Monday, June 14, 2010

Why I returned the Nook.

So recently I decided to give an eReader a try. My motivation is that I do a lot of reading online and was hoping for a device that would make it easier for me to read in a variety of places, particularly while travelling on the bus and also while relaxing on the couch.

What I wanted to read.

Before I get into some of the reasons I ultimately decided to return the nook, it is important to know a little of what I was hoping to read on it.
  • Books on programming and computers
    Recently I subscribed to Safari Books Online. There's a great collection of eBooks from the biggest publishers in computer science.

  • Out of copyrighted materials from Google Books and
    I'm a fan of a lot of writing that is actually out of copyright and also curious about some others. Lately I've downloaded a variety of authors, including Dunsany, Hearn, and Chambers. Some I don't mind reading as an ePub, but some, like the Wizard of Oz series, I'd like to read as a pdf. Some of the books I've downloaded recently:

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has some beautiful illustrations and I'd like to have them inline with the book and would be willing to have to zoom in and out or fiddle with movement to do so.

The Two Major Issues: No Zoom in Reader, Bad Panning in Browser

The Nook has two key issues as of software version 1.3 that made it difficult to use for the technical reading I wanted to do as well as the graphic-intensive books. The first is there is no zoom in the reader mode. When reading a pdf the images are scaled down to the 6 inch screen of the Nook and occasionally the entire page is scaled when there is combined artwork and text. I could read the text but only if I held it close in bright light. I was hoping to expand it to see detail of the artwork, but in the book mode but could not figure out a way to zoom. You can adjust the size of the font, but at least with the books I tried it with it had little effect on the images. It would be nice to even center on one image and zoom in and out.

The browser however does have a zoom. Now, I'm technically savvy enough that this should be a solution, although an annoying one, to the issue with images. However, the browser has an equally problematic flaw with the panning feature. Panning, at least in Nook-speak, is the movement of the "screen" over the webpage by using the hardware buttons on the left and right of the Nook. They work like pressing Page Up and Page Down buttons on a keyboard while in a browser.

Or at least that is how panning is supposed to work. However, on most pages I tried panning would jump around the page in large chunks. So if there were three paragraphs on the screen and you pressed the button, it likely would move the screen down to the fifth paragraph, bypassing paragraph four.

Now, using the touch screen on the bottom does let you "scroll" by flicking it like it was a touchpad. However, this still made the page jump around irregularly and cases a mental break as I figured out where my scrolling had landed me. It is just too slow and tedious compared to rate I read. When trying to experiment with this I also found I had to dim the light of the bottom touch-screen considerably as it was becoming too distracting.

So I was really hoping Safari Books Online Mobile version would work well as it's designed to work with minimalistic browsers. However the above interfered with me reading the site too much. Now, Safari Books Online does let you download five chapters a month for free as pdfs or epub, but I'm nervous that I would quickly consume that. Additional chapters can be purchased I believe for $2 a chapters. Extremely spendy to me compared to the other plans.

One final note is that Manga artwork appears stunning on the e-Ink screen. Indeed, I wish the panning or the zoom worked better as the Nook would be a great device for reading manga. In fact, after looking at what manga I could on the browser I'd say there's a market for a dedicated manga reader. Maybe not as much as a few years ago, but I could still see offering a subscription model to digitized manga with a cheaper reader and have people pay per manga title they want to subscribe too. With a larger screen that was magazine sized and specialized software for panel movements and zooming it could work out really well.

Some more minor quibbles and observations

Price of books

I'm not much of a fiction reader any more these days although I used to be when I was younger. I'm also much less of a book collector. At some point the desire for less clutter and less back strain has slowed down my book purchases. On one hand, the Nook seems to be a wonderful way to reduce the clutter. I can just carry one book-sized object and have access to a lot of books. Even better, with the free AT&T service, a new book is always just a download away.

