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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Would I recommend NOOK for reading non-fiction materials?

I am grateful for receiving a color NOOK for Christmas and to avoid writing a review of a device with superficial experience, like many reviewers, I have decided to hold off writing a review of this device until I have adequate usage of it. Now more than 6 months of usage reading many technical eBooks I believe I have enough experience to write a review.

This review is from the usage and perspective of a reader of technical materials. Reading technical materials is very different from reading a novel and hence it is important if you are thinking of getting one of these devices, either NOOK or other similar device, make sure you have a good idea of what kind of materials you will be reading. Try it out with a DRM-free technical book.

If you are planning to use it to read technical materials, I will definitely not recommend you to buy a NOOK (color or not) for the reasons I list below. As a previous owner and long time user of a Fujitsu Tablet, I am no strange to this kind of keyboard-less device.

With no apology to Barnes & Nobles, I have not bought one single B&N DRM controlled eBooks for obvious reasons and probably never will. I bought all my DRM-free watermarked eBooks from InformIT, which is a great site for technical eBooks because you can get both ePub and PDF format for the one price; I can put the ePub version in my NOOK and the PDF version in my notebook. That's the wonderful benefit of using DRM-free books. This allows me to test the NOOK and to find which format is the best.

Here are the reasons why I believe a NOOK is a unsuitable reader to handle technical materials:
1) The extremely primitive and incapable user-interface is one of the root cause of problems elaborated below. It makes a mockery of having large storage capability allowing one to carry many books with you when the interface is so primitive that you cannot open several books at the same time, like you would with a physical books on your desk, and returning to the page you left off. This is a severe and fundamental oversight in the design.

In reading a novel, you will not never be reading several at the same time darting from one to another. Hence the ultra primitive user-interface is adequate for that purpose but is totally inadequate for anything else. It is a joy to use my PDF XChange-Viewer to read the PDF format of those eBook on my notebook.  

2) Even overlooking the problem mentioned in 1) above and reading just one book (ePub format) is also very frustrating. There is few technical book not containing notes (endnotes, footnotes, or bibliography) and all have provided hyperlinks to them. While it is so convenient to press the hyperlink to jump to the destination, you only have a few seconds of window of opportunity to jump back to where you came from. This is because the back button on the top middle of the screen disappears after several seconds. The time it is allowed to stay around is not even configurable but there is a setting to enable animate page turning.

Surely the developer of this device is not serious and placing animation ahead of functionality. Once that back button disappears, you have no way of bring it back. Returning to where you came from is a major hurdle. I often keeps a piece of scrap paper with my NOOK for jolting the page number.

3) Following on from 2), one wonders why someone would prefer to provide a slider bar to go to the required page when an edit box will be more functional particularly these touch device is so imprecise to allow one to move one page either way. Unless you remember the page number when you press that hyperlink, you will have a hard time finding your way back. As a result, it is a very frustrating device to use. I do not have such issue when reading the PDF on my PC as I can jump to a particular page by entering it into the text box.

It is definitely a sad case of cuteness trumping over functionality.

4) Its ePub reader cannot magnify diagrams at will and this is not only annoying but downright dysfunctional when reading technical materials full of diagrams and charts. Its PDF viewer can magnify but its ePub reader cannot.

5) Because it cannot retain your place in several books, it is very frustrating when using the NOOK as a device to replace physical books. You can do this comfortably on a notebook but not on NOOK.

I definitely will not recommend anyone to buy a NOOK to read technical materials.

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