At the outset let me say that I do most of my reading on a 3rd generation Kindle. I also have an iPad, but it is big and heavy and, while I will read on it occasionally, I find that it is just too heavy to use as a reader on a regular basis.

I am, however, no stranger to reading on an lcd screen. I started ebook reading on Palms, went to Windows Mobile PDAs, then to smartphones. All of them had lcd screens. On such a small screen I don’t find backlighting to be objectionable. Even on the iPad I find that if I turn the brightness down and change the screen to a black background with white text I can read just fine for long periods. Having seen the Nookcolor at their press event in New York I was quite impressed, and the lcd didn’t put me off. So I was quite excited to receive this loaner from B&N and give it a good workout.


B&N has done what the 1st generation Kindle did: prepare a really high-class package.


The bottom of the package splits open and the Nook slides out. On the right you see the box that hold the accessories.


Here are the contents of the package:


They consist of the unit, a quickstart guide, USB cable and charger. The prongs on the charger fold down to make for easier packing.


The quickstart guide says to charge the unit before using and that it takes 3 hours to bring it to a full charge. Unfortunately, the unit will not charge from a USB port and the included charger is the only way to do it. In a clever piece of design the charging indicator is part of the USB connection. Here you see it in its orange “charging” state. It turns green when fully charged.


After the unit charged I did the basic setup. This is well documented in the quickstart guide, and there is also a video on the machine which you can play. Very clever. I connected to my wireless network, which required a password, as you can see below, it completed the setup without ever having to connect to my computer. This is important because I, for one, consider the computer to be an unnecessary adjunct to the ereading process. A true ereader should be able to dispense with any complicating functions such as computer connections.

Here you see the wifi setup screen. The nook connected to my Apple network quickly and without any problems. Note that it has 802.11n, so it uses the fastest wifi protocol available and “n” is standard on all Apple wifi equipment. The keyboard was easy to use and quite responsive. I had no trouble entering a rather complicated password.

I will say, though, that I’m disappointed that there is no 3G. 3G has “saved” me a number of times when I have been unable to find a wifi connection on my Kindle.


Initial look and feel

The unit is fairly heavy, at least compared to my Kindle. I could easily hold the Kindle in one hand for an hour, but not the nook. On the other hand, it is much, much lighter than the iPad – no comparison at all, and the screen is much bigger than the Kindle. I would say that the weight gives it a nice heft, but it is not so heavy as to be uncomfortable in daily use – like the iPad is. It looks and feels like a quality piece of equipment. While Sony touts it’s “quality”, I would say that the nook feels just as high end as any Sony unit I’ve seen, including the latest Daily Edition.

The home screen

The little “n” button you see in the center is the “home” button. You start up by pressing it and then sliding the green “n”, on the screen, to the right.


You are then presented with the home screen.


The home screen consists of a number of elements. From top to bottom:

The recent reads bar which keeps track of the things that you’ve read most recently by means of a dropdown when pressed. It’s a quick way of getting back to something that’s still active. Here it is below.


Then you see the home page. There can be three of these which are accessed by scrolling left and right. The idea is to take the stuff you use most, or are currently reading, and drag them from the slider at the bottom. They can be arranged on the screen any way you want.

Here you see the home screen with a couple of kid’s books I’ve dragged up from the slider and placed there for easy reference.


Next you see the slider which shows all of your content and you can scroll left and right to see what’s there and drag it to the home screen or open it directly from the slider.

At the very bottom you see a “n” at the far left which shows you any notifications sent to the unit – such as a software update. Next is an open book icon which takes you back to the book you are currently reading. Then an icon for returning to the Pandora music player if it is running in the background and on the right is a quick status display. Tapping this opens a quick settings menu of your most used settings (wifi on or off; mute; orientation lock; brightness adjustment).

In the center is an arrow which when tapped opens up a menu bar of the functions you will be using in the future. You can go to your library, shop for books, search, use extras (games, contacts, crosswords, gallery, Lendme, music, Pandora and sudoku), go to the web browser and enter the settings menu.


The Library

The library is where all your content is stored; as opposed to the home page which is meant for quick access to stuff.


