Tag Archives | E-Readers

Your First Look at Nook: The Technologizer Review

In retrospect, it was probably inevitable. Bookselling behemoth Barnes & Noble has spent much of the past decade and a half duking it out with online archrival Amazon.com. So when Amazon unveiled its Kindle e-reader two years ago, it pretty much demanded some sort of response from the 136-year-old merchant.

That response is the Barnes & Noble Nook, and its arrival this week signals the start of a digital transition for the bookselling wars.  The Nook has much in common with the Kindle, from its playful name to the paper-esque E-Ink display to built-in 3G wireless that lets you start reading a book seconds after you’ve decided to buy it. Even the prices–$259 for the device itself, and $9.99 for most bestsellers–are identical.

(Like Amazon and Apple, B&N likes to refer to its creation without a modifying article, and also dispenses with capitals–“nook lets you loan eBooks” rather than “The Nook lets you loan eBooks.” I’ve honored the lack of a “the” in the title of this article, but will blithely ignore it from here on out.)

For all their similarities, the Nook packs more pizzazz than Amazon’s e-reader, in the form of the color touchscreen it uses for much of its navigation. It aims to be more open, letting you read tomes you buy on PCs, Macs, iPhones, and BlackBerries–and even on e-readers from companies other than Barnes & Noble. And it brings back a virtue of dead-tree books that people have taken for granted for centuries: the ability to loan them to pals.

For this review, I got to spend some quality time with a Nook, running the software version which will be installed on the first Nooks to reach customers. As I was finishing up my review, B&N was racing to ready itself for the Nook’s debut this week–a few features weren’t yet up and running, or had rough edges that may be eliminated by the time the first consumers turn on their Nooks for the first time.

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Skiff: Still Another Approach to E-Reading

The long-rumored entry of publishing behemoth Hearst into the e-reader game is now official. And it’s not an e-reader, it’s an e-reader platform–offered by a new standalone company being launched by Hearst. Skiff says it’ll distribute magazines, newspapers, and books in attractively-formatted versions to a variety of e-readers, smartphones, and other devices. It won’t sell a device, but it’s partnering with chip company Marvell and wireless provider Sprint to help other companies make Skiff-enabled gadgets for sale starting next year.

The most interesting part of this news is not that there will be even more readers to choose from in 2010, but that Skiff is paying attention to the presentation of periodicals. Today’s readers, such as the Kindle, work okay for publications that are mostly hundreds of pages of plain text. But the magazines and newspapers I’ve seen in reader form have been really disappointing, since they’ve lost all the artful melding of type, imagery (preferably color imagery), and other elements that continue to make dead trees one of the best technologies ever invented for conveying information. Nor do you get the interactivity and community that the Web versions of the same publications provide (for free, yet).

The magazines I’ve subscribed to on the Kindle feel like a mashup of aspects of the Web and print–but it’s the worst aspects. The best ones are all left out. I wrote about this in a recent guest post for Folio, and while the Skiff site mostly offers tantalizing vision rather than specifics, I’m encouraged to see that the company’s tackling the problem, at least. Even though I think time is running out for companies to launch new devices and services dedicated to e-reading, unless they’re compatible with absolutely everything else that’s out there.


Thinking About a Nook? The Wait is Getting Longer

Barnes & Noble Nook[NOTE: As a commenter noted, I mangled this news: The December 18th ship date is just for new orders. Corrected…]

Want Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader? You’ll need to wait a bit longer than originally expected. B&N had been saying that the gadget would ship in late November, but now is reporting that the new orders for Nooks won’t be fulfilled until December 18th–a few weeks after the first orders will go out.

On paper, the Nook still looks like a formidable competitor to Amazon’s Kindle, with a color touchscreen interface, both broadband and Wi-Fi, a book-loaning feature, compatibility with the ePub e-book standard, and additional clients that Kindle doesn’t yet have (Mac and BlackBerry). I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one. Anyone out there hankering for an e-reader but holding off until the Nook shows up?


Kindle for PC: A Rough Draft at Best

Kindle PC[UPDATE: I tried again, and Kindle for PC is now downloading all my books swiftly and reliably. Not sure why it wasn’t before…]

I’ve been playing with Amazon.com’s new Kindle for PC application over the past 24 hours, and while the idea of having access to my Kindle books on my PC remains mighty appealing, the software as it stands in beta form is a bare-bones disappointment.

