A little worried about writing a Nook Color Review

The Kindle has always been the #1 eReader in my opinion. There was a tie between Kindle and Nook, before Nook came out, but then Nook turned out to be slow and buggy. There have been eReaders that have been close and there still are (Sony Reader Pocket Edition).

However, the Nook Color threatens to upend that.

Why the Nook Color has a shot at being a better ‘eReader’ than the Kindle

Have played around a lot with Nook Color, have finished Alice in Wonderland, and am about to finish Kraken by China ‘Agency Model’ Mieville.

Those two books have highlighted a few things -

  1. When a book is good – It’s not as big a difference in reading experience as you might imagine. There is a difference – But it’s easy to rationalize it away, because you have great Internet surfing, and color photos.
  2. For reading stretches of 30 to 60 minutes – The Nook Color is almost as good. It isn’t eInk, but there aren’t a million distractions, and it is, despite protests to the contrary, a reading tablet.
  3. The size is perfect. It’s a better screen size than Kindle, and the weight, while not ideal, is manageable. If you have weak hands – stick to the Kindle.
  4. Touch makes a difference. It makes a big difference when browsing the Internet, and it makes a bit of a difference when searching for books. Zero difference when reading books.
  5. Color makes a difference. Not for books – for everything else. It’s also a nice bonus to have your photos look marvellous on the Nook Color.
  6. Longer stretches of reading, especially at night, are a pain. Got a bit of a headache after spending 3 hours reading at night. The strange thing is that it’s OK. It’s still not like iPhone or iPad where it makes you want to stop reading on them completely. It’s almost like Nook Color is in between Kindle (zero headache) and iPad (noticeable headache).
  7. The loss of sleep part is true too – Just the act of reading at night means you’re not sleeping. Additionally, the backlight, even at 20% brightness, keeps you awake. However, even that is fine for some reason.
  8. It comes back to the quality of the book. All the 3-star books you read will be painful on Nook Color. On Kindle they’ll be fine. The 5-star books will be fine on either.

It’s a strange situation.

You’d never pick Nook Color over Kindle for reading, but you might pick it when buying

There’s this HUGE paradox.

If you owned both, and there was adequate lighting (or a Kindle Lighted Cover) you’d ALWAYS pick the Kindle for reading books.

At the same time, there’s just no way you could tell, when looking at them side by side for the first time, that the Kindle is better for reading, lets you focus on reading, and will get you to read more.

Nook Color is a salesman’s dream – Whether going up against Kindle or iPad.

For Kindle, it’s color, touch, memory card slots, and Android’s infinite promise of infinite something. For iPad, it’s half the price, easier to hold and carry, and more open.

No one is going to spend a month with each, and take the time to realize that Kindle is better for readers.

Nook Color is what the iPad was trying to be – when it comes to reading

You might argue that everything stated in favor of Nook Color, holds true for iPad. It doesn’t. Nook Color is a much better size, it’s slightly better for glare than iPad, it’s half the price, and it has MUCH better screen resolution.

It narrows the quality of reading experience gap between Kindle and Tablets. The ‘Reading Tablet’ really is a reading tablet.

It’s cognitive dissonance for me. Because the most straight-forward answer I could give would be -

  1. You’re going to look at Kindle and Nook Color side by side.
  2. You won’t know Kindle is better for reading.
  3. You’re likelier to buy Nook Color. You still won’t know Kindle is better for reading.
  4. You know what, the difference isn’t large enough for it to be a big deal.
  5. There won’t be much regret.

That last part, 4 and 5, is the one that should scare Amazon into action. With the iPad, people were soon running into regret – It’s too big, I’m not really reading on it, there are too many distractions, it’s not worth $500, reading is better on the Kindle.

A lot of that is gone with Nook Color. The only thing that remains is – Kindle is better for reading. The other sources of regret (price, size, weight, distractions) are gone.

Nook Color probably passes Mr. Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework

Here are the things you might regret if you buy a Nook Color as a reading tablet -

  1. Can’t read it in bright sunlight. There’s some glare in bright lighting situations. 
  2. The reading experience isn’t as good as on the Kindle. 
  3. It’s on the heavy side.
  4. Your eyes get tired after an hour or so of reading on Nook Color - when there is noticeably less light around you, than coming from the screen.

