it actually bests the Kindle 3's pixel density, 169ppi to 167).  Reading stuff other than ebooks is an interesting set of tradeoffs, largely because of the constraints of a 7-inch screen.

  Magazines are presented as full-page, unreadable facsimiles of the real thing, which you can zoom in and pan around. Or you can use Article View, which pops the text out from the page and reformats it in a narrow column—exactly like Safari Reader. It's more readable, but completely breaks any fidelity to the magazine experience.  Newspapers go through similar contortions to fit: B&N reformats them so that they're presented the same way as ebooks: page by page.
[ which seems to me a good choice on a small screen ].

The web browser works, but it generally tells sites it's a desktop browser instead of a mobile one, so you sometimes get weird formatting (like with Gmail) or a site that's too big for the Nook's tiny ereader britches (new Twitter wreaks havoc).  Mobile YouTube and Vimeo videos work, but they come in super low-res.  Still, it's important to note that it can do these things.

Reading text is totally comfortable on the 1024x600 IPS display, which is the ideal size for ebooks.  And how can you not love the price?  It overrules nearly every tradeoff and compromise.

Interaction is more chunky peanut butter than butter smooth.  Animations, touch response and transitions all feel slow, even when they're not exactly lagging, which happens a fair bit—whether you're opening books or pinch-zooming in magazines.  It's like they were animated without enough frames.

...  Online video experience is often crummed out with super low-res video. I couldn't get any of several correctly encoded videos that I loaded up through the SD card to run either (pictures and music worked fine).

[The Verdict]
...It's not quite a tablet, but it's more than a simple ebook reader.  It can do things that an e-ink reader simply can't -- even if it doesn't excel at them -- but it's nearly as cheap at $250.  At half the price of the Tab or iPad, if you're looking for a super portable tablet thing primarily for reading, it's hard not to give the Nook a serious look, even if you might wanna wait 'til the B&N app store opens and it gets its first major update early next year. '

WIRED/Gadget Lab's Tim Carmody

"I was expecting tradeoffs. I wasn’t expecting its advantages.
...text entry on the NOOKcolor may [be] the best experience I’ve had using a software keyboard on any device.  It’s light-years ahead of the Kindle’s shrunk-down hardware keyboard.

' ...full-color children’s books and magazine subscriptions.  The storefront and reading implementation are better here than anything offered by Apple or Amazon.
Magazines are nearly exact copies of printed issues, with full-color illustrations and advertisements.
Article Mode is also just flat text: if a magazine Q&A distinguishes between interviewer and interviewee by using different-colored text, all that formatting is stripped out in article mode.

In general, everything about transitioning between vertical and horizontal, landscape and portrait on NOOKcolor is probably more awkward than it needs to be...
...Magazines, children’s books and the web are all more exciting and more readable at ten inches.  So are textbooks, if [the 7"] Nook ever gets there... '
...First, there is something ingenious about the 7″ form factor. It fits naturally in a coat pocket or purse. It’s easy to hold, as I mentioned above. And it works really, really well for most books
... It doesn’t have the 3G connectivity or battery life of the Kindle, which makes it harder for road warriors. Even though it’s an Android tablet, it doesn’t have full access to the Android market.
... [The audience?] Millions and millions of people — who have a phone and a PC, who don’t scour the web for tech news, and for whom a device that costs $250 that does a little bit of everything pretty well and a subset of things extremely well is [an] extremely compelling proposition. '

Much more by Tim Carmody at the Wired/Gadget Lab

PC Magazine
Similar points to the ones made above and worth reading those; however, there are a couple of detailed caveats here that new owners should be aware of
' The Amazon Kindle will run for a week with its 3G radio on, and as long as a month without it disabled.  That is certainly not the case with the Nook Color.  The company says it will last up to 8 hours, and my testing confirmed that number.  After a day of heavy reading, about 3-4 hours, I went to bed to find the device dead in the morning.  The next day, I got the Nook Color to survive the night by turning off Wi-Fi.  If you read for more than a few hours a day, you should plan on charging daily.  This is much better than the color-screened Sharper Image Literati's ($159, 2.5 stars) measly 4-hours of battery life.

Make sure you bring your charger wherever you go.  Although the Nook Color looks like it has a standard micro USB port, it will only charge with the Nook AC adapter.  I tried both 5V and 10V adapters, with no luck.  Nor can you charge the device by connecting it to a PC...'
  Here are more photos.

Laptop Magazine
One of the two most thorough reviews, with a full section on functioning of study-features such as annotations, search, dictionary, etc.  There are 8 separate detailed sections in the report, so do read the full report.  Their summary:
' you get a first-class color screen, a robust content ecosystem, and reader-friendly features, but not as much freedom as a full-fledged tablet.  On the flip side, the Nook Color costs $100 more than the Wi-Fi only Nook and $110 more than the Kindle Wi-Fi, both of which are easier to hold and view during longer reading sessions.

