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Christmas Nookie…

December 28th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’m an avid reader. As you can probably tell if you (care to) watch the sidebar of this blog (whether I’m posting regularly or not), I read between two and four books a month. I attribute this to a couple things: 1) the commute to and from my domicile for work, and 2) the fact that I am hopelessly addicted to science fiction and history. For the last ten years, I’ve been buying book after book after book. Hardcovers and paperbacks began to pile up (deep!) on my office floor to the point where they were starting to get in the way and become  fire hazard. Being that I’m not a pack rat by nature, I decided a couple months ago to box them all up and take them over to the local “Friends of the Library” shop where they’ll be sold to benefit our local public libraries. There were 11 boxes and almost 240 books. The little old lady that runs the shop had no idea what to think when I showed up!

About a year ago, I began hearing about these so-called “e-readers.” These things are essentially the iPod of the book world – simple electronic devices that allow a person to carry many many book titles in the palm of their hand and effectively freeing up office shelf space for their sports-related bobble-head and vintage aircraft instrument collections. After gathering up all those books for donation (and after some hemming-and-hawing about the unsettling thoughts I had regarding tech replacing tome), I decided that one of those little devices might be just the ticket for a guy like me who’s short on space and long on reading time. I looked at what was immediately available last October and decided that it was best to wait for an e-reader that was to be released in mid-December called Nook. Everything I’d read said that the Nook would really give Amazon’s e-reader a run for its money, offering more titles, better connectivity, better handling of .pdf files, and a color touch-screen for menu navigation. When they became available for pre-order, I didn’t hesitate.

At this point I’d like to pause briefly to thank my wife for my Christmas gift! Thanks, hon! My Nook arrived on the 24th, and of course she wrapped it right up and put it under the tree. She made me wait until the next morning to play with it, even though I’d given her Christmas gift to her two weeks before. She can be a right pain in the – Anyhow, now that I’ve had a couple days to play around with it a bit, I figured I’d review it and give you all the pros and cons I’ve found.

Pros:

First, it really is a sleek-looking and compact device. It’s about 7″ long by 5″ wide and is only 1/2″ thick. The last book I read was about the same length and width, but exceeded the Nook’s thickness dimension by six-fold. It goes without saying that this little device will save me lots of space in my travel bag!

I found that (after a Christmas day of dealing with the Barnes & Noble e-book delivery system’s teething problems) the connectivity of this device is lightning-fast. I downloaded two very-lengthy e-books in two different ways. First, I bought Ayn Rand‘s The Fountainhead – a novel of massive physical proportions – and downloaded it via the device’s cell-phone connection. In less than a minute, I completed the order and had the entire novel safely stashed in my Nook’s memory. Then, with the Nook’s wireless LAN connection hooked into my home network, I downloaded Peter F. Hamilton‘s The Reality Dysfunction – another gargantuan novel, this one of the space opera variety. Again, lickity-split, I had the book downloaded to the device and my wallet lightened by a dollar amount significantly less than the physical copy would have cost me.

The E-Ink main display where books and other publications pages are viewed looks just like the printed page of your favorite novel. It is very easy to read and is flicker-free while displaying a page. I found that it handled pictures and diagrams just as well as text (though in black and white only, obviously), and it is of a nice-enough size. I have yet to try my luck at reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal on Nook’s display, but I imagine it’ll do just fine.

Navigation through the software menu and functions of the device (which are based on Google’s Android OS) I found to be very intuitive. Forward and backward “page turn” buttons are located on either side of the device under relatively stiff membrane buttons so that they are within easy reach without lending to accidental page-turns. The color touch screen is a nice feature, showing full-color images of book covers in your library as well as menu and sub-menu selections, which leaves the front of the device uncluttered by buttons.

Cons:

It looks and feels like a very delicate device. Two displays, hard plastic corners, and a fall from a tabletop probably won’t mix well. And does even a simple protective sleeve come with it? Not on your life! That’s $20 extra! And my case is on BACKORDER! Fortunately, Mom is a whiz with a sewing machine and agreed to stitch me up a protective drawstring sack made of random fabric remnants…probably with a Raggedy Andy or Holly Hobby motif. Of course, I’ll have to replace a couple light bulbs for her at her house. Fair trade, I think.

The main screen probably takes longer to refresh on a new page than it takes for me to turn a page in a physical book. It takes about a second-and-a-half to refresh its display with a new page of text. After hitting the “Next Page” button, there is a positive-negative flash on the screen that is a tad annoying, though it is probably inherent to all E-Ink displays.

Though a neat feature, the touchscreen itself leaves a lot to be desired for a fat-fingered fool like me. The accuracy of the touch-sensing I found to be a tad “off” sometimes, and selection of the menu item/letter/number you’re pressing is far from instantaneous. Because of that delay, entering information or using the built-in highlighting/note-taking or dictionary systems can be a tad frustrating.

There is no web-browser. For a device that has such good and varied connectivity, being limited to viewing Barnes & Noble’s e-book site is just a little bit frustrating. I can understand AT&T not wanting the GSM bandwidth it provides with the Nook to be wasted (especially when device owners aren’t paying monthly service fees for that method of connectivity), but there should be no reason to disallow web-browsing while connected via the Wi-Fi antenna.

Conclusion:

Being a big fan of physical books old and new, I wondered just how different an experience reading a novel on the Nook would be. In fact, several people (my wife, primarily) have stated that part of the lure of a real book over this device is the tactile feedback a book gives. Of course, the sense of accomplishment one feels as the right half of the book gets thinner in their right hand while reading through it’s pages is something that might be missed by someone who is a fan of traditional books. Picking up the Nook is just simply not the same as picking up a well-worn used book and smelling an untold number of owners’ perfumes or pipe tobaccos and wondering about the history of that volume. And being able to lend a book you’ve greatly enjoyed to a friend or coworker whom you know will enjoy it as much just isn’t doable (though there is a somewhat restrictive “sharing” feature built into the Nook).

Still, I like this device. Will it ever replace physical books in my collection? That is doubtful. It will, however, serve the primary purpose for which I intended it – keeping me from going crazy with stacks and stacks of books everywhere, and saving me weight and space in my travel bags.

*****

If any of you seven readers are interested in how my weight-loss and physical fitness program is going, the answer is: It’s still going. I’ve been on the program now for about four-and-a-half months and I’ve lost over 50 pounds (down to 282.5 from 334) simply by eating less and working out more. I feel better physically and mentally than I’ve felt in a long, long time! My wife is being very supportive and encouraging, and she’s also doing very well on the same program. I’ve got quite a way to go, and I’ve been hitting plateaus pretty regularly, but I really do believe I’ll get to my goal weight on this program!

Sorry for the lack of updates, recently. Most of my writing tends to come from what I’m thinking about most at the time I sit down at the computer. Lately, I’ve been thinking and worrying a whole lot about the direction in which my wonderful United States seems to been heading, and that doesn’t really make for good reading on a blog that I prefer to remain mostly politics-free. So because I don’t feel a need to bludgeon you over the head with my ideology, I’ve been sort of mute here for a bit. Besides, I’m sure you can gather my political leanings by some subtle (and not so subtle) entries in my “Interesting Passages” posts, of which more are to come shortly.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!

Tags: Book Recommendation · Literature · Tech/Geek

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