Nook Update: It’s Great! Not.

cartoon-bucket-on-head-sitting-on-the-fence-undecided-576x272This cartoon from Edward Lear’s Laughable Lyrics perfectly illustrates my feelings about the recent Nook Color (NC) software update: A man, sitting on a fence, with a bucket over his head.

When it comes to technology, sometimes I feel exactly like that: Blind, frustrated, and living out a giant crapshoot.  Case in point: The Barnes and Noble Nook Color, version 1.2.  Between Monday when I got the email notification to Friday, when I handed in this blog, my emotions sort of went like this:

  • Monday: Excitement
  • Tuesday: Ecstasy
  • Wednesday: Disenchantment
  • Thursday: Resentment
  • Friday: Resignation

Why am I making such a big deal out of a software update?  I’m a book reviewer, not a Gizmodo wannabe, honestly.  But here’s the thing: The update turns the NC into a full-fledged tablet, and includes, among other things, the following:

  • Android 2.2, which provides a much better browsing experience.
  • An app store including Angry Birds, Epicurious, and an email extension on the home screen.
  • Adobe Flash.  Take that, Mr. Jobs.
  • You can add side-loaded files, not just NOOKBooks, to the home screen.  About time.
  • More enhanced books capabilities, with video and whatnot, particularly geared in children’s books.

But all this nifty stuff comes at a price.  The highlighting is a beauty – but you can’t do anything with it.  Copy and paste?  In your dreams.  You still can’t bookmark in PDFs.  And why the bleeding hell is page orientation such a problem?  Let’s say I want to read while the NC is charging – well, I can’t, because the bloody cord is in the way, and I can’t rotate the screen 180 degrees.  They found time for Angry Birds, but couldn’t be bothered with any of that?

I have to wonder if Barnes & Noble know where they’re going with this.  Even with this update they’re not going to grab the tablet consumers – the device is just too far behind.  And they might alienate readers who liked things just the way they were, thank you very much.

One thing I really admire about the Kindle is that it has gone through five iterations, including the DX, and has totally resisted going color or touchscreen (at least for the time being).  It’s like Amazon remembers that the primary purpose of the Kindle is to read books, and it develops – and sells – the product accordingly.  The NC hasn’t quite lost sight of that – the only buttons accessible from anywhere, any time, are still Settings, Home, and Currently Reading.  But it also has frills that prove a small but undeniable distraction to the reading.

And you know what?  All the extras in the world won’t be able to make up for a reading experience that has gone downhill.  This hasn’t happened quite yet with me – at least the reading isn’t worse, and there is a lot that is better – but I think if B&N continues to neglect the reading in favor of the extras, then they seriously need to sort out their priorities.

Do you think an eBook reader like the updated NC would be too much of a distraction?  Is Barnes & Noble trying to do too much by heading in the tablet direction?

- Jean AAR

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34 Responses to Nook Update: It’s Great! Not.

  1. I, too have a Nook Color and a Kindle. I love both, but I love my NC more now I’ve rooted it. I haven’t received the update yet, and I’m waiting for the autonooter. That’s what turns the NC into a fully fledged tablet.
    It does invalidate your guarantee, and you have to root it yourself, at your own risk, but there isn’t much chance of bricking it, or so the experts say. Barnes and Noble aren’t discouraging people from rooting it, either.

    If you root it, you can put the Kindle reader on it. And another reader of your choice, which will have the things you want. Apart from the pdf stuff. I convert my pdf’s for both readers. I use Aldiko and FBReader.

    The Kindle? It just does what it does, and it does it really well. Easy to use, easy to hold, and great to read on. I use my NC to read at night, but my reader of choice is still my Kindle.

  2. I’ve been enjoying the update so far. One thing I love is that it’s now easier to browse the web, so when I’m in the bricks & mortar bookstore, I can read reviews on AAR or Amazon before deciding to buy. As usual, AAR saved me some money last week.

    However, I found myself playing Angry Birds or browsing more than I was reading. Ahem. Recently, I updated my wishlist and bought some new Sourcebooks and Carina Press books, so I’ll have to rectify that.

  3. Tinabelle says:

    I am a Kindle owner whose biggest fear is that my beloved ereader will be morphed into a complicated tablet device sometime in the near future. I don’t own a Nook so cannot speak to it specifically but I would not like all of those bells and whistles that have been added. I am a retired Baby Boomer who really has no use for a lot of this instant access to everything technology and mentality. I love my Kindle because it is uncomplicated and easy to use as an ereader which is what I want out of it. I think I am in the minority, but there you have it!

  4. Carrie says:

    When i read an ebook I want an ereader not a tablet. I have plenty of technology at my fingertips when I want to browse the web, but when I read, i just want to read. I don’t like backlighting, so kindle is the first choice for me. I do have a kobo reader, but don’t use it much. My kids are reading the free books that come on it, and I’ll probably download more books for them on that reader. A sneaky way to keep them from wanting my kindle. ;-) Of course, I’m prejudice. I won’t buy anything from Apple except an iPod (since they pretty much cornered the market there) when I need to replace one. When I decide that browsing the web “off site” is needed, I’ll get an Android and forgo tablets completely. Tablets seem like the worst of both worlds to me, too small for a decent laptop computer and too big for an ereader.