Overall, the Nook Color is an excellent choice for consumers who want color, web browsing, and a focus on reading. '

Network World's Melissa J. Perenson
"...a superbly integrated, largely satisfying, and (for now) unique e-reading experience."
' The NookColor's display and its intuitive interface form an extraordinary one-two punch. The display employs an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, just as the iPad does, to provide a wider viewing angle and better color reproduction than standard TN LCDs.  And like the iPad, it supports 16 million colors.  The NookColor's 1024-by-600-pixel display carries a pixel density of 169 pixels per inch
Under conditions where the Galaxy Tab or iPhone 4 were essentially unreadable mirrors, the NookColor could, at least, be seen.  I wouldn't have read the final volume of Harry Potter on it, but I could see well enough to navigate around, and to read for short stints.

And in most circumstances, I found the screen dramatically easier to read than other touchscreen devices I had on hand.  Again, it's not as good as E-Ink, and Barnes & Noble has by no means eliminated the concept of glare on an LCD; but the screen goes far toward mitigating the effects of glare, and this is a critical accomplishment for a device designed for reading.
Barnes & Noble says it plans an update to NookColor to an Android version that supports Adobe Flash via the Web browser "sometime next year."  For now, YouTube videos will play via the browser, but they look choppy and full of artifacts.

By launching with 100-plus strong collections for its periodicals and children's books, NookColor makes a strong case for the color e-reader, and it does so in a far more compelling way than any other device has so far.  Still, for all of its screen enhancements, I wouldn't suggest an LCD e-reader like NookColor if you will primarily use it outside in direct sunlight.  But for anyone else, NookColor is a worthy contender-especially for those who want to consume books, periodicals, kids' fare, and PDFs...'

CNet's K.T. Bradford
...what you have is an eReader that excels at its primary purpose while offering enough extras to justify the price."
'  "While this [heavier weight] definitely made the Nook Color feel very solid, it became an issue during long reading sessions.  We found ourselves switching hands more often than we normally do to alleviate wrist fatigue and much preferred to prop the eReader on our body or against a nearby surface whenever possible.  Thanks to the rounded edges and soft-touch back, it's at least comfortable to hold.

Traditional LCDs aren't as reading-friendly as ePaper displays, and if you're looking to get away from bright screens beaming light into your eyes when you settle in for your reading session, the Nook Color isn't going to be your thing. However, for those who've found reading on a smart phone satisfactory or have eyed the iPad or Galaxy Tab, Barnes & Noble's offering is compelling.
Orientation switched automatically, though landscape view wasn't available on all screens or applications. We couldn't flip books, for instance.
The times we noted the touch sensitivity falling off were after we'd left several smudges on the glass. Users may want to keep a cleaning cloth handy or buy a screen protector.
The individual keys are nice and large, so we were able to type accurately while holding the Nook Color with two hands.  Like the rest of the eReader, we didn't notice much lag.
Plus, users can adjust the margins and space between the lines to fit whatever they find most comfortable.  There's also a screen brightness slide accessible within books or periodicals, which helped minimize eye strain.
...in a darker room, the light annoyed us, and even the Night theme didn't make reading easier.
Though notes sync to most of the apps in the Nook ecosystem, there's currently no way to export them.
 There's not even a text file with all notes and highlights, as with the Kindle, that users can extract.  We hope B&N adds this functionality in a future update, as it would be extremely useful for students.
You get a first-class color screen, a robust content ecosystem, and reader-friendly features, but not as much freedom as a full-fledged tablet. On the flip side, the Nook Color costs $100 more than the Wi-Fi only Nook and $110 more than the Kindle Wi-Fi, both of which are easier to hold and view during longer reading sessions.
Conclusion: "As long as you don't expect full tablet functionality, and you keep your Barnes & Noble-approved AC adapter handy, the Nook Color makes a perfectly amiable reading companion if you want to see your books in full color. '

ZDNet's Michael Miller
This reviewer is a nice guy who is "a huge fan" of the first Nook, stating it was the Kindle Killer before trying one and then later showed us his video of the first Nook taking 25 seconds to open a book and thought that was fine.
 If you'd like to read all pro's and no cons, you should catch this one, and there are a few more hands-on pictures of the NookColor also.

That should do it for the roundup of first-day reviews, a much happier set than the one for the first Nook.  One of these reviews credited the designer and I'd say he did a very good job.

