Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch review

Barnes & Noble keeps gaining steam in the eReader market, and their follow up to the original, and admittedly quircky Nook, is now here at NBT. Ditching the slightly confusing dual screen setup, the new Nook Touch instead uses touch screen controls to handle navigation. This might be the most obvious improvement, but a lighter device with a better screen and high quality materials help deliver what might be the best eReader on the market. Hit the break for the full rundown on Barnes & Nobles new and simply stunning eReader. 

Hardware

Airy. This is what comes to mind when holding the Nook Touch. It’s light, compact, and easy to hold. Coming in at 11.9mm, it isn’t as slim as the new Kindles, but a concave back that’s designed to be gripped easily is the culprit of the extra girth. It’s definitely a welcome addition, and there isn’t much of a difference when comparing the two devices in your own hands. The new Kindle, and this new Nook take a different approach with their respective design, and both pull off a high quality feel.

The Nook Simple Touch is a quiet device, which just means this isn’t over-designed. The look is simple, with the Nook logo, and the N home button both being black to fade into the device. The only other element that graces the front, besides the screen itself, are the page turning hardware buttons that flank the left and right sides. Flip the Nook over, and you have a power button, micro USB port, and a MicroSD slot for expandable storage (2GB built in, expandable by another 32GB). Again, the design just comes across as smooth, elegant, and most importantly under-stated.

Deciding to drop the dual-screen design of the original Nook really pays off for the new reader and the overall size. The Nook Simple Touch is a touchscreen eReader that uses infrared technology for touch interaction. This works just as well as the Nook Color, and I have yet to see a problem with touch accuracy, page turns, or any delay after press, something even tablets seem to have issues with. This touch implementation keeps the footprint pretty slim. This statement may vary depending on the style of jeans you wear, but I have no problem slipping the Nook into my jeans back pockets and forgetting it’s there. This pays off when you travel, just as much as when you’re reading and having to hold the Nook.

The display itself, which is touch focused using infrared technology, is top notch. It is a Pearl E Ink display, and really doesn’t disappoint. This newer E Ink technology has greatly improved the contrast ratio when compared to the original eReaders. Books, newspapers, and even images come across detailed and easy to see. With a slate style device, it’s imperative that a company uses a good quality display, and Barnes & Noble doesn’t disappoint.

Software

Being that this isn’t Barnes & Nobles first foray into the touch readers, the software UI and function is pretty excellent. The home “N” button is responsible for most of the navigation within the system, and everything comes across pretty simple and easy to use, which is really what you need with such a device. You’ll have no problem gifting this to your parents and letting them figure out how to navigate to shop for new books, or check out their library. Once you click that N and swipe to unlock the eReader, you’re graced with the Nook home page. This is the central hub for everything, and within this section, you’ll find information on what you’re reading right now, new books that you’ve downloaded, and recommendations of what to read next based on your past history. From here, your library, book shopping, search functions, and settings are but a tap away once you press that home button again.

Once you dive into your library, you get the usual shelves and organization options. Nothing really new to report here, as things are pretty standard across all platforms. The shopping section allows you to shop from Barnes & Nobles bookstore in an extremely easy manor. I’ve covered ebookstores before, and pretty much came to the conclusion they’re all the same except for some minute design details. Books at one store are generally the same as competing stores, and any differences in price are due to a temporary sale on the title. Nevertheless, Barnes & Noble makes it pretty easy to get your books from them. Their store isn’t the only place to shop for books though. The Nook has ePub support, so books purchased elsewhere or borrowed from your local library (US) can be sideloaded onto the Nook. I would like to see library lending built into the platform though. While it isn’t a huge burden, browsing the library on my computer, downloading a book, then transferring onto the Nook isn’t a great option, but then again I’m sure they’d rather you just purchase from them.

Reading

This is pretty much the big section of what this eReader is all about, the reading experience. Taking all the bells and whistles out, the Nook Simple Touch is a pure reading experience. Some might see this as a disappointment, but I love it. I dropped my Nook Color in favor of this actually. In my world, you really don’t need a laptop, tablet, and another color eReader that can function as a tablet. Now I have a dedicated reading device, a tablet for consumption and light creation, and a full on laptop to handle all of my necessary functions.

Once you crack open a book, navigation is quite easy. Using the N for the main functions leads to some problems once you’re actually using a book, so right about this button, on the touchscreen, you’ll see a little arrow that’s really a menu button. Tap this and you can pull up book content, find passages or words, go to certain pages, change text settings, and more. Again, this is easy stuff, so no need to really go into detail.

Flipping through pages is done by swiping your finger left or right across the screen, or by the hardware buttons on the bezel of the Nook. Page refreshes are quick, and going from an IPS LCD display on the original Nook Color doesn’t have me wanting it back. The transition is smooth and really isn’t bothersome at all. It’s a fantastic reading experience, that Barnes & Noble spiced up with some extras built in for social sharing, such as sharing passages with your friends on Facebook.

Conclusion

The Nook Simple Touch is a dramatic leap forward from anything else on the market. Sure, since it’s release, a couple of other readers have caught up, but that’s really what they’ve done, catch up. That isn’t meant to dig on the others, as I believe you could probably pick any of the new infrared touchscreen readers up and hardly tell a difference. Rather, it’s meant to show that Barnes & Noble really turned things up a notch with their newest device.

With all of these eReaders available, which are all very close to the same, how do you know which one to get? This may be a tougher decision, but I still feel that Barnes & Noble offers the best scenario for most. The Kindle, while it is truly a great device, is tied to Amazon almost completely. They may have just brought public libraries into the mix, but B & N had this a while ago. The downfall to the Kindle comes with the locked down attitude that won’t let you purchase a book from another source and load it onto your Kindle. Instead, you must convert your sideloaded book to the Mobi format, which is nowhere nearly as widespread as ePub. This equates to the problem Apple had with their DRM protected music a couple of years back, which if you don’t remember, Apple changed their policy and offered DRM free content. They in turn offered to convert your music into their new DRM free format for a small fee. It’s funny how that works. Who woulda thought that you’d have to purchase your music twice just to own it. This is the problem I have with the Kindle, and something we should all be aware of. With the Nook, and other eReaders (Sony, iRiver, etc), you can side load your ePub books without a hiccup.

So there you have it. The Nook Simple Touch brings a great reading experience that isn’t topped by any reader on the market. It’s affordable, lightweight, and has excellent build quality. You can purchase books from the Barnes & Noble store, borrow from the library, or sideload your own ePub books (and PDF’s) with ease. The Nook Simple Touch is my go to book reader for these reasons, and I believe this puts it leaps and bounds above all others.

[Barnes & Noble $139]

 

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Allen Schmidt

Allen is a former contributing editor at Nothing But Tablets, which was merged with Pocketables in 2012.