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Kindle for PC Now Available

Kindle PC

[UPDATE: I tried again, and Kindle for PC is now downloading all my books swiftly and reliably. Not sure why it wasn’t before…]

Last month, one of the few new pieces of news at the Windows 7 rollout was the fact that Amazon was releasing a piece of Windows software for reading Kindle e-books. The software is now available for download–and the site says that a Mac version is coming soon.

I’d like to tell you what I think of Kindle for PC, but I can’t just yet–any time the software tries to download a book (including one I just plunked down $9.99 for), it gives me a cryptic error and tells me to try again later. Which I’ll do. But I like the concept, at least–I don’t see myself curling up with a laptop to read a novel, but I own several hundred dollars’ worth of books in Kindle form, and getting access to them on another device is a boon.

(Although I just realized: What I’d really like is a Kindle for the Web that would let me read everything I’d paid for on any Web-connected device, no downloads required. Wonder if Amazon’s contemplated such an app?)

Over at Wired’s Gadget Lab, Charlie Sorrel is intrigued by the fact that Amazon’s artwork for the Kindle for PC download page shows a book with color art, and he wonders whether the company’s hinting that a color Kindle is in the works.  Actually, a color Kindle has been available since March–it’s known as the Apple iPhone, and it became a Kindle when Amazon released e-reader software for it. The iPhone app has always been able to display color images.

If Amazon keeps on selling Kindle hardware, it’ll presumably sell a color device someday, although someday may take a long time to arrive if the company is committed to the E-Ink technology. (I doubt that color E-Ink screens that are good enough to display satisfying pictures are going to arrive anytime soon.) But you gotta think Amazon wants to be prepared for the eventuality of color Kindle e-readers, and it’s already been saying that it wants to put Kindle books on a variety of devices. Color images in Kindle e-books are just concrete evidence that Amazon thinks of Kindle as being something greater than a single hardware platform that happens to be monochrome-only at the moment.

[CLARIFICATION/UPDATE: The Kindle for iPhone app displays some stuff that could be in color in color, but not everything. My copy of Nikon D90 for Dummies shows the cover and spot illustrations in color, but not photos…]


E-Ink Gets More Appealing

Marvell LogoI’ve been writing about e-readers from the moment that Amazon released its first Kindle. And when I do, I usually express my reservations about the E-Ink screens used by the Kindle and all of its direct competitors. Yes, they’re glare-free and run for days on a charge. But the technology’s monochrome-only, the displays are slow, and the cost has kept e-reader prices high enough that there are plenty of book lovers who haven’t splurged on one yet.

Chipmaker Marvell announced a new processor today, the Armada 166e, that’s designed to let designers of e-readers build better E-Ink-equipped devices. Marvell’s system-on-a-chip builds an E-Ink graphics controller right into the processor, allowing for e-readers that cost less to make but yet which can refresh their E-Ink displays more quickly. (Earlier e-readers have used separate graphics controllers to drive their E-Ink screens.)

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E-Reader vs. E-Reader: Spring Design Sues Barnes & Noble

Back on October 19th, a company called Spring Design introduced an e-reader called Alex. It had two significant features in common with Barnes &  Noble’s Nook, which was introduced a day later: Both sport a large monochrome e-ink screen and a smaller touch-sensitive color display below, and both run Google’s Android OS.

Spring Design is now saying that the similarity is too close for comfort, and that it’s suing Barnes & Noble:

Spring Design first developed and began filing patents on its Alex e-book, an innovative dual screen, Android-based e-book back in 2006. Since the beginning of 2009 Spring and Barnes & Noble worked within a non-disclosure agreement, including many meetings, emails and conference calls with executives ranging up to the president of Barnes and Noble.com, discussing confidential information regarding the features, functionality and capabilities of Alex. Throughout, Barnes & Noble’s marketing and technical executives extolled Alex’s “innovative” features, never mentioning their use of those features until the public disclosure of the Nook.

I’m not a lawyer, and have no insight into the backstory here–and while I’ve played a bit with an Alex, I’ve yet to see a Nook in the flesh. So I’m not taking sides. But the two e-readers do look similar (that’s the Alex on the left):

Spring Design Alex

One way or another, I hope this is resolved quickly: The Nook is due to ship late this month, and is, for the moment, the Amazon Kindle’s most promising competitor. Spring’s press release doesn’t say whether its goal is to prevent B&N from shipping the Nook at all


Plastic Logic E-Reader @ Barnes and Noble

Plastic LogicBack before Barnes & Noble announced its Nook e-reader, some folks wondered whether the rumored B&N e-book device would simply be the one from Plastic Logic. It wasn’t. But today, Barnes & Noble and Plastic Logic announced that B&N would be selling Plastic Logic’s QUE in stores and online.

