The other day I walked into Barnes & Noble in Boston, and there was the Nook sales desk front and center. Being a gadget geek, it screamed for me to come over and check it out, and I did not resist the siren's call. I picked up one of the two display units off of the counter and began asking questions. Although I only had a few minutes with it, my conclusion: it's a very nice device, but definitely geared toward the casual reader, more than a student or researcher, as you would expect from a Reader developed by a book store chain.
Look and Feel
I had read about the Nook of course, but it's one thing to read a list of features, and another altogether to get your hands on it. I like the feeling of it, the tapered edges, the weight and size, not too heavy or too large and the way it felt balanced in my hand. As with all eBook Readers, having a device that doesn't open like a book was a problem, but like its competitors, there are a plethora of covers (some as expensive as $130) to choose from that make it feel more like you're actually holding a book.
The one possible downside was the plastic case, which kept the weight down, but also made me wonder how it would hold up to a few tumbles to the ground, something that was sure to happen over the life of a device like this. Of course, a cover could help protect it, but it did make me think about it. It might be nice if it came with some sort of cheap, standard cover to give you more of a book feel (and protect it) out of the box.
Screen and OS
The OS is a combination of touch and hardware manipulation with color touch buttons along the bottom of the screen. The reading area, like the Kindle, is black and white only, but the screen is crisp and clear and when you turn pages, it's a natural feel without a delay or a flash (which I experienced when I tried the Sony Reader). You can buy a variety of books from the B&N book store or download ePub or PDF books from a variety of sources such as the Google Books repository (which I was less than impressed with). You can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines and get updates automatically through the wireless connection, which sounds very nice.
I did find that the touch screen required a much harder tap than iPhone users are used to, and the OS manipulation takes a little guidance, but after the salesman showed me how it works, it was a snap to use.
Casual Reader Only
For this release at least, the annotation tools are limited. The sales person suggested there would be a color-screen version coming out next year that would be for selling graphic novels and could also work for more academic texts with color charts and graphs and other graphical elements common in text books, What it really requires however is a more robust set of annotation tools if Barnes & Noble would ever hope to sell this to schools or college students.
For now, I have to say I was intrigued by it, and it's a nice piece of engineering for 1.0 technology, but I would like to see a full color screen (especially for the magazine sellers) along with internet access. $259 plus the cost of a case, seems like a lot to me for a device that basically does one thing, even if it appears to do it well.