Here are things you won’t regret, but would with an iPad -

  1. The price.
  2. The fact that you’re reading even less than you did earlier.
  3. None of the features are tailored to people who read.
  4. It’s too awkward to hold.
  5. It’s too heavy to hold. Nook is a bit heavy but manageable. Again, if you have weak hands – stay away.
  6. You have to use another company’s ebook store, and do the song and dance that entails i.e. shop in the browser, then read in the app.
  7. It’s just too big to carry everywhere with you. Not to mention it’s a huge security issue as everyone knows it’s $500.

To further minimize your regret we have a LOT of the benefits the iPad was touting -

  1. You can do more than just read. If you’re so inclined, and tech savvy, you can root it, and use it as an Android tablet.
  2. You can use ePub with it i.e. other eBook stores.
  3. You can use library books with it.
  4. Color. In fact, the screen resolution is much better than iPad. 
  5. Touch.

Missing out on the Kindle Store really sucks. However,

  1. If you root it, you have access to Kindle for Android.
  2. Nook Store is not bad – It’s quite close behind Kindle Store when it comes to selection and price.
  3. You don’t get Kindle Apps – But there’s a Nook App Store in the works.

That leaves us with our last big source of regret – The free 3G Internet, and store browsing, that Kindle provides. Nook Color only has WiFi. Add on international 3G store browsing, and free Internet (for US Kindle owners), and we have a big, real source of regret.

Consider the two things-you-will-regret lists. They total up to a considerably smaller list than the regret list if you choose iPad over Kindle. The fact that you can root Nook Color means you can have your cake and eat it too – A Reading Tablet with Kindle for Android.

Lab 126, we have a problem

This is what my assumption was on Day 1 with Nook Color -

  • If you read, get a Kindle. If you read rarely, get a Nook Color.

This is what it seemed to be after a week or two with Nook Color -

  • If you read 2 or more books a month, get a Kindle. If you read 1 or fewer books a month, get a Nook Color.

After 3 weeks, and actual reading in a variety of situations, this is what it might end up at -

  • It doesn’t really matter which one you get. You could get Kindle and have zero regret because of the free 3G, great eInk screen, great store, and great infrastructure. You could get Nook Color and have zero regret because of color, touch, the promise of Android, the fact that it is a reading tablet focused on reading, and ePub.

There’s a HUGE difference in the first and third assumptions/feelings. We’re effectively saying  – You could toss a coin and not go wrong.

Kindle vs Nook Color = Pick either. It’s not going to matter very much.

When two fight, a third wins

Add to the previous section, the fact that Apple’s Internal and External Marketing Departments have endlessly attacked the value proposition of dedicated eReaders. It means that most of the Kindle’s huge strengths (eInk, freedom from distractions, focus on reading) are undervalued.

We have people thinking Kindle is not that different from Tablets. The ones who buy an iPad realize it’s not as good for reading, and then they get a Kindle.

With Nook Color, at the time of buying it, people will still be under the impression that Kindle isn’t that much better than a reading tablet. Except, this time, it’s true – They won’t really have any reason to get a Kindle in addition to Nook Color.

Nook Color has managed to fill that imaginary void Apple’s marketing departments created – A Tablet that isn’t that much worse than Kindle for reading.

What can Amazon do to counter Nook Color?

At the moment – Nothing.

It does have a few big advantages -

  1. It’s going to take 3-6 months for people to realize Nook Color really is a big deal.
  2. iPad 2, or one of the Android Tablets, might compete in Nook Color’s reading tablet niche. Fragmentation might mean that the Kindle vs Nook Color debate disappears.
  3. Nook App Store doesn’t exist. It’s barely out of the conception shell. Kindle App Store already has 20 or so apps out.
  4. Amazon has their ultra-secret Android Store in the works.
  5. Amazon has the ‘Kindle = reading’ association.
  6. It has the best eBook store.
  7. It has the lead in eReaders, eBooks, and Reading Apps.
  8. There are a lot of Kindles out, and lots of people are seeing it everywhere.
  9. It’s doing very well in the UK, and is available worldwide.

The big threat of the Nook Color is, if there isn’t a Kindle Tablet out within 6 months, the Nook Color is going to eat through the eReader market like Kobayashi.