  5. DJ says:

    I bought the Nook e-reader, not the Nook Color, because I just wanted a device that I could read books on that was E-Ink, and that would also let me check out e-books from libraries.

    I also want a tablet, but for that I’m saving up for an iPad.

    The Nook Color didn’t appeal to me in either as a reader or tablet, because it seemed to me that it does a half-baked job for both functions.

    Of course, I preferred the Kindle, but it didn’t permit library book usage…and now, of course, the announcement has been made that it will in the near future. Oh well… that’s the problem with using a device to read electronic books, rather than just sticking with paper books.

    There will always be glitches with e-readers, and virtually never with real books. Still, for travel and storage of lots of books, I need that e-reader. I’m out of space and then some on my book shelves at home.

  6. RobinB says:

    Tinabelle, I feel exactly the same way as you do! I have a first generation Nook, and when Nook Color was introduced, I briefly considered upgrading. I decided not to, because I just use the Nook to read; I don’t play games on it, and I have a perfectly nice iPod if I want to listen to music!

    However, just as there will come a day when I will finally break down and buy a smart cellphone, (yes, I still have a “dumb” cellphone!!) I’m sure that at some point, because of the changing technology, my current Nook will go the way of the eight-track tape player!!

  7. Victoria S says:

    Tinabelle, I too love my Kindle, and want it to stay just a Kindle! I want to read books, and play an occasional game of Everyword. I don’t want back lighting, touch screen or any other “improvement” that will hinder my reading. I just wanna read. I have read my Kindle everywhere from beaches to movie theaters, and it does perfectly. Amazon got it right!

    Robin, I too do not have a “smart” phone, just a regular old cell phone. All I want that to do is ring. Not web surf, not play games not any other thing but ring. I hope I don’t sound too old and crotchety :-), but I’m really tired of “improvements” that don’t improve anything but frustration.

  8. Sunita says:

    The cord on the Nook is in the same place as it is on every other ereader (and the iPhone for that matter). And you can rotate to landscape mode when reading. Doesn’t that solve the cord-in-the-way problem? Granted, you can’t rotate it 180 degrees, but you can get the cord to the side if it’s such a nuisance on the bottom.

    I agree the lack of bookmarking in pdfs is a pain (for me one of the great features of the Color Nook is the 7″ screen, which makes pdfs readable), but if I’m doing something that requires cut & paste I’m probably already on a laptop, so I wouldn’t notice.

    I rooted our Color Nook, but it belongs to my husband. He uses Aldiko and Kindle reading software on it, and he surfs the web & reads email. He’s gone for a week and didn’t take it so I’ve been using it. I really like it for reading in low light. It would never replace my Kindle but for $250 it’s a great little tablet.

    I’ve been thinking about flashing it back to factory default so I can try out the new B&N software. Anne, thanks for the info!

  9. Clothdragon says:

    I have a rooted Nook Color — rooted to give it the functionality of a tablet, before the update came out to do that and I love it. I will love it more when I implement the one more hack my friend has managed — changing the keyboard to use grafiti — so I can get a stylus and scribble on it like a real (paper) notebook.

    The games I put on it have mostly been for the children. If I remember to keep the thing in my purse it is a book for me when I’m out of the house — if I ever get there without kids, or a very versatile distraction device for the kids. –Well, they play games, but there are educational games, angry bird games, and technically I could have the thing read to them but they aren’t patient enough to wait for the speaking to start so the feature that convinced me to go color when Little Boy and I were sitting in the store deciding is the least used feature of all.

    Anyway, I love mine and I’m thrilled it does more than just read.

  10. Claire says:

    I have a NC but I didn’t get an email about an update. Is it free and how do I get it? Also, what does rooting it mean? I think I want to update it just to see if I’ll use it more for web browsing. It’s too slow for enjoying it and my computer is just as close. One of my favorite things on the Nook is sudoku. :)

  11. Hannah says:

    I often use the web browser on my Kindle 3 which is enough of a distraction from the device’s primary function–reading books. Therefore I have mixed feelings about a hybrid color/touchscreen reader like the Nook Color. However I use my ipod touch so much for reading, web browsing, and playing games that I’d like to have a device like the Ipad or the rumored Amazon tablet. The screen is just too small on the Ipod touch to use comfortably for more than an hour or so at a time.

  12. Fay says:

    PLEASE DO NOT EVER CHANGE KINDLE TO TOUCHSCREEN!!! I really do not like to read past oily fingerprints.
    Thank you!

  13. Jean Wan says:

    @Carrie – The size is part of the reason I got the NOOKColor, because it was the size of an eReader, and not your usual 10″ tablet. I think a 7″ fills a niche, but it’s a luxury niche, i.e. something great to have, but not necessary.

    @Sunita – I find that I can rotate PDFs but not EPUBs, which consists of the majority of my books. Can you rotate EPUBs? With the cut & paste, I agree that it’s more of a nuisance than a pain, but my point is that the NC’s efforts in the tablet direction are a bit half-assed, so you could do some things with relative ease, and all of a sudden you’d hit a brick wall because the device isn’t capable yet.

