Nook e-reader: First verdicts say it's not a Kindle killer, but a worthy challenger

Barnes & Noble's (BKS) dedicated e-reader, nook, still remains a scarce sight as the holidays approach. Early-bird customers who expected their devices to ship on November 30 still haven't received them -- and won't for at least another week.

In-store sales were supposed to begin Monday but have been delayed, The Wall Street Journal reports, so B&N can fulfill those pre-orders first. And potential queue-jumpers who order nook through eBay will have to pay a pretty penny -- an average of more than $200 above the list price -- reflecting the skyrocketing demand.
But the first wave of reviews are coming in today, and the consensus is that the nook is a worthy competitor to Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle. "Do this now: Disregard all other ebook readers on the market besides Nook and Kindle," Gizmodo's Wilson Rothman weighs in.

It's just as clear, though, that nook won't topple Amazon's dominance in the e-reader market anytime soon. "For all its pleasing touches, intriguing innovations, and clear advantages over the Kindle, it feels like a less-than-perfectly-polished 1.0 product, just like Amazon's first e-reader did a couple of years ago," said Technologizer's Harry McCracken.

The nook's biggest problem, according to Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslavsky, is speed. "How slow is it on start-up? Achingly slow. Might-as-well-go-pour-yourself-a-cup-of-coffee slow. Maybe two cups." It takes one minute and 50 seconds to start up, compared to the Kindle's lightning-fast three seconds -- a software glitch B&N promises to fix by early next year.

Another issue reviewers address is the nook's lending capability. Users can only lend out one e-book at a time, for up to 14 days, and the number of books available for borrowing depends on whether publishers make them available. Jaroslavsky reports, he was able to borrow books but not lend them. And David Carnoy at CNET points to another issue: the nook's LCD display drains battery life faster than the Kindle, even with the Wi-Fi capability shut off.

How about the touchscreen? "The big advantage isn't aesthetics -- it's efficient use of the Nook's limited real estate," McCracken says. In other words, don't expect it to be up to par with the iPhone. But it's still a better bet than the Sony (SNE) Reader's e-Ink touchscreen, "which makes you peck at an on-screen keyboard with a stylus." But like the Sony Reader, the nook does score points for supporting the free and open ePub e-book format, which the Kindle emphatically does not. However, B&N still adds its own proprietary spin on available e-books such that they can't be read on non B&N devices and applications.

All told, it looks like the nook still has some kinks to iron out in order to fight fair with the Kindle, which just announced some additional features to benefit blind and vision-impaired readers. But for now, Rothman says, "in the ebook department, there's just these two big dogs surrounded by a bunch of poodles."

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