The second big threat of the Nook Color is, if the Nook App Store takes off, it could mean that Nook Color + Reading Related Nook Apps make for a better overall experience than Kindle + Kindle Apps (none of the latter, at the moment, are reading related).

There are a lot of Android developers – So, it’s not out of the question that Nook Apps could add more value than Kindle Apps. However, it’s something Amazon must find a way to avoid. And it can’t avoid it unless it embraces Android, and gets Android developers to develop for it, rather than for Nook Color.

The only solution is an Android based Kindle Tablet. There’s no other option – Either Amazon releases an actual Android based Kindle Tablet, or it hopes and prays B&N runs out of money before Nook Color has totally over-run the eReader market.

30 Responses

  1. I wish I could get color on an ereader, but Nook Color is not even an option for me. You may get a slight headache after an hour, but when I was reading on my iPhone, I had a month long bout with migraines that got so bad that my doctor banned reading for extended periods on LCDs to see if that solved the problem. In fact, she said texts, but only since some of my friends wouldn’t call, they would only text – and they were good enough friends that I refused to completely give up contact with them.

    It worked, and I can be on my computer, although I suspect a lower refresh rate, since flickering lights will trigger my migraines. It’s interesting because it’s not how much light there is; the brighter light on the computer won’t be as bad as the dimmer light on the Nook or iPhone. (Although any overhead lights that flicker will trigger my migraine, especially if they’re in the ‘about to die’ flicker mode.) That is to say, I can’t find anything that would account for the dimmer LCD being worse other than perhaps the refresh rates on LCDs being higher, and pretty much flashing at me more.

    Now, I realize I might be a rare case, but for anyone who does suffer from migraines, and who might be triggered by flickering/flashing lights, Nook Color is not an option. And not everyone knows the difference between that and eink. The same doctor who banned LCDs, at least for a trial period, also tried to ban my Kindle. I got frantic, and flustered, and had to explain how there’s no backlighting, so it couldn’t possibly trigger my migraines. (She told me to do a trial run with that, and indeed, eink is not a trigger to my great relief.)

    The only way Nook Color would be a contender for me is if the size were good for graphic novels – that is one page could be easily read on the screen. If I’m not already head-achy, I can sometimes read for a while on my iPhone if I forgot my Kindle. And I could read half a comic/a full comic in those five, to fifteen, minutes. Unfortunately, it seems as if it’s not all that concerned with comics, and it’s not going to be optomized for that. The size certainly doesn’t do it for me as is.

    I’ll be waiting. I’d totally jump on an eink DX sized Kindle – even if it weren’t the perfect size for comics, I’d be willing to put up with some scrolling if I could get Marvel comics onto a device that would guarantee no pain. (And I haven’t seen a DX in person, so I’m not sure how the size would work on graphic novels.)

  2. I thought from all the Lab 126 job openings you posted earlier that Amazon was working on a tablet.

    I suspect a 7″ iPad will come out. Nook Color vs 7″ iPad reviews will be interesting to read.

    I’m not LCD compatible so Nook Color is of no interest to me.

  3. Wow, Switch. That is an interesting ‘switch’ coming from you. It seems inconceivable that Amazon does not have such a device in the works. Looking to a world of Star Trek pads, it’s likely that the bulk of non-fiction will need colour and movement and almost every student or school kid on the planet will carry one. At that time, they are unlikely to carry another just for text. We’ve almost come to expect that Amazon will lead the pack but reading this, it makes you wonder if B&N has just jumped forward a couple of years to surprise us all.

    Right now, I love my Kindle and will stick with it. Battery life and outside reading are too important. When that gap narrows eink will be in trouble unless something else changes. Perhaps Amazon starts giving Kindles away, perhaps they bring out a pad that is a reader and a vending catalog for global shopping. The latter might allow them to offer a ridiculously low price in order to keep the lock-in.

    Thanks for this post. It’s quite a surprise and needs some thought to really figure out where this is going in 2011.

    • It’s just that there are so many people who are bringing up Nook Color. It matches my experience – Nook Color is very, very good.

      Plus, once you buy one, you are far less likely to buy Kindle – than if you bought iPad or iPhone or an Android Phone.

