Oct 262010

The Nook Color: not really an e-reader, more like an iPad Lite.

Well, B&N’s big announcement today turned out to be as expected (since it was leaked a few days ago): the Nook Color, a tablet computer with a 7″ LCD touchscreen display. As I’ve said many times before (also here and here), backlit LCD screens just aren’t as good for reading as e-Ink screens: LCD screens cause more eyestrain (for most people), use much more battery power, wash out and are unreadable in sunlight, and even make it harder to fall asleep.

So why use them? Well, LCD screens (like your cell phone, computer monitor, or many TV sets) display color and video, two things the current crop of e-Ink screens can’t do yet. That’s great for surfing the Internet and watching videos, but for reading books, I’d rather stare at a screen that is easy on my eyes and mimics paper, instead of my TV set.

The Nook Color, which is $249 and will be available in B&N stores and online at B&N’s website starting November 19, promises more interactive e-books (such as cookbooks with color photos and videos), a whole new specialty section for children’s interactive e-books, a built-in web browser (using the Wi-Fi wireless connection), and various games and apps, including Sudoku, crossword puzzles, chess, and Pandora Internet radio to start. It will also focus more on color newspapers and magazines. It runs Android 2.1 (to be updated to 2.2), and can view Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) files. It can also view photos, and play audio and videos. It will supposedly support Flash-based web content in the 2.2 Android update.

But I think it’s more important to look at what the Nook Color, by virtue of choosing to go with an LCD screen, does not have:

  • It costs $249, compared to $149 for the comparable Nook Wi-Fi or $199 for the Nook with Wi-Fi and 3G.
  • It does not include 3G wireless connectivity (which connects to the cell phone network), and can only be connected at Wi-Fi hotspots, like you might find in some homes, offices, and coffee shops.
  • It weighs 15.8 ounces, or just about 1 pound. Compare that to the 12 oz weight of the original Nook, the 10 oz weight of the Kindle 2, the 8.5 oz weight of the Kindle 3, or the Sony Pocket at just 5.6 oz. At almost double the weight of its main competitor, the Kindle 3, it’s closer to the 24 oz weight of the iPad, which I find too heavy for comfortable reading for any length of time.
  • The battery life, already a weak point for the Nook as compared to the Kindle, only lasts 8 hours, even with the wireless off! (So, figure 4-6 hours using Wi-Fi to surf the Internet.) Compare that to the Kindle 3, which lasts for up to a month on a single charge. Do you see why we like e-Ink screens in our e-readers yet?

I’m a bit baffled, to be honest. Compared to the K3, I think it’s a disaster. For $139, you could get a Kindle 3 that’s much less expensive, easier on the eyes, can be read in sunlight, weighs half as much, and has a battery life measured in weeks instead of hours. For $189, you get all that and throw in free-for-life 3G wireless connectivity to browse and download books almost anywhere — still $60 less expensive than the Nook Color.

I think a better comparison is to the iPad. For half the price of the $499 iPad, you get a smaller (7″ screen vs. 9.7″), lighter (15.8 oz vs. 24 oz) tablet computer with less memory (8 GB vs. 16 GB, but the Nook Color does come with a Micro SD card slot, so this is about a wash). I haven’t seen the processor specs of the Nook Color yet, but I’d be surprised if it was as fast as the iPad. It runs the Android operating system instead of Apple’s iOS, and some people might prefer that, although Apple still has a strong lead in the number of apps available for its platform.

I’m still a little baffled by the direction B&N is going — I thought they “got it” and understood what we readers wanted: an inexpensive, light, easy-on-the-eyes non-backlit screen with a battery that lasts forever. Instead, they seem to be chasing the “hype” of color — something non-readers have been clamoring for, claiming the iPad will “kill” the Kindle for some time now — even going so far as to make “Color” a large part of the name. It seems to me like they’ve given up on competing with the K3, and have decided to branch in a different direction instead. Well, time will tell if it’s successful, and I hope they at least keep updating the original Nook line (which is now a generation behind the Kindle 3 and is in desperate need of a refresh), so those of us who have no interest in a Nook Color tablet computer can just ignore it. But I was looking for a Nook 2, a worthy competitor to the K3 that would push the e-reader market forward. Instead, we got the iPad Lite. Color this reader disappointed.

9 Responses to “Nook: Color Me Disappointed”

Comments (9)
  1. Jason V. says:

    You have totally hit the nail on the head with your characterization of the new Nook Color — a $250 iPad Lite, NOT an eReader. And the fact that it runs Android seals the deal as far as it being designed to be a multi-function (apps!) device.

    Let’s remember that B&N is a *bookstore*, yet now they will be selling a multi-purpose tablet-PC type device to compete with similar Apple products — and of course Apple actually is an electronics device manufacturer. My point is that in straying from is core competency — selling (e)books / a device to read ebooks on — B&N is extending itself into a product category that it can’t even hope to support in the long run.

    David, you are also right that this is a strong sign that B&N feels that it ultimately can’t beat Amazon at its own game (the Kindle), and is therefore appealing to the popular opinions of “non-readers” who want shiny color screens on every device they own. The last time I was in a B&N store (earlier this year) there was a giant Nook display booth immediately inside the front entrance, complete with salesman — err, product demo employee. I can envision B&N’s marketing strategy for the Nook Color — hit customers in the face with the shiny new color device as soon as they walk in the store. Marginal readers who could never convince themselves to purchase a dedicated ereader (and who can’t afford an iPad) will thus be lulled into thinking they are getting a device that is the “best of both worlds”.

