Monday, January 2, 2012

Barnes and Noble Nook review - tablets still seem to be in beta

Wow, it has been a while since I've commented on this blog. As you may or may not know I had a stint up at Microsoft for several months and then landed a full-time position as the senior user experience researcher at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield here in lovely Portland Oregon.

After adapting to full-time work again, I intend to add some blog entries since I've had some interesting experiences with technology recently.

Most recently, I got a Barnes & Noble Nook tablet as a Hanukkah gift. Actually, I was sent some money that I put towards the new tablet. I spent a lot of time looking, mostly at the Kindle fire and the Nook trying to decide which one to purchase. (Also note, if you are looking at these devices, there is a Nook color and the Nook tablet. Be sure you get the one you're looking for.)

My first decision was, what do I want to do and how much do I want to spend? I already have two laptops plus a work laptop, so productivity is low on the importance scale.

My ideal device looks like this:
  • really portable: six or 7 inches like the e-readers
  • under $300 (trying to be realistic)
  • easy to read and download books and magazines including library loans
  • easy to check e-mail and use the Internet (Wi-Fi only is just fine)
  • great access to apps-ideally working with my iPhone, but that means paying Apple premiums
  • access to TV/movies
I am generally underwhelmed by the tablet market and particularly this crossover reader/tablet. They seem to do a little bit of everything but not a lot of anything. I have to say I really like the reading experience on the Nook. The UI is really nice for looking up words or highlighting-this is where I found the Kindle failed miserably putting me in unending loops. I also really liked the contrast on the screen over the Kindle.

However, downloading library books was a crazy experience, more unending loops and syncing with absolutely no feedback, although I guess that's more about the library website and less about the Nook itself. I also realize that at this premium price of $250 I will have to take out a lot of library books to make it worthwhile. I am still trying to figure out if a paper magazines that I subscribe to will allow me to download digital versions for free. I certainly hope so…

I compromised on apps and other functionality to retain a small footprint, a lightweight device and something in a "reasonable" price range.

I downloaded A copy of Real Simple magazine which looks beautiful. The only thing I realized is that I very often tear pages out of magazines with recipes or book recommendations or other interesting tidbits, and with the e-reader I can no longer do that and I'm not sure I can even print from it. I also have not figured out if there's any way to read the books that I have downloaded on my Nook on my iPhone. I don't imagine always having the device with me and would love to read when I have the chance. Although, the reason I got the tablet is that reading on the iPhone is a pretty painful experience. And I love to read.

The touchscreen is somewhat touch and go. Some pages are optimized which is nice, but the targets are still really small, somehow even worse than the iPhone, and it seems to take one or two touches to actually get it to register. or, it may just be that the Wi-Fi is relatively slow and it's loading but I don't realize it. I spend a lot of time watching the green bar go across the top as it downloads pages.

What I miss most is the ability to have many different apps. The store is extremely limited, which I only learned after my purchase. I have started bookmarking sites, but once you've gone apps you don't want to go back.

The final thing that comes to mind is the e-mail program. The iPhone very kindly lets you read e-mail and then mark it as "unread" so that when you view it on another device you realize you still need to answer that e-mail. Unfortunately, the Nook does not have that option. It's an option I make frequent use of, and definitely miss.

And, if you are purchasing this or any other tablet, I highly recommend a case that you can use either in vertical or horizontal position. I love that I can prop up a book and read it sitting all by itself on the table (especially given ongoing back problems). But you will also want to be able to watch a movie or video propped horizontally. The only case I have found for this device is the Tasume Case. I returned the one I purchased my purchased the device and will be ordering this one.

So, there are a lot of things I would like it to do, and many things I'm not sure that it can. my plan is to use it and adapt to it as best as I can. Heck, if in six months I don't like it, there's always eBay.