As you can see at the top of the page the library is divided into books, magazines, newspapers, my shelves, my files and LendMe. The most important category to me is “my shelves”. When you click on the button the prompt says: “Create your own personal shelves for easy access to your favorite reads.” This is where the nook is far superior to the Kindle. Even though the Kindle now allows for “collections”, really file folders, the whole file management system of the Kindle is a bit of a kludge and it is still not easy to navigate your purchases, even with the latest Kindle 3 software. While the nook and the Kindle are different enough so that it is hard to compare them in many ways (lcd vs. e-ink is a matter of taste and usage pattern, for example) the file management system of the nook is far superior. If you have, or are contemplating, a complicated collection of books and magazines then you might do very well to consider the nook over the Kindle.

Most of the library is self-explanatory, but the “my files” section is where music wallpapers, pictures, as well as books are stored. It is really a file manager view, again something the Kindle lacks.


Once you’ve created an account shopping is fast and easy. Certainly as easy as on the Kindle, and maybe a bit easier because you are dealing with a touch screen and a very fast display.


Here’s the page for a book I bought last week for my Kindle: The Life and Times of Chaucer by John Gardner. Luckily the B&N account on the loaner nook allows me to download books, so I put this on the machine. It was as fast and easy as doing it on the Kindle. No computer required and it will be no problem for someone who is not computer literate. Just like the Kindle, simple and easy. The book immediately shows up in the library and in the scrolling display at the bottom of the home page.

I’m going to leave the actual reading experience to the end of the review. The reason I downloaded this book was that since I’m reading it on the Kindle I can continue reading it on the nook and have a direct comparison of the two machines.

Android and the web

The nook, of course, uses Android. A couple of weeks ago I abandoned, in frustration, my iPhone 4 and moved over to an Android-powered Samsung Galaxy S Captivate. I’m new to Android, but it is interesting to see that some of the GUI elements are the same between the phone and the nook. Starting up, for example, is the same in both cases: press a button and then swipe the screen.

There’s extra games and stuff, which I don’t intend to comment upon, and a music player, but the most important element is the web browser. On the Kindle the browser is still pretty primitive and not much fun to use. One will avoid it if possible. On the nook the browser is really first rate. It is very fast, as fast as on my Captivate phone, and does an excellent job of rendering complicated pages. To wit:



I’ve noticed that the browser on my Captivate is as good as the one in my iPhone 4 and, in my limited use of the nook, I can say that the nook’s browser is as good as the one in my iPad. The nook can be used as a real internet appliance, which is not the case with the Kindle.


Kid’s books

I can only say that this will make you smile. The big, bright, contrasty screen is just right for kids. Kid’s books are read in landscape mode and include an option to have the book read out loud.


In addition, you can call up a slider which will let you scroll through the pages.


This is a winner.


There is no comparison between reading newspapers on the nook and the Kindle. If you want to read newspapers on your ereader than the nook is the one to get.


Here you see an article from the Wall Street Journal. If you touch the bottom of the page the menu bar appears. Hitting the “content” button on the far left brings up a fully scrollable contents screen.


Also note the “next article” and “previous article” links at the top of the page.


Again, the nook has the Kindle beat by a mile. The magazines section is too complicated to go into in this review, but suffice it to say that it looks as if the software is a sophisticated PDF viewer. The pages of the magazines included were easy to read. Pinch and zoom is fully supported. Very similar to reading magazines on my iPad.



Books (finally!)


Here’s the screen. The display is crisp and clear and the face of the nook is covered with an anti-reflective coating. If you tap on the center of the screen the menu you see at the bottom appears.  You change pages by tapping the side of the screen, not by using buttons as on some other readers.  I thought I would find this annoying, but I found that I actually prefer it to using the buttons on my Kindle.  You can also change pages by swiping – which I find a real pain and would never do.

Touching the “text” screen brings up this dialog box:


As you can see there are six type sizes. The typefaces are generous, also: Century Schoolbook, Dutch, Georgia, Ascender Sans, Trebuchet MS, and Gill Sans.

At the bottom you can see the three choices of line spacing and the three choices of borders. All currently marked choices are in blue. In a clever move, there is a slider at the bottom right to restore the publisher defaults.

There is a nice choice of background colors as well. Normal is white, then you have “night”, which is black with white letters, grey, butter, mocha, and sepia. I found the mocha gives me an extremely comfortable background, and with the brightness turned down I could easily read my Chaucer book for hours, even with the backlit screen. Good job!

