Barnes & Noble ‘All-New NOOK’ review

Barnes & Noble took the wraps off of its latest eReader, the “All-New NOOK,” just last month. Its grayscale screen strays from the NOOK Color, and while the device still runs Android, it looks and feels much more like a traditional eReader. However, the new NOOK has a brand new E Ink Pearl display that not only works as a touchscreen, but refreshes less often than other eReaders and transitions faster. I’ve been using the new NOOK for the past week extensively, staying up late at night reading and pulling the NOOK out on the subway for quick page turns between stops. At $139, the NOOK is competitively priced with the Wi-Fi Kindle, but is it good enough to be your next (or first) eReader? My full review is after the break.

Hardware

Remember going to the library and picking up a thinner book and thinking to yourself at least this won’t be a pain to lug around? That’s the exact feeling I had the first time I picked up the new NOOK, and it’s the same feeling I get every time I pick it up. The NOOK Simple Touch eReader is 6% thinner than the original and 35% lighter. It measures 6.5in x 5.0in x 0.47in, which is about the size of a small paperback. Of course, the best part is that the NOOK can pack up to 1,000 books and magazines, and there’s even a microSD card slot for adding more storage. At 7.48oz, the NOOK is light, too, so it’s never noticeable inside a bag. In fact, during one dinner I pulled the NOOK out of my pocket and a friend remarked “Whoa, you can fit that in your jeans?” Yep.

The entire body around the device’s 6-inch display, which has a 50% greater contrast than the first edition NOOK, is a soft touch rubbery material. The NOOK feels very sturdy and I doubt you’d have much of an issue with cracking if it fell off of a coffee table. There’s a microUSB charging port on the top of the eReader, and there’s also a hatch on the right side for adding a microSD card.

There are four physical buttons surrounding the display that can be used to quickly navigate forwards or backwards through a book. I was a little confused by which button performed each function at first: when you turn the page on a book it doesn’t always reflect the actual print book page, so it can sometimes be difficult to tell if you’ve stepped forwards or backwards in the story. These buttons worked well and I adjusted to them after about five minutes of reading. You can also customize which button does what.

User Interface

The All-New NOOK’s user interface is exactly what I want out of an eReader. The main home screen shows a thumbnail your of latest book, magazine, or newspaper and how far into it you are; you can tap it to quickly resume reading the book where you left off. However, there’s also a list of new available reads to the right of that icon, and below both there’s a large area with suggestions on what to read next. These suggestions — large icons of the book covers themselves — are pulled in from what your Facebook, Twitter or Google friends are reading. If you have your Facebook, Google, or Twitter account setup on the NOOK, you can also quickly share the title you’re reading with your friends.

There’s an on-screen keyboard that pops up from the bottom of the screen whenever necessary. The keys are on the smaller side given the device’s compact design, but the keypad is actually pretty easy to use. You’re not going to be sending long emails from the NOOK, and it’s definitely sufficient for quick searches as is intended. At any time you can press the home button below the screen to navigate to the settings, back to the home screen, or change between seven text sizes or six font styles.

The all new NOOK is equipped with support for Wi-Fi networks, which means you’ll only be able to download books when there’s a Wi-Fi connection available. The 3G Kindle, by contrast, allows you to download books from anywhere. This was never an issue for me, since I am usually only reading a few books at a time, but it could become an issue if you forgot to buy the newspaper before hopping on the train. Wi-Fi was a breeze to setup, thankfully, and books downloaded in just a few seconds.

Reading Experience

I absolutely loved using the NOOK Simple Touch Reader for… reading. I stayed up more than a few nights reading a Jay McInerney novel I’d been meaning to read, and appreciated being able to quickly read an article in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine on the subway.

The only reason I haven’t purchased an eReader for personal use yet is because I absolutely despise the refresh flicker that E Ink technology typically exhibits when you advance to the next page. The all new NOOK eliminates that almost entirely. Pages only refresh after the sixth page turn, so text appears to just quickly morph each time you want to advance further in a book. I’m in love with it.

The one issue with the refresh technology is that sometimes a page won’t fully refresh, and so there’s a little ghosting from the previous screen on the new one. This only happens when navigating around menus and the main home screen, however, so it didn’t interfere with my reading experience. It’s also easily resolved by moving to another menu option.

Unlike the Amazon Kindle, the new NOOK doesn’t offer a full-blown web browser. You can secretly access one by searching for a web address in the search box, but most sites don’t load properly. Perhaps this is a feature that Barnes & Noble will activate in a future update, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Battery

I’m not sure that a battery life section is necessary here, because the NOOK’s battery life is insane. Barnes & Noble says it will last for two months with the Wi-Fi off, but I haven’t had the unit long enough to confirm it. The point is: you don’t need to worry about charging the all new NOOK. It uses a microUSB charger, too, so you can simply carry your cell phone’s charger around (unless you use an iPhone… or a Veer, or something) and use that whenever needed.

Conclusion

The choice between going with a Barnes & Noble eReader and an Amazon reader is a tough one. Amazon offers the new “Kindle with Special Offers” for $114, which is surely an attractive offer to some (in fact, it’s currently the best selling Kindle). The NOOK and Kindle also have different book stores, of course, so if you’re upgrading from a Kindle you won’t be able to take your old books with you — at least, not without a few workarounds.

But for me, it comes down to the overall reading experience, and Barnes & Noble has pushed the current eReader technology boundaries with the new NOOK. Its Pearl E Ink touchscreen display meant I didn’t have the extra bulk of a physical keyboard, and also that the pages refreshed less often — an annoyance that has delayed my personal entry into the eReader market. Most of my previous eBook purchases have been through my Amazon Kindle account — I read books on my phone, computer, and tablets pretty regularly — but the All-New NOOK has convinced me it’s time to make the switch.

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