After much hinting on my part,1 Santa brought me a Nook Simple Touch from Barnes & Noble for Christmas.2 Here are my impressions after using it for two weeks.

First, let’s clear up a couple of questions:

Why did I want an e-reader instead of a cheap tablet like the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet? I have many reasons,3 but the major ones are:

  1. Cost: The Simple Touch was only $90 compared to around $200 to $250 for the color tablets.
  2. Weight: The Simple Touch is only 7.5 ounces compare to 14.1 ounces for the Nook Tablet.
  3. Clarity: The E-Ink display is much clearer than an LCD for extended reading.

Why did I want Barnes & Noble’s Nook  instead of Amazon’s Kindle? This is a philosophical decision for me. Although I like Amazon and its offerings, I don’t want Amazon to be the only game in town. That means buying from Amazon’s competitors to keep them viable. I’d also read a couple of reviews that claimed the Nook Simple Touch was a little easier to use than the Kindle Touch. I don’t know. The Simple Touch has some issues, as I’ll discuss below.

On with the review.

My Experience

I’ve used the Nook quite a bit in the last two weeks. I have 50 items in my Nook library, most of them downloaded from the Nook store. I also downloaded 10 free ePub books from another source and a couple of technical PDFs.4 I haven’t yet tried borrowing ebooks from the library, though it’s apparently possible for both Nooks and Kindles.

I have arranged all my books on shelves by topic (business and management, literature and fiction, science, religion, Bibles, etc.). I also created a custom “screen saver” I hope will help someone return my Nook, should I misplace it.

Finally, I’ve read quite a bit on the reader — 723 pages. That’s two complete books plus a few books samples.

The Good Stuff

Cost. The Christmas special price of $90 puts the Nook Simple Touch in the “impulse buy” category for a lot of people. Its normal price of $100 shouldn’t change that (though don’t expect to be saving money on books; more below).

Screen. The Nook’s screen is marvelous, especially in normal to bright light. Its resolution is good enough that I rarely notice pixels (and then, only in bed, when it’s way too close to my eyes). At normal reading distances, the resolution is incredible.

Weight. I hefted a Nook Tablet and was surprised how heavy it felt. In contrast, the Nook Simple Touch feels light. And it should. At 7.5 ounces, it’s lighter5 than the average paperback book.

Touch screen. The Nook’s touch screen makes navigation easy. Page turns are accomplished with a swipe of a finger or a tap along the edge of the screen.6 The reading menu can be summoned by tapping the middle of the screen. For text entry (searching and writing notes), a touch keyboard appears at the bottom of the screen. The screen is amazingly responsive, never requiring an additional tap to register a key “press.”

Purchasing. Barnes & Noble makes it easy to purchase books for your Nook. As long as you have WiFi, you can search for books, download samples, and purchase and download complete books — right from your Nook.

The Bad Stuff

Cost. Ebook pricing is not what you’d expect. Digital books are not significantly cheaper than physical books. Considering that I can go to Powell’s and buy used physical books for much cheaper than new, the Nook likely won’t save me any money on books. In fact, with the ease in finding books I want to read, I expect to pay more for books this year than last.

Organization. Organizing books on shelves is much harder than it needs to be. The Nook allows shelves to be created and then edited to add books to a specific shelf. In edit mode, all of the books on the Nook are listed in alphabetical order (screen after screen) with check boxes next to the titles to add books to the shelf you’re editing. This is cumbersome with only fifty books. It’s going to get ugly when I get more books on my Nook. Worse, if I want to place a book on multiple shelves, I need to go through the edit shelf process for each shelf.

What would be better is upon viewing a book, being presented with a list of my shelves with boxes to tap for the shelves. That way, when I buy a book, it’s simple to add it to the appropriate shelves.

Free Books. Finding free books is difficult, more difficult than it needs to be. To be fair, I’ve found some, and low-priced books are easy to find, so I’m not hurting. After seeing the Kindle/Nook comparisons listing the vast numbers of free books, I expected to be able to find them easily. Nope!

LendMe™. The Nook lets you lend books (if enabled by the book’s publisher), but only once per book. I don’t understand the need for the limitation other than greed. I can buy a physical book and lend it to whomever I want, for as long as I want. I can sell it. I can give it away. Placing all these restrictions on ebooks is wrong.

Navigation. The touch screen can be too responsive, turning the page when that isn’t your intent. It would be nice to be able to turn the touch capability off and use just the page turn buttons.

Also, it’s important to realize that the Nook is set up to read a book from beginning to end, not skipping around. This can be an important limitation for reference books or Bibles, which are typically not read straight through. I’ve downloaded multiple Bibles, and they handle this issue with varying degrees of success. This is a use case where a Bible app on a tablet might be a better option.

Highlighting and Notes. While reading, you can highlight a word and attach notes. These are later for returning to specific passages. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear possible to highlight more than a single word at a time. So, rather than being able to highlight the phrase “one doesn’t simply walk into Mordor,”7 you’re stuck trying to choose a single word that will remind you of the phrase. Good luck! Update: Thanks to Nathan, who comments below, I now know how to highlight more than one word.

There are free downloadable Nook apps. I’ve downloaded the PC version and was surprised to see that the highlights, notes, and shelves do not transfer from my Nook to the PC app.

Speed. Believe it or not, large books are sluggish. For example, this is an issue with the ESV Study Bible.

My Wish List

Fonts. The Nook has six fonts (three serif and three sans serif) which can be displayed in seven sizes. There are also three line spacings and three margin settings. It was pretty easy to find a setting I like. I’d love to be able to transfer a font to the nook to completely personalize the reading experience.

Conclusion

I love my Nook Simple Touch! I much prefer reading on it than reading a physical book. Most of the issues I’ve noted will be resolved as readers continue to get better. I’ll be able to move my library to the next piece of hardware.

Do you have an ereader? What have your experiences been?

1And apparently some confusion on Santa’s part; he confused me with someone who’d been good.
2Thanks, Suzi!
3I think it makes sense to have both an ereader and a tablet. They fill different needs.
4I use Calibre to manage any file conversions (none needed so far) and transfer files to my Nook. Calibre works easily and sets up folders on the Nook, arranged by authors. Nice!
5The cover you use might change that, though. I find I remove the cover a lot. Maybe I need to find another one, one without an additional flap that folds over. I do like its magnetic “latch.”
6You can also turn pages using buttons along the left and right edges of the Nook, if you so desire.
7Hmmm…