Updated NOOK 3G and NOOK Wi-Fi Review - Page 2

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Nook eReader

Content Organization

NOOK segregates its ebook library into B&N ebooks that were wirelessly downloaded and the other ebooks that were sideloaded via the USB cable. The B&N side of the library has a few more features than the sideloaded side does. One of those features is the ability to archive an ebook so that it is removed from your NOOK and doesn't appear on the list. Another is coverflow — seeing your library as a list of book covers that you can scroll through.

Each side of the library is presented as a continuous multi-page list of ebooks and optionally, for the B&N side, with the covers shown on the color LCD as a coverflow. The ebook list can be organized six different ways: with or without shelves (new in 1.5); and ordered by title, author, or date of most recent access. The two sides of the library can use different organization schemes, but if both sides are set up to use shelves, the names and order of the shelves are the same on both sides.

Shelves divide the list into a series of named sections plus an unshelved section at the end. The user specifies the shelf names, the order of the shelves, and files ebooks onto them. Each ebook can be filed onto any number of shelves or not filed at all. It isn't possible to place ebooks in a specific position within a shelf — the choice of ordering (title, author, or most recent access) always determines how the ebooks are ordered within each section. The shelves are not collapsible like folders. The menu allows jumping to the beginning of any shelf that contains at least one e-book, but not to the unshelved section.

The creation of shelves and assigning ebooks to shelves can be done only on NOOK. The shelves are completely internal to each NOOK device — they aren't visible to computer programs or from the B&N Web site. Curiously, the shelves are dependent upon registration to a B&N account and will be lost if NOOK is unregistered for any reason or if NOOK isn't registered when the shelves and assignments are created.

Listings for EPUB and PDF (but not eReader PDB) ebooks that have been accessed since version 1.5 was installed will show the page number of the most recently read page and the total number of pages. The exception is when using author sort without shelves.

Both sides of the ebook library have a simple search facility, but it will search only the currently active side of the library (B&N or sideloaded).

Some of B&N's best customers have learned that NOOK is unable to synchronize with B&N accounts that have a large number of B&N ebooks in them (perhaps 500 or more). These customers must download their ebooks to their computers, then sideload them onto NOOK via the USB cable.

B&N ebooks other than free samples can be archived, which removes the ebook from NOOK and places it into "archived" status on the B&N account. Archiving is usually preferable to deleting, which can be done only on the B&N Web site, because it's not necessary to re-buy an ebook to unarchive it. Archived ebooks show up as light gray in the B&N Library list unless "Hide archived items" is selected, in which case they don't appear in the list at all. When visible, archived items can be unarchived. It's also possible to archive and unarchive B&N ebooks from the account on the B&N Web site.

Free samples from B&N can't be archived; they must be deleted. There is no ability to delete B&N ebooks and samples from NOOK itself — they must be deleted from the B&N account on the B&N Web site. When NOOK synchronizes with the account, the deleted B&N ebooks and samples will be removed from NOOK.

Sideloaded ebooks can be deleted directly from NOOK. This is a permanent deletion; there is no recycle bin, trashcan, or other "undo" function.

Audiobooks and music files are stored into separate folders on NOOK, but any folder structure is ignored and there is no organizational capability at all for audio files. Music files are jumbled together with audiobooks, music files aren't necessarily kept together by artist or album, and the chapters of audiobooks aren't necessarily kept together and might not be presented in the expected order.

Internationalization — or lack thereof

NOOK is sold only in the US, its 3G is usable only in the US, and most B&N NOOKbooks are available for sale only to people located in the US or to military personnel registered with a .mil email address; a very limited selection of NOOKbooks is available to Canadians. In contrast, Kindle is an international product with 3G service in many countries and with ebook stores that serve many countries. Some international customers reportedly buy B&N NOOKbooks by entering a false American billing address for their credit card and using a US-based VPN proxy to disguise their IP address.

NOOK is intended for reading ebooks written in English and other languages using the Latin alphabet. The official list of supported ebook languages is Afrikaans, Basque, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. NOOK supports ebooks containing embedded fonts — although this support might be limited to Cyrillic, Greek, Hangeul, Vietnamese, and other alphabets that read left-to-right and top-to-bottom — but the title-and-author display on the library listings might not be legible. NOOK's built-in dictionary is English-only. The Kindle also can handle Chinese and Japanese after a fashion.

Both NOOK and Kindle provide menus and documentation in English only.


Both NOOK and Kindle offer free 3G service within the United States over the AT&T wireless system, and free AT&T Wi-Fi worldwide. NOOK doesn't offer 3G service outside of the US, while Kindle offers 3G service in a number of other countries although possibly with a surcharge.

