nook: not a gadget

Disclaimer: No, I don’t get any money from Barnes and Noble or anyone else for touting the nook. I spend most of my time giving money to them in exchange for still more books.

I wasn’t planning on writing a post about my nook for two reasons: first, I kinda already did with my rant about the iPad, and second, I think I’ve established my love for it such that anyone who reads this blog will not need reminded.

But then I saw the need.

I was explaining the nook (The people at B&N, for reasons entirely their own, do not capitalize “nook”…hence the title of this post, as capitalizing just the other words gave me nightmares.) to a friend over the phone who knew that I recommended it, when she stopped me with this statement:

“Yes, but you know, you’ve always been more of a gadget person than I am.”

I blinked. I very nearly dropped my phone. Of course the above statement is a correct one – I am a gadget person – however there was one glaring error.

The nook is not a gadget.

Now before you start getting technical about the definition of a gadget on me, think about how we use the term commonly. A gadget, generally, indicates a neat, shiny thing that is fun, but not really needed. It is usually expensive – meaning “costs more than most people would pay for it” – and it requires technical knowledge to use it to its full capacity. Which means that generally, geeks like gadgets. Essentially, a gadget is a toy. It’s almost a derogatory term.

In other words, a gadget is something that a geek may love, but a normal person would find unnecessary or even annoying.

Think of cell phones as an example. Pretty much everyone has one. But, although smart phones have become much more popular lately, most people would still consider them “gadgets”. The iPhone is wonderful, but very expensive with pitiful battery life and not strictly necessary if all you want is a phone. If you just want to make calls, the iPhone is just going to annoy you.

“But,” you say, “isn’t the Nook pretty much the same thing? An expensive toy that’s not necessary if all I want to do is read a book?”

In short, no. (and shame on you for capitalizing)

If we agree that a gadget is:

  1. Expensive
  2. Complicated and
  3. Annoying

then I think we will also be able to agree that the nook is not a gadget.

The expensive argument seems like it would be the hardest to get around. Why pay a few hundred for a nook and then buy a book when you can just buy a book? There are lots of reasons why a nook is worthwhile to invest that money (3G wireless for free, use of ePub format so can buy books almost anywhere, super portable, unlimited memory due to microSD card slot, access to full books/special offers/other cool things while in a B&N store, etc.) but let’s do a straight book-for-book comparison. Because the thing is, buying a nook gives you over 500,000 books for free, through the Google books system.

“Not fair!” you say “The books are already free via Google!” True enough, as long as you want to read them on the internet like a blog, staring into the lightbulb of your computer monitor. (and thus we’d have to add in the expensive of the computer and internet subscription to truly compare) What the nook does is make them readable like a book, downloaded onto your nook and nicely displayed on the eInk screen (which really does look like paper) so you can round out your knowledge of the classics while relaxing on the beach (eInk is beautiful in full sunlight, unlike any laptop or even the iPhone). Well worth the price.

Public domain books not your thing? Buying an ebook costs 2 to sometimes 30 dollars less than hardbacks, and usually 1-6 less than a paperback. The nook doesn’t lock you into a store either, so if you can find an ePub or PDF (or something that will convert if you do happen to want to get techy) cheaper elsewhere (even if it’s got Adobe DRM), go for it. And if that last sentence made no sense to you and you don’t care about book formats, you don’t have to. The B&N store alone has another over 500,000 books (more than Amazon, yes) beyond the Google offerings. Yep, that’s over a million total.

You only use library books? Many libraries in the US have ebook systems that use ePub, and work great with a nook (though not a Kindle…or iPad). There’s one right near my work that I joined. Bonus? No late fees.

What about complicated? Well, to go to the ebook store, you press the store button. To buy a book, you select the book and click the buy button. To see the books in your library, you press the library button. And to read a book, you select the book and click the read button. Sure, there are other things you can do with a nook (like set a screensaver or wallpaper, listen to music or read the B&N feeds of the day), but the fact is that it does one thing really well – let you read books. You really don’t have to worry about anything else. (Unless you do happen to be a geek, of course, and want to.)

Finally, you know what’s annoying? Having to drive to the store and search for a book I want to read. Getting a craving for a book I can’t find on my shelves – when the book store is already closed. Fumbling for a bookmark or folding down a page (gasp!) to keep your place in a book. My cat pulling said bookmark out of the book for fun. Paper cuts. Mis-cut, mis-bound or even missing pages. Trying to read one handed with a cat pinning down one arm. That look on my husband’s face when I come in the door with a bag full of books. (Ok, that last might be more my fault than his.)