      • I agree with Swittch11,

        Nook color is pretty ideal for the < 20 book a year crowd. Only those with exposure to the Kindle and a 'need' for a better screen will consider a non-color e-reader.

        I love my Kindle, but that doesn't mean I'll be blind that a market is split into multiple segments. While the current segment, per reader, won't be as lucrative for e-book sales… it gives B&N a big leg up in market-share and a larger leg-up in 'mindshare.'

        It also means Amazon must react. With a tablet. I'm sure they were working on it, but now, due to 'mindshare' they'll have to bring something interesting to market.

        Neil

  4. I have to say I’m puzzled by this response. I’ve fiddled with the Nook Color, and with it’s LCD screen it seems fundamentally lacking as a pure eReader as any tablet or cell phone.

    In fact, having used any number of eReaders, I would classify all the major e-ink devices above tablets like the iPad and Nook color when it comes to long form reading – as opposed to reading blogs, articles, or picture books.

    Luckily, new reflective eReader technologies, even if they take another decade to arrive, will ultimately outcompete LCD screen based tablets, even if the latter comes to dominate in the interim. If Amazon should lose sight of that, then some other companies will simply take advantage. As you’ve said before on this blog, the real end game is replacing paper – something which will inevitably be done by something closer to e-ink or Mirasol than by the blinkering LCD monitors we’ve become addicted to at work and home.

    • I think there are a few key differences -

      1) It’s focused on reading. So no distractions, and perhaps soon – more reading related features.
      2) If you look at the list of apps they’re recommending for Nook App developers it’s 80% reading related. So it might get great reading related apps.
      3) The special anti-glare coating may or may not work – It does show good intent.
      4) The screen is pretty special. The resolution is same as the Kindle’s resolution.

      Also, by no means am I saying it’s better for hardcore readers – Just that it’s come in right between Kindle (hard core readers), and iPad (want more than reading, don’t really read that much) – Which might end up being a bigger segment of readers than hard core readers.

  5. Like switch11 said the other day in a post – perhaps they could all try to give us a good, albeit more expensive, reader/tablet/whatever rather than go through all the marketing feature creep that appears to be going on.

    I, for one, am leery of buying a new “anything” until the market settles a bit and we can see some general direction this issue will take. It’s punishing to even think about being an early adopter at this point, and I am going to sit out a bit and just wait. I feel Amazon will bring some color screened item to market, but only when they must.

    I would love a new Nook Color, but not under theser circumstances. And switch11, thanks for being able to give us a clearer view of what’s going on out there. I agree with your post.

  6. This is for the person that was looking for the book about the girls taken from the theater. The book is called “And Then There Was One”.

  7. “Here are the things you might regret if you buy a Nook Color as a reading tablet -”

    5. B&N goes belly up, or gets taken over by Borders and drops the Nook in favor of the Kobo.

    • If Borders does take over B&N, I doubt they will get rid of the Nook.

      On the other hand if B&N goes belly up, Nook owners would probably regret buying one.

    • That’s a good point. However, they would have to be the dumbest people in the world to give up on the Nook Color.

      • “… they would have to be the dumbest people in the world to give up on the Nook Color.”

        So one would like to think. But all they have to be is “human, all-too-human”–i.e., Normal. Here’s how the Normals from Borders / Kobo (or anywhere) would normally think: “NIH–ergo, begone!”

      • What if B&N is selling the Nook Color at a substantial loss? Then its cancellation in the event of a takeover is a real possibility.

      • Switch has to be right here. Borders wouldn’t kill Nook, they’d be buying B&N *FOR THE NOOK*. First of all, let’s be clear, Borders has neither the capital nor the stock strength to pull this off. One of their big investors has offered to fund a takeover attempt, no doubt gaining more preferred stock as an upside.

        The media reporting is pretty clear that Borders has few properties where there isn’t a B&N in the vicinity, so there’s a tremendous overlap problem.

        That said, Borders resells Kobo (and many other readers now, don’t forget). B&N makes and sells Nook, and potentially has a much higher profit. I dismiss the one commenter who surmises they lose money on the Nook, that seems unlikely given the hardware and the manufacturing volume.

        In addition, companies like Borders and B&N potentially have MORE reason to like eBooks than an Amazon or other online seller, ASSUMING the market matures to a healthy mix between the two. B&N has a higher warehousing cost than Amazon, who is widely respected as the most sophisticated warehouser in the States, with a tremendous capacity and an incomprehensibly low cost to move product. Amazon also has no retail footspace to pay for.