Certain large NOOKbooks (over 10 megabytes) cannot be downloaded over 3G to NOOK; they must be downloaded over Wi-Fi. Software updates also cannot be downloaded over 3G to NOOK; they must either be downloaded over Wi-Fi or from a computer via the USB cable.

NOOK's web browser operates only over Wi-Fi. Kindle's browser can also operate over 3G, although Amazon does reserve the right to remove that capability or start charging for it in the future. The NOOK's browser doesn't allow downloading anything to NOOK whereas the Kindle can download files in supported formats.

NOOK 1.5 added the ability to synchronize the current page number being read across multiple devices. On NOOK the recovering of the current page number is a manual process, and on NOOK apps both the saving and recovering of the current page number are manual processes, whereas it's fully automatic on Kindle and Kindle apps. A NOOK Wi-Fi can't synchronize unless it's able to connect to a hotspot.

NOOK doesn't provide any ability to load anything other than B&N content wirelessly. Amazon provides a low-cost facility where you can email documents for wireless downloading to a Kindle.

NOOK doesn't offer any social network features like Kindle's Twitter and Facebook integration.

Wi-Fi woes

NOOK's Wi-Fi capabilities are not entirely universal, especially for secured Wi-Fi networks such as most people have at home. While the vast majority of NOOK buyers easily get their NOOKs connected to their home Wi-Fi networks, a few users report having a thoroughly frustrating experience. B&N Customer Service is ill-equipped to help users log into and re-configure the wide variety of Wi-Fi router models. In the end, many of those NOOK buyers who initially have Wi-Fi connection difficulty never do get NOOK communicating at home and instead return the unit.

Some of the specific limitations of NOOK's Wi-Fi (many of these apply to Kindle as well):

  • For networks secured with WEP, NOOK uses only Open Key authentication and will not connect if the router is set to accept only Shared Key authentication.
  • For networks secured with WPA or WPA2, NOOK doesn't provide for entering an arbitrary 64-character hexadecimal encryption key — it requires that the encryption be set up with a password.
  • NOOK doesn't work with "enterprise" encryption that uses both a username and password (EAP, Radius server, etc.). Consequently, NOOK is unable to connect to some corporate and university networks.
  • NOOK operates in "b" or "g" modes, not "n" mode. 802.11n routers must be set up with support for "b/g" devices. They also must not be set up for channel-bonding, also called "40 MHz channels" or "300 Mbps".
  • NOOK cannot be set to a fixed IP address, and therefore the router must provide an address via DHCP. Some routers have DHCP turned off or limited to the already existing devices.
  • NOOK is designed for use with American Wi-Fi networks and is unable to connect to international networks running on channels 12, 13, or 14.

Not specific to NOOK, some Wi-Fi routers are set up with MAC (device address) filtering that blocks any previously unknown device from accessing the router.

Also not specific to NOOK, sometimes the Wi-Fi router simply needs to be rebooted by unplugging it and plugging it back in. This may be related to making the router get a new DHCP reservation from the ISP.

Notes, Highlighting, and Dictionary

NOOK's highlighting and notes are very basic and a bit quirky to use. The area to be highlighted appears to be indicated by brackets, but quite unexpectedly also includes the word after the end bracket. There is no summary of highlights and notes — the ebook must be open to the page containing the highlight or note in order to see it, and the note must be selected and opened in order to read it. NOOK doesn't save highlights and notes to the B&N account, so they can't be shared with other reading devices, there's no way to put them into a computer file or print them, and they'll be lost if the ebook is removed from NOOK. Highlights and notes can't be used with PDF files. The small icon that shows that a note is present is located at the left side of the ebook text area, and for some ebooks that have minimal left margins the note icon can overlap a character or two.

NOOK's dictionary is now working. It's possible to type in the word to be looked up, which saves on the slow process of moving the cursor in front of the desired word, and also allows words to be looked up that aren't in the page. The dictionary displays its response on the E-Ink screen, obscuring the original text until dismissed. There are a handful of words that trigger dictionary bugs which prevent them from being looked up. The dictionary can't be used with PDF files.

Text-to-speech — or lack thereof

NOOK doesn't offer text-to-speech like Kindle's Read-To-Me feature. Since B&N's DRM system doesn't provide any kind of feature management, B&N would have to offer text-to-speech on all NOOKbooks if they offered it on any NOOKbook. Some publishers haven't allowed Amazon to offer text-to-speech on their titles, so it seems unlikely that text-to-speech will be coming to NOOK.