What’s not annoying? Having near instant access to almost any book I want, any time, anywhere I am. Thinking of a book and being able to read it in seconds. Setting down the nook confident that it will remember on its own where I am next time I pick it up (and still having the option of setting instant bookmarks if I want). Taking notes and highlighting without destroying a book. Being able to easily read with one hand, comfortably even. Being able to check out 5 books while sitting with my husband who is playing a video game. (Although he might feel that’s more of a con than a pro.)

And most of all, the ability to just sit and read and read and read, with no interruptions from technology or paper.

Remember, I love books. I have 9 bookshelves in my house, and sleep on the floor. Granted, it’s a Japanese futon, but the concept still stands. When I first said I was getting a nook someone said to me “What? You’re giving up your beloved paperbacks?” Ha! Hardly. What I am doing is adding to them. My book budget just stretched like crazy, and my new purchases are mobile and will likely last much longer than 90% of my library thus far.

So call the nook a gadget? I would argue that it is too vital to the pursuit of reading to ever merit such shameful language. I’m not arguing for its absolute perfection, mind you – the battery is excellent but I can’t wait for the day when things like this can charge without being plugged in at all. But it has amazing potential, better than any other reader device (including dead trees) that I have seen yet.

PS While I was writing this, I talked to my husband about how much I was loving the nook. After listening for a while one evening, he suddenly became wide-eyed. “Hon,” he said with a mix of fear and awe, “It’s like you now live in a bookstore.” I smiled and nodded happily.

He then proceeded to go straight to the computer to check the bank account, which was, thankfully, doing much better than he had thought it would be. Libraries and free Google Books are good things.


Filed under Books, Gadgets/Code, Media

  • Chad

    You make a compelling argument, but paper books have two things that the nook does not.

    1) Longer battery life. — I never have to worry about my book’s battery dying.

    2) Low startup cost — yes, books are cheaper through the nook, but they are free (via my tax money, yes) through the library and still look amazing in direct sunlight.

    oh, and maybe a third: I don’t want technology around me when I’m at home. I’m surrounded by it at work. Hm. Maybe I’m not really a geek after all.

    FWIW – I haven’t been inside a bookstore in years thanks to the wonders of, amazon, the library, and paperbackswap. You paid $10 for your ebook version? I paid $10 for my paper / hardback version and never have to worry about file corruption, incompatibilities with a reader, or some over worrying publisher deciding to pull the book off my shelf (a la 1984 on the Kindle).

    And I’m going to stop now before I get any more preachy than I already have. 😀

  • admin

    Sure, of course I would never argue that the nook is for everyone, in the same way that I would never argue that paperbacks are for everyone. I’m just saying that I love it to the point where I don’t think of it as a “gadget”, just another, wonderful, way of reading books. For one thing, I would never tell someone to buy it who doesn’t read a lot – that would be silly. 🙂

    As far as your specific objections, here are my (long) thoughts:

    1) It’s true that a “real” book doesn’t need at battery at all, but honestly the battery life of the nook is so long that the issue is almost non-existent. It’s rated for 10 days of straight reading before needing to charge, and after using it for a while I easily believe it. Of course, if you do more intense things like go online and shop or play with the color LCD touchscreen that’s going to drain the battery more, but then you’re talking about doing things that a “real” book can’t do anyway, so it’s not really a comparison.

    In my experience, with normal use including lots of reading, a fair amount of switching books or getting feeds, and a decent amount of shopping as well, I end up charging my nook about once every 5-7 days. That’s pretty darn good, especially since it doesn’t take long to charge and I can still read with it plugged in.

    I would think that the only time it would matter what the battery life is would be times when you can’t get to an outlet. Plane trips or camping, would be my thought. And I’d say that the nook battery can make it through any of those, even assuming you can’t car charge.

    2) Yes, I agree that the nook does cost more than never buying any books. Sure, that would make sense. However, I would argue that 500,000+ books + library ebooks + instant access wherever you go = a very well worth it few hundred dollars. And then if you do happen to be the sort of person who has a book budget, you’ll find it goes a lot further every month.

    3) Ok, if you really don’t want technology around you, I guess I can’t argue with that…but out of curiosity, are you saying you don’t have game systems, dvd players, stereos or television at home? How about phones? No home computers?

    It’s only “technology” until it’s a part of accepted culture. It’s a good bet that if you start using it to read, you’ll soon stop thinking of it as technology. You’ll stop thinking of it at all, in fact, and just enjoy the book. Of course, again I realize it may not be the preferred format for all people – but don’t condemn it just because it has buttons, lol.

