Windows/iPhone/iPad e-book app review: Nook Reader
March 13, 2011 | 7:09 pm
Since posting my review of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, I have been moved to go back and reread the entire thing, including the latest book that was released only recently. And a couple months ago I had purchased a $20 Groupon to Barnes & Noble, which was only good through April. So it seemed like a reasonable excuse to snag the e-books and do some reading—especially since the books were so reasonably priced.
Which, in turn, was a good excuse to get around to reviewing the new Nook e-reader for the iPad, iPhone, and Windows Desktop and see how much it has changed since breaking away from being a reskinned version of Fictionwise’s eReader. In the process I found some good things and a couple of less good things. In general, I’d say the Nook Reader is all right as a method of reading e-books—about as good or bad as any other commercial e-reader. There are a few areas where it could stand to improve, however.
The Windows desktop version of the Nook Reader seems a lot like it’s trying to be the Kindle reader. It uses a lot of the same features: two-column view (toggleable if you want in the settings), simple controls for adjusting font size and margin. (Though unlike with Amazon’s Windows app, the Nook reader actually allows you to choose the font size by point, rather than just giving you a slider.) The desktop version does not allow you to turn full justification off, though this isn’t as bad on a screen the size of a desktop display as it would be on the iPad or iPhone.
The iPad version also offers a two-column view in landscape mode, though unlike iBooks doesn’t bother trying to pretend you’re looking at a printed page. As with most iPad e-reading apps, there’s a toolbar that can be summoned or hidden with a tap on the screen.
You can choose to view the book in the “publisher settings”—presumably, the settings that are encoded into the original EPUB file—or make your own font, margin, line spacing, justification, and color choices. The number of configuration options are not as comprehensive as something like Stanza or Bookshelf offers, but tend to be a good bit more so than most other apps on the iPad, including the Kindle app.
Publisher settings usually tend to include full justification sans hyphenation. and it’s good that the Nook allows you to turn that off—since it’s not (legally) possible to use my preferred solution of reprocessing the EPUB files through Calibre to set them left-justified by default. The other settings give you a reasonable amount of control over how the text is presented on the screen.
The same can’t quite be said for the iPhone version of the app, though. Trying to read the book in that, I’m taken back to my recollection of using the Mobipocket client on my old Visor Deluxe, shaking my head, and going back to iSilo: there’s just not enough text on the page!
Now, to be fair, this can be adjusted somewhat using the settings, but there simply aren’t as many choices as in the iPad version. There’s either no margin at all—you can see how the text nearly touches the border on both of these iPod Touch screenshots—or a big one that looks like it’s in a picture frame. It can’t be adjusted between those extremes. The full justification of the publisher preference also looks a good bit worse here (and even more so with the picture-frame margin).
I think in part it may be due to B&N’s choice to use both paragraph indents and a blank line between paragraphs. More and more, especially with iBooks as my main iPad EPUB reader now, my preference is to use just indentation, not the blank lines. That’s why I use Calibre to remove the blank lines and add a paragraph indent to every non-DRM’d EPUB I buy. My printed books don’t have that wasted blank space between every paragraph, and I don’t want my e-books to either. (For some reason, Stanza on my iPod Touch disregards the indents and adds the blank lines back, but since it’s just doing one or the other, not both, I can live with it.)
Of course, I can’t (legally) do that with the DRM-locked EPUBs I buy from B&N, so I just have to put up with it.
And one more bit of readability weirdness: on the iPhone and iPad versions, the first paragraph or so of every chapter (or at least every chapter of these Young Wizards books) is always fully justified even if you set full justification off. I imagine it’s something to do with the chapter header.
Ease of Use
As with most e-book applications, it’s simple enough that using it isn’t too hard. The controls are easy enough to work, and as mentioned above the configuration options are pretty comprehensive but not so much so as to be confusing. As with the Kindle app, you simply tap to move forward and backward. (Or for the desktop app, you can page up and down, or use the mouse scroll wheel.
In the lower right corner of the screen is a corner with a + in it that can be tapped to “dog-ear” the page for later reference. Words can also be marked to highlight, add a note, or search them in a dictionary, Google, or Wikipedia. Notes, highlights, and bookmarks can be looked up in the table of contents found under the “go to” menu bar option.
The PC app has a slightly different version of this—a ribbon you can pull down in the upper left corner. (In this way, it shows its ancestry back to the eReader desktop app, which used the same method.) Words can be highlighted and noted in the same way, and bookmarks, highlights, and notes can be accessed from the hidable control panel at left.
Like the Kindle app, the Barnes & Noble e-reader is supposed to let you keep track of where you’ve read to in different devices. However, while I was testing it on different devices, I never could seem to make it work properly. I’m not sure if it was just the way I was using it, or what, but it just didn’t seem to work for me.
As far as the iPhone and iPad apps are concerned, the only way to add content is to buy it from the Barnes & Noble e-book store. It used to be that, as with Fictionwise’s eReader using ereader://, you could enter a URL starting with “bnereader://” in Mobile Safari to side-load content when the Nook reader was a reskinned eReader, but no longer; the last time I tried, a bnereader:// URL just launched the reader but didn’t actually load content into it.
(Weirdly, you can now side-load unDRM’d Mobipocket files into the Kindle reader (on iOS 4.* devices at least) via the “File Sharing” section of the Apps sync tab in iTunes. I wonder when that happened? But there is no sign of the same ability for unDRM’d EPUBs for the Nook reader yet!)
Once you’ve bought a Nook book on the B&N website, you can use the Nook reader to download it and read it. But forget about adding an unencrypted EPUB file from your own computer; as far as I know it can’t be done. (Though if there’s a way I’m missing, I’d love to hear about it.)
The desktop reader can load DRM-free EPUB or PDF files, under the “my stuff” section of “my library”, and read it the same as any other B&N e-book. But weirdly, once a file has been added to “my stuff”, there’s no way I can find to remove it. As far as I can tell, it’s there for good (unless someone else knows a way I’ve been missing).
While the B&N e-reader is all right for reading EPUB books, I don’t know that I’d use it for any that I didn’t have to (such as those ones you get from B&N with DRM on them). The matter of line spacing and justification, and the DRM that prohibits fixing them, make me inclined to say that If it were not currently illegal, I would be inclined to advise stripping the DRM from any B&N e-books you buy and reading them in your DRM-free EPUB reader of choice.
Of course, if Apple holds firm with its in-app purchase requirements, whether to use the Nook reader could soon become academic.