I was startled by the news at first blush, but upon reflection, it makes sense. The QUE has a larger display than the Nook, giving B&N a counterpart to Amazon’s jumbo-screened Kindle DX to sell. It calls itself a PROreader and is aimed at business types. And while  we don’t know all of the QUE’s specs, it has enough in common with the Nook–AT&T 3G wireless, Wi-Fi, a touchscreen, and access to all the content in B&N’s online bookstore–that they’ll make sense as a set.

For all of the Kindle’s apparent success–I say “apparent” because Amazon doesn’t release specific sales figures–most of the book lovers in America still haven’t seen an e-reader in person, let alone bought one. (Borders sells Sony’s Reader, but it does so at a lonely little kiosk that I rarely see anyone paying attention to.) We still don’t know how long a future e-readers have, but if Barnes & Noble pours its heart into selling them, it’ll be as significant a moment in the gadget’s history as Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle a couple of years ago.


E-Readers or Swiss Army Knives?

T-PollQuick follow-up to our E-Reader Cheat Sheet: One of the most interesting questions about e-readers isn’t “Which one is best?” but “Is the whole category toast?” And one of the things that makes the question interesting is that there are savvy folks who think that e-readers will give way to general-purpose devices, and savvy folks who think we’ll continue to need book-centric gadgets.

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic:

Returning to today’s news: B&N and Amazon’s offer to access e-books on computers, iPhones, BlackBerry’s and future hybrid devices, means that anything with an internet connection is functionally an e-reader. We don’t need an e-reader to “e-read.” I think that means Amazon and Barnes & Noble are inherently handicapped in the e-reader arms race. They’re building e-readers that can go online. That’s nice, but the upcoming Apple Tablet is so much more: a ultra-portable netbook/entertainment center that can also read books. The Tablet isn’t merely designed for today’s e-reader technology. It’s designed with the expectation that consumers want their personal technologies integrated. It’s not just another awesome corkscrew. It’s a Swiss Army Knife.

James Fallows, also at the Atlantic, politely disagreeing:

I’m skeptical because of the dozen previous times through the computer era in which that prediction has not panned out. “Real” cameras are still much better than in-phone cameras; the right device to carry in your pocket, as a phone or PDA, will always be worse to read on than a device with a bigger screen, which in turn is too big to fit in your pocket; keyboards are simply better than little thumbpads for entering more than a few words, and any device with a real keyboard has to be a certain size. So, sure, some things will be combined, but the all in one era is not at hand, and won’t be.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball, linking to our Cheat Sheet:

So many options, but I just can’t see how this product category has long-term legs.

Jim Fallows is one of the smartest people ever to write about technology, but in this instance, I’m guessing the dedicated device will be subsumed by a general purpose one, and maybe sooner than most people would guess. True, there are lots of examples of devices that are just too different from each other to be effectively Swiss Army Knifed–for instance, smartphones won’t replace point-and-shoot cameras until some genius figures out a way to eliminate the need for zoom lenses and decent flashes. (Yes, I know that there are phones with zooms and flashes, but they remain odd, bulky exceptions.)

But Swiss Army Knifing a technology works quite well when the technologies and form factors in question are essentially similar. That’s why standalone PDAs have essentially been replaced by smartphones, for instance. The one thing standing in the way of tablets replacing e-book readers is the face that an e-ink screen can run for weeks on a battery charge, and the color LCD you’d want for a general-purpose device will peter out after a few hours. But that problem will get solved eventually–and I suspect that even today, more people would give up long battery life for beautiful color than most e-reader manufacturers suspect.

Your take?


The E-Reader Explosion: A Cheat Sheet

cheatsheetBy almost any imaginable definition, last week was the newsiest ever in the still-new world of e-book readers. We witnessed the unveiling of Barnes & Noble’s ambitious Nook. We got more details about Plastic Logic’s long-awaited device. We learned of an underdog known as the Spring Design Alex. We were informed that Amazon was killing the original Kindle 2 and lowering the price of the model with international roaming, and saw a demo of an upcoming Amazon Kindle reader application for Windows (a Mac version is also in the works). In short, the era in which it was logical to use “Kindle” as shorthand for “book-reading gizmo” is over.

It seems like a good time, then, to put some basic facts and figures about a bunch of major and/or new e-reader competitors in one place. After the jump, a quick Technologizer Cheat Sheet.

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