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Jesse Vincent

Buy for Free?

4 min read

I got to play with a nook today.

At lunch, I called the local B&N-operated college book store and asked if they had a nook. They confirmed that they had one and that I could take a bit of time to play with it.

Showing up, I saw a nook on its stand and second nook just headed off into the back room with a manager.  The display nook was just powering up. 

Boot time felt a little longer than the Kindle, but I didn't have mine around for comparison.

First up. The UI.  Aside from paging, all your interaction takes place on the touch display...and it's a little weird. In about 20 minutes of playing around, I didn't feel like I "got" the user interaction paradigm. Sometimes scrolling lists were in the UI. Sometimes they were on the eInk display.  I found myself really missing the Kindle's joystick.

Wifi bookstore browsing was a little spotty. I didn't get a good feel for how the experience is "supposed" to feel.

I decided to try to "share" one of the books that the demo nook had "bought" with myself. Adding contacts is really easy. You just type in a username and an email address on the touchscreen.  I didn't make a single typo. The keyboard isn't quite the standard Android keyboard - there's actually _less_ visual feedback. But it worked pretty well.

When I couldn't find any way to "loan" me one of the demo unit's books, I asked the B&N staffer. He told me that for now, "only a very limited number of books are actually available to loan."  We tried to find one we could loan me. We couldn't.

It was at about this time that I casually asked if it might be possible to "try one of the ebooks from my laptop."  I was dispatched to the Information Desk to ask permission.  The local staff weren't aware of a policy, but decided that it was too risky for now and told me to check back in a day or two after they talk to corporate.

So, dear readers, no "adb logtrace" output for you...yet. 

While I was there, a couple 20-something guys came in and chatted up the B&N staffer for a bit. One of them said to the other - "Man, when my girlfriend gets hers, I' am so hacking it." They went on to mention that it looked like it would be a lot easier to hack than the Kindle.  I kept my mouth shut.

Next, the PDF reader.  It came as a surprise to the B&N staffer that there were already a couple PDFs on the Nook.  The good news: Reflow is there. Font size and typeface are user-selectable.  The bad news - Zoom and Pan-n-Scan were nowhere to be found.

Random tidbits:  the back is removable. The B&N staffer claimed that nooks will come with several covers in different hues.  I wasn't allowed to see the user-changeable battery.  Every nook has an email address @nook.com - Presumably that works the same way as Amazon's "mail your docs here" service. 

The B&N staffer kept trying to push me to coverflow mode and away from "list the titles and authors of your books on the big, easily readable screen" mode.  I'm not really a fan of the coverflow UI for "pick between my 10 books."

The book-buying experience was pretty seamless, though it felt like there was less discoverability in the bookstore compared to Amazon's on-device store.  Maybe I was just doing it wrong.  I did find and download several free books that came from Google Books.  They warned that they were uncorrected scans, but the quality was pretty reasonable.  They contained a mix of text and images and were quite readable.  The weirdest bit was trying to download a free book from the Google Books corpus: I had to click a big "Buy for free?" button and then confirm that I really wanted the book.