    And the rest…

    – Even if you don’t physically go to the bookstore, you’re having to go online (using technology!), wait for however many business days to get it and probably pay for shipping. I press a few buttons, pay 0 shipping and get it instantly, even in the middle of the night.

    – The “$10 book” you tend to see advertised refers to best sellers, where the “real” book will cost maybe $29 or more. Prices drop just like anything else – ie I have yet to buy or even see on B&N any ebook that wasn’t less money than the paperback, usually much less. And of course for classics, you’re looking at $6 paperback versus $0 Google Book.

    – The remaining three issues are exactly the reasons why I never bought a Kindle. One of the reasons I started looking at the nook is that it fixes all of that by using the epub format with minimal DRM. I can copy my books onto my computer, back them up on disk and redownload any of the them from the store if I have to. I’m at much, much less risk of losing my ebook that I am of my cat knocking a glass of water onto my beloved paperback.

    Since I can save my files wherever I want, it’s no big deal even if B&N were to delete my book from their servers – I’d still have it. (there’s no sign of such a Kindle-like “backdoor” on the nook, which is after all built on Android, but even if there were I still have them backed up elsewhere)

    And epub is an open format, so if I decide to ditch my nook down the line for something else new, I’ll have no problems switching – even if a new format has come out I should be able to convert my files to something that will work fine. If you look at the ereader market, right now everything but the Kindle reads epub already, and the Kindle still reads PDF so I can even bring my books over to that if I wanted.

    So that’s why I ended up buying one. Preachy enough for ‘ya? 🙂

  • Chad

    Alright, you took me seriously. Now I have to answer seriously. Boo.

    When the nook came out I thought the thing looked awesome. Wicked awesome. In fact, I almost preordered one. Then I started thinking about the Kindle and how much I hate the DRM issues, the Kindle store lock-in, the weird PDF transfer, etc. And I started thinking about the iPhone and it’s screwy app store and why I don’t want an iPhone. And I started thinking about all the things non-Google (yes, I have a Google fetish) that I have used that have just disappointed. So I passed.

    But the more I hear, the more I like (your blad (blog-ad? ok, so it doesn’t work) notwithstanding. So maybe I’ll get one. But it’s hard to justify.

    The technology angle, ok, you have a point – sort of. Yes I have a Media Center, Wii, Laptop, etc around me a lot. But when I sit down to read all of that is off. I’m not trying to press a button on something or figure out an interface or working to determine whether my device is working the right way or whatever. Yes the nook is aimed at the average consumer, not the tech crowd, but you know my luck with this stuff. :/

    And I really don’t spend a lot of money on books. For two reasons – once I’ve read a book I very rarely read it again, and two I hate storing books. They’re heavy to move and take up lots of space that I can dedicate to the DVDs. (LoL – another issue).

    So this solves my storage issue, but what do I do with the plethora of books I’ve bought and can’t resell? Can I re-sell a nook book?

    Don’t get me wrong – the nook works for you and you love it and that’s awesome. I’m just at a point where I’m evaluating if it’s right for me and I picked your blog to do it on. I just reread my previous commend and it came out sounding pissier than I meant. So, oops.

    oh, and my local library doesn’t support ebook lending. 🙁 Sad. Guess I should move to Atlanta, I hear your company is looking for your replacement now? 😉

  • Dana Huff

    I thought it was interesting that more books are available on nook than Kindle, when you hear so much about a Kindle. Is the nook backlit? I like to read in the dark (bad for my eyes, I know) on my iPhone sometimes. I know the Kindle isn’t backlit.

    • admin

      The nook is not back-lit – just like the Kindle it uses e-Ink technology for the screen, which makes it looks as though it’s printed on paper and makes it amazingly clear and easy to see even in direct sunlight. It also, unlike the normal LCD screens that you’re used to on a computer, keeps you from basically staring into a lightbulb in order to read, so you can read for hours without any eye strain, headaches, etc. Treat it just as you would a regular book – if you want to read in the dark, turn on a lamp or pick up a cheap little clip on light to put at the top of the nook.

      If you’re unsure if you’ll like the screen, I recommend checking it out at a B&N – most have demos available now. Also, it’s a great time to get an ereader anyway – there’s a price war going on, yay! 🙂

  • John

    You really are an idiot if you think the Kindle is worth getting.

  • ClaireElaine

    I remember asking you about this over the weekend, and now I’m glad I read your post. It’s everything you said in person, but more. 😀 Also, per your suggestion, I went to B&N and played around with it for about half an hour. heehee I think I’m in love. 🙂

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