Not much love for Barnes & Noble Nook

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The Nook – the new e-reader from Barnes & Noble – seems to be drawing mostly negative reviews from the press. The experts have finally gotten their hands on the device and the consensus among the media technorati seems to be: too little, too soon.

The device promises a lot. While retailing at the same price as Amazon's Kindle ($259), it boasts some advantages over its rival: a color touch screen, a larger library of books available, Wi-Fi, and (perhaps the most interesting) the ability to loan books.

However, say the critics, the Nook simply doesn't deliver well enough on any of these points. (Except, perhaps, the WiFi.)

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The color touch screen, writes David Pogue in the New York Times, "is actually just a horizontal strip beneath the regular Kindle-style gray screen." Too often, he says, "the color strip feels completely, awkwardly disconnected from what it’s supposed to control on the big screen above." Worse, he finds the screen to be "balky and nonresponsive."

Reviewing the Nook for USA Today, Edward C. Baig (who overall finds the device to be "unfinished and sluggish") notes although Barnes & Noble advertises that "a million titles are available for the Nook compared with more than 390,000 in the Kindle Store," the comparison is "somewhat misleading, because Barnes & Noble includes a boatload of free public domain books, most from Google."

And as for loaning books to your friends, Pogue says that the feature comes with a number of "buzz kill footnotes."

He details: "You can’t lend a book unless its publisher has O.K.’ed this feature. And so far, B&N says, only half of its books are available for lending — only one-third of the current best sellers. (A LendMe icon on the B&N Web site lets you know when a book is lendable.) Furthermore, the book is gone from your own Nook during the loan period (a maximum of two weeks). And each book can be lent only once, ever."

As a contented early Kindle adopter, I must confess that I take a small amount of smug satisfaction in the reviews. But I recognize that my contentment will likely prove short-lived.

For one thing, the Nook is going to get better – probably quickly. New software is already on its way, scheduled for arrival next year. Baig concludes his review by noting that despite "too many bugs and torn pages," Nook "is a promising newcomer with pizazz."

But as PC World notes in their Nook review, there's a bigger picture here. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are hardly the only players in this market.

Coming shortly, there will be Sony’s Reader Daily Edition (late 2009), Plastic Logic’s QUE (January, 2010), and then there's "the 800-pound gorilla that hasn’t yet entered the room": the Apple Tablet, which today seems mostly mythic but may shortly blow all the other players out of the water (or so the rumors suggest.)

So for the savvy consumer, the final word seems to come from PC World: best to "bide your time a bit longer before you snap up any e-reader."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that they can access the 12/8/09 Monitor Books podcast – including an interview with Colum McCann, author of “Let the Great World Spin” – either through iTunes or by clicking here.)

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