However, price ends up still being a concern. Even with the cheaper prices of ebooks, the fiction works still seem spendy to me. It made me think about my younger days when I did read more fiction. On one hand the Nook would have been great for that bookish youngster. On the other hand, I read in such great quantities I wouldn't be able to afford to have kept up with the prices in the eBooks. While I bought books new on occasion, far more frequently I haunted the half-price store, garage sales, and other sources of cheap books. That bargin-hunting part of me still exists. At this point I'd love a subscription model for books like netflix, but I've yet to really see many try this yet. How about B & N charges me $30 a month and I read as much as I can? Paying less for a subscription model for me would get around the disadvantage of not getting the cheap second-hand prices.

The one thing that comes close to the subscription model is the MyMediaMall offered here by the Lincoln Trails System. I think it's a third-party vendor for Overdrive designed for libraries. It in theory should have worked with my nook, but the selection at Lincoln Trails was small and the MyMediaMall website is really poorly set up. I have never wanted facets or filters so badly as when I was hunting for any books I'd like to read.

I tried downloading three books: a book on the history of cooking in America, one on UML practices, and a book on investing. The later was when I was getting desperate for examples. After having to use the "revert to factory settings" on my Nook to get it to work with the Adobe Digital Editions software, I tried loading the three books. The first book would crash my Nook whenever I tried to access the Table of Contents or go past page 17. The second book had diagrams that were unzoomable and unreadable. I gave up a few pages in. The third book came in fine.

I think I'd check out what the local library offered as far as eBooks. If there's a lot you will want to read, that's a great bonus for the Nook. Be aware though that there might be some that will not actually work.


I also ended up using calibre when I was downloading some of the Google Books and books. The navigation on the Nook itself just doesn't show enough metadata to be useful. This isn't entirely the fault of B&N or the Nook, I work with book metadata and I realize how painful it can be. However, when I download multiple volumes of "The Writings of Lafcadio Hearn." When you're trying to navigate through a list of 16 volumes that all appear exactly the same in the summary and detailed view of the Nook it's not easy. At least with some hand editing and using calibre it was manageable.

Lack of Apps

One final note, I would have loved to have a feed reader on the device. There's an excellent feature called the daily which just seems to be screaming out for the ability for me to add my own RSS feeds. However, I couldn't figure out how to do it, being stuck with the B & N feeds that come with it. This seems so odd as one of the most exciting parts of the Nook to me was that it was an Android-based reader with a wi-fi card. How about opening up that App Store/Android system to let me download a feed reader and then many other lightweight apps that involve a lot of reading such as twitter/facebook/ apps?

The Nook does look quite hackable though and a group of folks calling themselves the NookDevs have managed to get access to the underlying Android system and install their own apps on it. Of course, this always risks a future update from B & N wrecking everything

Why I'm not keeping the Nook

I came very close to keeping the Nook. I really, really like the e-Ink display. The size of the unit also feels right. The hardware is cool and the temptation to just play around with it is strong. However, in the end it is just too much money for what it does and there's just too much frustration with some of the readings I do on a regular basis.

Expect to payabout $310 once you get a case to go with it. Right now B & N is offering quite the good deal with a $50 dollar gift certificate when you buy the Nook. However, I'm overdue for a new phone and laptop and well and putting that money into those will likely get me something that will serve for my online reading as well for another year or two while I can watch the development of tablets and also dedicated eReaders. I may explore the Sony Touch Reader and some other e-Ink displays,

I am still highly tempted by an e-Ink display and will be keeping my eye out on software updates to the Nook and also to the other eReaders out there.

Who I think would like the Nook

I think if you do a lot of fiction reading and like staying on top of fairly recent releases, you'll get good prices and a really good reading experience by using the Nook. Also if you're a traveller or on the road a lot, you can't beat the price, selection, and quality of reading on the Nook. I think out of all the eReaders out the Nook has the best potential and future. The speed of previous updates and the hardware is impressive. The Android-base also makes the potential for other useful functionality such as reading online news, lightweight email and frequent updates to the software.

Also if you're a hardware hacker, there's some really interesting components. I didn't actually take my case apart, but from reading some of the Nook Dev stuff it looks really cool.

One final word of warning if you, like me, decide to return your Nook

When I tried "Revert to Factory Settings." it apparently did not delete my cookies in my browser, although it did clear out the My Documents folder. If you find yourself returning or giving away your Nook, I'd go into the browser and the settings and delete everything there.