 But now some will wait for the 'real world' reports by those who spend a lot of time with it.  I think it sounds very good though, and is priced particularly well if it functions smoothly long-term, and again I MAY get one as a secondary reader, though I'm also tempted to wait for a regular Android 7" tablet because ALL the online stores will have their buying apps on those and then we can buy from Amazon, B&N, and Sony rather than have another device that uses a somewhat proprietary digital-rights method (so that Sony cannot read Nook books although it works in the opposite direction), and certainly B&N wouldn't be using a Kindle app just as the Kindle wouldn't be used for selling B&N's books.
  An independent Android tablet would run all Android apps rather than just the ones allowed by an online-bookseller.

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  1. "As I wrote in several postings to this Amazon forum thread last week, I've thought Barnes and Noble made a very smart move with an LCD reader, going for "the rest of the story/audience" (those who are not interested in an e-reader unless it's in color) and that I would be interested in getting the NookColor as a secondary reader for color-focused travel and photography books as well as for magazines if it's easy to use -- and it appears it has a very good start. "

    Problem with that is that most companies won't be able (financially, logistically, technically) to run 2 disparate devices side by side.
    Kindle and Kindle DX are almost identical except for screen size, so the added cost is marginal.
    Add a device as different from those as the Nook colour is from the original to the line and cost explodes.
    So it's not unreasonable to suspect that the eInk Nook has seen its replacement enter the market and is available still only because sales have been slower than anticipated (thus, BN has stock they need to get rid off before they stop selling it).

    For Amazon, that would mean an LCD Kindle and KDX instead of the current K3 and KDX, not side by side with them.
    And that's something the vast majority of Kindle users would not want to see, because most of us would have had iPads or netbooks already if we wanted an LCD reader (and I think a lot of us have those indeed, bought Kindles because LCD screens just don't work for eReaders).

  2. Anonymous,
    They're not that disparate though. The data sets would be exactly the same. How the devices handle that data will be somewhat different, one having the ability to do more and do it more quickly.

    B&N mgmt is coming out with a large software update for the Nook 1, for one thing, any day. I wouldn't be surprised if the updated software shared some methdology with the current device. I really personally dislike 'controlling' the e-Ink portion with that LCD panel at the bottom, as it's like working with a remote control, one with too many menu steps.

    Certainly, the Nook 1 will still do a lot less because an e-ink screen can handle only some of the processes.

    At any rate, that large software update promised for delivery soon is no sign that the Nook E-Ink is being 'replaced' but added to...

    The Nook's sales have been, from what I see on general forums where regulars discuss e-readers, quite good. Because of the library access, more and more people have been choosing the Nook.

    We can't take our own views/perspectives and project from those to everyone else and feel that is fact. Even between what you and I may feel, there is already a vast difference as I would be perfectly happy with a good LCD screen for short-form reading as with my reference books (travel, photography, photoshop, history with illustrations). Currently, I use my laptop for some of that (Kindle for PC), when I need to view the color.

    The e-ink would remain necessary for long-form reading. I don't see how either one of us can speak for the "vast majority of Kindle users" ... even though I do keep up to date with what active forumners are saying. Whatever that might be (it's varied), they/we will still be a small percentage of Kindle owners, most of whom apparently don't go near Kindle forums because their main interest is reading books and not so much sharing talk about the Kindle itself.

    I don't have an iPad because it's too expensive for what it is. I have a 10" netbook that does far more than an iPad does and I use it daily. However, a 7" more-portable color device that's well made, I would use for books that have color photos and illustrations.

    The more choices we all have, the better...

    A business should, I'd think, take advantage of a target audience whose needs aren't met yet, if it's doable. It'll be interesting to watch how all this goes...

  3. Thanks for posting the review excerpts. It was great to be able to see the pros/cons in one place.

  4. Anonymous,
    Thanks for taking the time to let me know that was useful :-)

  5. Hi - LOVE the fact that you review non-Kindle devices...always interesting. Really appreciate your generosity in sharing all your information. Thanks.

  6. Kate, thanks very much! I hesitate to write about other devices here because those who take the Kindle Edition subscription signed up for the Kindle but this is pretty much a sea change and it will be interesting to see what Amazon might have up its sleeve (if anything) in the coming days. On the forums I find that many have gone for supplemental or secondary readers and it makes sense since no one device does everything we'd like.

  7. I still think that for color reading-like Mags, newspapers and comics, that a 10 inch screen is MUCH better than the 7 inch model. (and I know you love your DX for precisely that reason). So, for that reason, I don't think the nookcolor is so great. Make it larger at say $350, and you have something.
    Rick Askenase

  8. Hi, Rick -
    Not everyone is like you or me though in this regard. Many do prefer carrying 7" devices. Downside is that there is no Landscape mode for books, but the PDFs are getting good reviews for how they're handled on this.

    They've priced this well and many just want color. It'll be interesting to see how it goes.


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