Barnes and Noble's Nook Receives Mixed Reviews

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-12-12

Barnes and Noble's Nook Receives Mixed Reviews

The early reviews of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader are starting to trickle in, and they're not pretty.

"I don't think it's as good as the Kindle, at least not yet," Walt Mossberg wrote in his Wall Street Journal column on Dec. 9. "At launch, the Nook has the feel of a product with great potential that was rushed to market before it was fully ready."

In addition, Mossberg found the Nook to be "slower, more cumbersome to use and less polished than the Kindle." His device also exhibited an undefined number of bugs, and suffered from poorer battery life than the Kindle. On the positive side, however, Mossberg seemed to feel that the Nook's lending feature, which lets one reader transmit an e-book to another for a limited time, was an interesting one; he also assumed that Barnes & Noble would iron out any kinks in the device over the coming months.

The New York Times' David Pogue seems to agree with Mossberg's assessment of the Nook as a device still in need of tweaks.

"Unfortunately, we, the salivating public, might be afflicted with a little holiday disease of our own: Sucker Syndrome," Pogue wrote in his Dec. 9 review of the device. "Every one of the Nook's vaunted distinctions comes fraught with buzz kill footnotes." 

Pogue also complained about the device's slowness compared with the Kindle, and how various features-such as the ability to loan e-books to other readers-seemed unfinished.

"Those missing features are symptoms of B&N's bad case of Ship-at-All-Costs-it is. But the biggest one of all is the Nook's half-baked software," Pogue added. "To use the technical term, it's slower than an anesthetized slug in water."

Reviews by Mossberg and Pogue have a reputation of being able to make or break products. In his book "Inside Steve's Brain," an account of Steve Jobs at Apple, author Leander Kahney discusses how Apple-not exactly a company known for expansive interactions with the press outside of carefully orchestrated events-will send the two of them devices well ahead of time for their review. 

BusinessWeek's own comparison of the Kindle and Nook also fell along the same lines as the Times and WSJ reviews. In its assessment, the Nook is "slow to boot up ... color screen and Wi-Fi connection drain battery life," while the color touch screen, lending application and ability to browse books for free while in a Barnes & Noble store are definite pluses.

Barnes & Noble has not yet responded to eWEEK's request for a review device. In a brief experience with a demonstration copy of the Nook at the Barnes & Noble location in New York's Union Square, the Nook's form factor felt very similar in the hand to the Kindle, although slightly heavier. It took roughly 2 seconds for the demonstration Nook to flip between pages on its e-ink display, and navigation via its iPhone-like touch screen seemed fairly intuitive. A lack of time with the device, though, prevented a deeper drill-down into its features and any possible problems.

Barnes & Noble has been claiming that, due to heavy preorders, customers who ordered the Nook after Nov. 30 will not receive their devices until early January 2010. Due to that supposedly high demand, Barnes & Noble will only offer a limited number of Nook devices in its bricks-and-mortar stores during the holiday shopping season, although most stores will feature a Nook demonstration device.

The Nooks Legal Woes


In addition to facing competition from's Kindle and other e-readers, Barnes & Noble faces the prospect of legal trouble related to the Nook.

On Nov. 2, IT startup Spring Design announced that it was filing a lawsuit against Barnes & Noble over supposed similarities between its e-reader, the Alex, and the Nook. Court records show that Spring Design filed its first amended complaint over the issue on Nov. 11, with the court conducting a hearing on Nov. 30.

"Spring Design unfortunately had to take appropriate action to protect its intellectual property rights," Eric Kmiec, Spring Design's vice president of sales and marketing, said in a Nov. 2 statement. "We showed the Alex e-book design to Barnes & Noble in good faith with the intention of working together to provide a superior dual-screen e-book to the market."

Spring Design announced the Alex on Oct. 19, the day before Barnes & Noble showed off the Nook for the first time during a high-profile event in New York City. Like the Nook, the Alex runs on the Google Android operating system and features a monochrome e-ink display paired with a color touch screen. However, according to images published in court documents related to the issue, Spring Design's touch screen is larger than that of the Nook.

Although Spring Design moved to stop sales of the Nook, the San Jose Division of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California announced on Dec. 1 that Barnes & Noble will be allowed to continue selling its device during the legal proceedings.

"Based on the papers submitted to date and oral argument, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction," read the court order signed by U.S. District Judge James Ware on Dec. 1. "The Court finds that at this time there is a genuine dispute over whether the [Nook] was derived from information disclosed by Plaintiff to Defendant or was the product of earlier independent development by Defendant."

A Barnes & Noble spokesperson declined to comment to eWEEK about the litigation, citing corporate policy. The court case, though, will continue-as will the Nook's attempts to wrest some market share away from the Kindle.

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