    I know that’s the key word – “yet” – because I’m sure more updates will follow. My only hope is that the reading-centric updates will follow as frequently, and with as much depth, as the tablet-oriented ones.

    @Claire – The update is free and should be automatic, but I also got an email about it. If you didn’t you can go to the link below to download it manually, which is what I did and it works fine.

    “Rooting” basically means erasing the elementary operating system on the device and wiping it clean, allowing you to use it as a blank tablet. (Tabula rasa, as it were.) Then you would treat it like a normal Android tablet, and be able to download lots of apps and read lots of books (aka Kindle) that normally you wouldn’t be able to read on a Nook.

    I’ve resisted rooting mine. I just can’t bring myself to do it.

    That being said, the rooted Nooks probably don’t have the incredibly – make that, super, mega, ultra incredibly – annoying habit of books covers not showing.

  14. Jean Wan says:

    @Fay – Actually, I can’t see my fingerprints on the white background. And my hands are grubby. Grubby as.

  15. Jean Wan says:

    Okay, I just found this. Looks like the Kindle won’t be getting a touchscreen in the near future.

  16. RobinB says:

    Slightly off-topic: last week, I bought a new cover for my Nook. The New York Times online store was having a sale on e-reader covers, and I chose one that featured a Times photograph which I’ve always loved. It’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty, taken at night, and in the background, you can see the lights of the Twin Towers of the WTC.

    The cover was delivered last Friday, and of course, we all know what happened on Sunday. I absolutely believe in karma now!!

  17. Kathleen says:

    I have a Sony 650 touchscreen. There is no internet, no video, no games and I love it. I have lots of technology if I want it but when I want to read – leave me alone and let me read. I like the touchscreen since I can hold the device and turn pages just as I do with a real book. It’s comfortable and so far I have not run into greasy finger syndrome. Come to think about it I haven’t run into that problem on my iPhone either.

    All my reading is done in black and white so I didn’t see the advantage of color. So far – this Sony is the best thing I have run into.

  18. renee says:

    Good discussion. I have both a Nook Color and a Sony reader. One of my frustrations is that they both are EPUB but I can not read my sony books on my nook or vice versa. When my family bought the nook for me (XMAS gift) they were told that my sony books could be transported to the Nook. However, I was later told this was not possible. Does the rooting feature you mentioned allow for this transfer or is another method available? Also, what are the drawbacks of rooting?

  19. Barbara says:

    I really like the update to the NC. I did have the original nook and liked it a lot, but the NC was exactly want I wanted. I don’t have an IPad, yet, and the NC meets most of the needs that I would expect from a tablet. I do read a lot, about 3 books a week, and the NC just seems to allow me to go right from reading, to adding a review, or if I’m in a store, checking reviews. I am not disappointed. Perhaps people were expecting more?

  20. Rooting doesn’t actually wipe your Nook. That happens if you decide to install a new operating system, and is a different process.
    The Nook is a “crippled” Android tablet, and if you root it, it will open it up for you and provide access to the main Android market, which means you can install lots of lovely apps.
    But you can restore your Nook to “Factory,” and have it back as you want it. Once they release an “autonooter” for the NC, you’ll probably have to restore it to Factory settings, install the 1.2 update, and root it from there.
    I don’t see why Sony books can’t be put on the NC, unless they are protected by DRM, of course. Removing DRM for personal use is supposed to be okay, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing it, so you’ll have to do your own research and make your own decisions about that.
    If they are straight, open epubs, then you should be able to sideload them (ie, drag and drop, or use Calibre).
    I don’t buy my books from Barnes and Noble, because I live in the UK, and geographical restrictions are a b*tch. I buy them and put them on my computer, in my Calibre library, and then transfer them to my Kindle or my NC. I tend to use the Kindle to read on, and the NC for night reading and as a tablet. I do have a Kobo, but rarely use it. It’s a perfectly fine device, and if I weren’t happy with the Kindle, I’d use the Kobo.

  21. Jean Wan says:

    @Kathleen: i borrow many graphic books from the library, so that’s where the colour will come in handy, once they add them to the electronic catalogue. Also, i didnt want to rule out the possibility of reading magazines on my nook.

    @Barbara: I guess where I’m disappointed is that where the NC used to be an ereader with benefits, now its more like a tablet with reading. For instance,im currently typing on my nook and my message is full of errors because the software isnt sophisticated enoigh to predict and correct. I know nothing about computer software development, but i would have traded in the app store for the chance to write “i’m” properly without jumping through hoops.

    @Lynne: Thanks for the correction. I was under the impression that rooting did a full systems wipe. I also use calibre, but i’m finding the cover transfers from kobo to nook a royal pain.

  22. Sunita says:

    @JeanAAR: You’re so right. No landscape in ePub. Apparently it has to do with ePub software. That is definitely a shortcoming, regardless of who is responsible.

    There’s no reason to be apprehensive about rooting it if you don’t mind working through the steps. It’s not complicated and you can return to factory default state quite easily. As Lynne says, it doesn’t wipe the system, it just provides an alternative.

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