    The ultimate looser? Reading. Serious text-based reading.

    • Always Write says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m still a little stunned and disappointed — I thought B&N understood readers better than this. Another LCD, Android-based tablet? Why? I look at all the cheap LCD “e-readers” at CVS and Walgreens and laugh, wondering who buys them. I’ve communicated with a lot of readers, and the vast majority would much rather read on e-Ink than LCD.

  2. Candibelle says:

    Thank you for the clarification. Your article put everything in perspective. And being a Kindle2 owner I was wondering who was the main audience they were targeting…. and apparently its not readers. I’ll stick to my K2, a device meant for reading. If I wanted color and web capability I’ll use my laptop. 🙂

    • Always Write says:

      It does seem B&N is targeting a different market (as the comment below talks about) — but I think it’s disingenuous of them to try to have it both ways by claiming it’s a “full color tablet” but also “designed for readers.”

  3. gous says:

    Afraid some of these reactions seem rather shortsighted to me. Less charitably they appear too biased towards e-ink and fiction readers. To sell kids books, comix and certain non fiction colour will be a must. There is no evidence that colour e-ink or Mirasol is ready for primetime. Nor is there any chance of B&N being first to market with such an untested and (by all indications) expensive tech, rather Amazon or Sony with way more resources. There is also the all important educational textbook market. Amazon has tried but e-ink has proved a dud here. B&N is heavily invested here via their College bookshops and dare not let this market get away.
    At present LCD is the only way to get at least a digital foothold in these markets. Expext an Amazon and perhaps even Sony tablet in the not too distant future. Really a no brainer for these two companies.

  4. gous says:

    I forgot to add the colour magazine market to that list. All this said there’s no doubt it’s a gamble for B&N, but if they don’t want to become Blockbuster 2, well…Just hope their software is up to scratch this time round.
    There is also this seriously delusional opinion at http://gigaom.com/apple/is-the-nookcolor-actually-the-ipads-greatest-threat/. Some of the comments are a hoot!

  5. Always Write says:

    Gous, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I actually think the Nook Color is “shortsighted,” as I think they’re chasing the whiz-bang-flashiness of the iPad and the recent tablet hype, instead of concentrating on the reading market. I think the fiction readers who form B&N’s core market will not enjoy the reading experience on the Nook Color. IMO, it’s just another Android tablet, and I’m not that interested in it.

    As for being “biased” toward e-Ink and fiction reading, I am, to some extent. I wouldn’t call it “biased,” but I DO far prefer e-Ink for reading. I’ve tried e-Ink (K2) and LCD (iPad) and I find reading on the e-Ink screen much more enjoyable and easy on the eyes. IMO, it’s a much better way to read — and most people I know feel the same way.

    You’re right that I’m coming at this mainly from the angle of fiction reading, which is my main interest as both a reader and an author. For those more interested in magazines, interactive children’s books, cookbooks and such, an LCD-based device is probably better for you (and I’ve said as much in other posts). I have little interest in those types of content; the only one I’d consider are magazines, but not so long as they’re charging more than print versions. Honestly, I don’t use my wife’s iPad for any of that, and not many people are, judging by digital magazine sales stats I’ve seen. That type of reading isn’t popular on laptop LCD screens, and I don’t think it will be much more popular on tablets either.

    You’re right that Mirasol / Pixel Qi / Color e-Ink aren’t ready for prime time yet. Hopefully, in a year or two they will be, and all these conversations will become somewhat moot.

    I guess two things really frustrate me about the Nook Color: one is that, as a fiction novel reader, I see it as a tremendous step back from the original Nook, when I was hoping for a leap forward and a worthy competitor to the K3; second is that I think it’s disingenuous of B&N to claim both that it’s a “full color tablet” (with all those benefits) but is ALSO “focused on reading” and designed for readers and g-g-g-great to read text on. The latter part is just not true — choosing LCD over e-Ink is a trade-off, and the reading experience suffers. I think they’re misinforming people, and the main purpose of this blog is my effort to educate consumers and clear up misconceptions.

  6. gous says:

    You make some good points and there is little doubt that for immersive fiction reading e-ink is the way to go. Nor is there evidence of B&N abandoning e-ink, at least according to http://technologizer.com/2010/10/26/nookcolor/
    The market though is far larger than fiction and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that e-ink is the answer for textbooks – whoever cracks this market will potentially make billions.
    Other than the Pearl screen it is rather difficult to see what hardware improvements they can offer, and while tech turnover is quick these days they have only just released the wifi Nook. The real problem remains the crappy software, just check out what nookdevs have managed.
    Honestly other than getting out of the hardware market completely it’s difficult to see what else they could have offered at this stage. Ultimately the market will decide either way.

    • Always Write says:

      I certainly hope that B&N continues with its e-Ink line of e-readers (Nook classic? Original Nook? Nook E-Ink?). I hope the Nook Color doesn’t distract their focus too much from the Nooks I consider more important to reading.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

© 2010 David Derrico