Touching the “content” button on the left brings up the table of contents.


And here is a closeup of the smallest typeface. As you can see it is crisp and clear.


You can already see, above, reflections starting to show up in my bright office. When I took the nook outside on a bright, sunny morning it was clear that this is not the unit I will bring to the beach.


Overall, I found reading on the nook to be an enjoyable experience and did not find the lcd to be a drawback, except, as expected, outside.

Barnes & Noble brick & mortar store

As the nook is supposed to have special features for use in a B&N store, including an hour of free reading, I took the unit to my local B&N. When I fired up the browser the following appeared without my doing anything:


When I hit “more in store” I got:


As I was in the store I thought I’d take a picture of the nook display to show you some of the many accessories they have available. However I was informed that no pictures were allowed without “special dispensation from head office” which I wasn’t about to wait around for.


The NookColor is a new category of ereader that is well designed, well executed and well thought out. I noticed no bugs in this 1.0 unit and would be happy to give or receive one as a gift. For certain uses – kid’s books, newspapers, magazines – it is current the market leader in ereaders (as opposed to general purpose units like the iPad).  As to books, I think it’s a matter of taste between the lcd and e-ink screen – and a matter of your view of the quality of the B&N ebook store. I’m sure you won’t be unhappy with the unit, itself, however. At the press gathering for the initial release of the unit B&N said, specifically, that they did not want to turn the unit into a tablet, as they wanted to concentrate on making an excellent ereader. I think this is the right choice.

To be honest, I’m sorry to send the unit back and I strongly suspect I’ll end up buying one sometime in the future.


  1. Still a lot of review to go, but I’m going to jump in with a major correction.

    The Nook Color will charge from a USB port. Feel free to use a generic charger, a port on your PC, or the included charger; they will all work.

    The device will charge significantly faster using the B&N Nook Color charger, though.

  2. Top issues for me are things like customer service and book availability, and it’s these things that are keeping me with my Kindle. I’ve heard horror stories about trying to return a book accidentally purchased to B&N – it’s never been a problem with Amazon. I also buy very few books from Amazon, preferring publishers like Baen. My Kindle makes no differentiation between books bought at Amazon and those purchased elsewhere and side-loaded. My understanding is that only B&N books are shown up in the book shelf, all other books being lumped in “my files.” While the Nook Color may be snazzy in so many other ways, it’s long-term usage issues like this that keep me away from it.

  3. becca,

    The support at B&N is good, but it is not as good as Amazon. The primary difference between them is that B&N is entirely about phone support, while Amazon offers electronic support (I’m not sure about a phone number). I have not tried to return a book.

    For non-B&N books, the Nook Color shows them in the Library section as well as the recent reads. The only place personal content can’t currently be placed is the home screen.

  4. Excellent review. I will send it to a librarian friend who is trying to make a decision about which ereader to get. She has already ruled out Kindle because it does not work with the library epub format. It is nice to see B&N getting it right.

  5. I am thinking of using a tablet like this for short form reading and for displaying PDFs of recipes and such. Also been waiting for the Archos 101 to be more readily available…thinking maybe the larger screen will be better for PDFs. But this nookColor is very attractive. Thanks for the info.

  6. Paul,
    Thank you for a more thorough review of how recieving, setting up, and using the Nook Color than any other I have read. (And there are quite a number of reviews now.)
    I am thinking about purchasing one for myself for Valentines day. Hopefully their apps store and their first software update will have started by then.

  7. Logan and Paul,
    The Barnes and Noble engineers posting on the BN forum recommend against doing it and they give a lot of details about when it does or doesn’t really work, not to mention that when charging the keyboard is even more ultra-sensitive and you can get sudden page changes that you don’t want or lots of double letters if typing (which are subjects of other threads in the forum, which I am reading because I have one).

    The administrator gives a very succinct summing up of that but doesn’t at all hint at all else that is said about it by the engineers in that thread, a good read if you have time.

    “When the screen is active, it draws more power than the USB is able to provide. Plugging into USB will cause the battery to drain less slowly.

    If the screen is inactive (and it’s not playing music or Pandora), then the device will charge *slowly*.

    My take is they said that in the manual to avoid trouble-shooting calls about it not charging (in the way they would expect) or actually displays less battery left than when they plugged it in).

    – Andrys

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