PDF Functionality

NOOK's PDF capabilities remain limited. There is no ability to view in landscape orientation, zoom, and pan. PDFs can be shrunk to fit the small screen by choosing the Small text size, but most PDFs are unreadable that small. Most text PDFs can be reflowed to a larger text size, but the reflowing process is inexact. Spurious line breaks and page breaks can occur, paragraph breaks can be inserted or lost, and headers and footers appear mixed in with the text. Graphics can be lost during reflowing.

The typeface is not selectable with PDFs. As noted above, highlights, notes, and the dictionary do not function with PDFs.

NOOK can open PDFs that have Adobe CS4 (Digital Editions) DRM. NOOK can open PDF files that use PDF's built-in password protection. NOOK is unable to open PDFs that use Vitrium's "ProtectedPDF" which requires a username in addition to the password. Colleges, especially the University of Phoenix, seem to be the main source of unopenable Vitrium PDFs.

The original recommendation stands: don't buy NOOK if you intend on reading a lot of PDF files.

Games and apps

The E-Ink NOOK models have no app store. Although B&N has occasionally suggested that an app store might eventually appear, it seems rather unlikely given NOOK's increasingly obsolescent Android 1.5 base.

Nook Sudoku

NOOK includes two games: sudoku and chess. The "easy" level on the sudoku game is not easy; it's probably closer to what most sudoku magazines categorize as "hard"; fortunately, there's a hint feature that will fill the correct number into a requested square. The chess game is always played against the computer.

Files other than ebooks

NOOK doesn't handle non-ebook format files, where Kindle will handle text files directly and Amazon provides an automated conversion for HTML and Microsoft Word files. Knowledgeable users can utilize Calibre to convert various documents into an ebook format such as EPUB for use on NOOK.

NOOK's handling of audio files is almost not worth mentioning. It handles only MP3 and Ogg Vorbis, not WMA or Audible, there are no organizing facilities (you can't organize into albums, playlists, etc.), audio books are mixed in with music files, and NOOK doesn't keep track of where you were in an audio book chapter. About the only practical use for NOOK's audio player is for random play of music files. NOOK's built-in speakers are extremely weak, and the position of the headphone jack on the bottom of the unit is inconvenient because NOOK can't be stood up in a reading position with headphones plugged in.

Features that might not be as exciting as they sound

NOOK advertising plays up the user-changeable battery that Kindle doesn't have. In practice, this feature seems to have caused more trouble than it solved, especially when the electrical contacts accidentally disengage causing an apparent freezing of the unit. Some people have inserted cardboard shims to help wedge their batteries solidly against the contacts. B&N chose not to have a user-changeable battery on NOOKcolor.

NOOK advertising also plays up the ability to add a micro-SD card for additional storage that Kindle doesn't have. However, the added micro-SD card can't be used to provide more space for B&N NOOKbooks. It's usable only for ebooks and audio files that are loaded over the USB cable. NOOK's poor handling of audio files and of large numbers of on-board ebooks makes the added memory mostly pointless. The added card does have the benefit of not being erased when NOOK is unregistered or reset.

NOOK advertising had played up the LendMe feature, which allows certain B&N NOOKbooks to be lent to another person for 14 days. Each NOOKbook can be lent only once, so lending wasn't particularly popular. On December 30, 2010, Kindle began offering the same feature on the same titles, and a number of publishers (including Penguin) withdrew permission for LendMe.


NOOK is currently being sold at Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Books-A-Million. Off-the-shelf availability is generally excellent. It's also available online from those retailers, and sometimes B&N sells refurbished units directly on eBay.


Overall, NOOK doesn't exhibit the simplicity and refinement of Kindle. On the other hand, it doesn't tie the owner to B&N as tightly as Kindle binds its owners to Amazon. NOOK can read DRMed ebooks from a number of other sources including lending libraries, and NOOK doesn't regularly report back to the mother-ship on its owner's reading habits. NOOK provides some incentives for the owner to visit B&N stores—Read In Store, More In Store, and occasional store coupons.

NOOK's poor handling of PDFs, highlights, notes, bookmarks, and audio files, and its inability to handle simple text, HTML, and Word .doc files, may be a concern for some people. On the other hand, it handles four different DRMed ebook formats: B&N EPUB, Adobe EPUB, Adobe PDF, and eReader PDB.

Most of the user difficulties with NOOK show up at the outset, in trying to get NOOK connected to a secured home Wi-Fi network, in getting Adobe Digital Editions set up and running smoothly, and in learning to use the device (especially the touchscreen). Once those hurdles have been crossed, NOOK is reasonably easy to use. The 3G version is even easier, because it removes the need to be connected to a hotspot for ebook shopping and for sync of the current page number.

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