        Since eBooks are a level playground under agency, a $12.99 book nets the same margin to either seller. A million eBook sales could be more than a million less books to stock, since with digital you don’t have to predict demand and have inventory (how many books sit on a shelf unsold, and then have to be returned – that costs money too, since if you never stocked unsold titles, you’re retail store wouldn’t be so large).

        Therefore, B&N may be happier to sell an eBook in that one respect (assuming digital doesn’t doom retail, which I don’t believe it will), since that profit comes without the slightly higher costs they had in the first place of more expensive warehousing and distribution, as well as retail employees, rent, utilities, etc on a bunch of very large stores. If they can trim those costs down a bit, but still keep stores viable (and profitable) through a mixture of books, magazines, newspapers and expensive coffee and pastries, but maybe stop opening MEGA STORES and open stores a bit more reasonable in size, with less cost…

        Anyway, long story short: Borders wouldn’t buy B&N and KILL Nook, they’d be more likely to let the Kobo deal expire and not resign.

      • Scott Lewis says:
        “I dismiss the one commenter who surmises they lose money on the Nook, that seems unlikely given the hardware and the manufacturing volume.”

        Googling for nook loss leader gets 51,400 hits, such as:

        Crunchgear says:
        “the nook color is very likely a loss leader”
        “Nice Knowing You, Nook,” Oct 26, 2010

        A comment on Hacker news says:
        “Is this a loss leader for B&N? It seems very cheap for its build quality”

        *****
        Another find, on Googling for “Barnes and Noble” “earnings report” nook loss . Notice that the company makes no claim that it is making money on the Nook, as it would surely do if that were the case, because it has been criticized during a proxy fight for losing money on it.

        “Yesterday [Nov. 30] Barnes & Noble reported financial results for its fiscal 2010 second quarter. Sales at B&N’s brick and mortar stores continue to decline, while online sales were up 59 percent. B&N has been expanding their Toys and Games department, and sales were up by 42 percent for that section. B&N lost $0.22 per share in the quarter, which was at the low end of forecasts. The stock fell yesterday, but seems to have recovered most of the loss.
        Barnes & Noble says that sales of the Nook Color ereader have exceeded expectations. The company also claims to now hold 20 percent of the ebook market.”

      • Well, first of all, Google searches always return THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of hits. That said, hundreds of bloggers saying “perhaps it’s a loss leader” or “the build quality seems very high for the price” is not the same as saying they are losing money on it.

        Besides, ask video game consoles if it’s always important to make money on hardware.

        That said, while the build quality is very high, there are quite a number of plastic Android tablets from China, and a bunch that don’t even need to be imported (they are on the counters at K-Mart, Borders, and other stores) for less. Some have upwards of 800 MHz processors. Some run stock Android, but some have custom eReading-centric interfaces. Some even have B&N store interfaces via WiFi from the device.

        I just don’t think it’s assured that at $250 they lose money.

      • “I just don’t think it’s assured that at $250 they lose money.”

        OK, that’s a more reasonable position than “dismissing” the idea that they might be losing money. You might be right. BUT:

        I read somewhere something by someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about (I’ve forgotten the citation—he wasn’t just a commenter but an author) that B&N was pricing the product very low as a desperation move to gain share and hope that the gamble would pay off down the road. If not, there’d be no harm in going bankrupt a few months earlier than they would have if they hadn’t taken the chance.

      • On a side note: A rooted nookcolor (super simple instructions at nookdevs.com) becomes a very nice Kindle for Android client.

      • thanks for the update. Good to know they have easier instructions now.

    • What if Amazon buys B&N – it would be simple for them (financially) but the huge drawback would be having to close down so many stores, as that’s actually surprisingly expensive to do; even if a location is losing money it costs a LOT to go through the motions.

      • “What if Amazon buys B&N …”

        The government’s anti-trust regulators wouldn’t allow it, because it would reduce competition so much.

  8. NookColor is not quite ready to replace a Kindle 3 for me.

    Multiple people, one account:

    1) On Kindle, a bunch of us in the family share an account, so we can read each other’s books. You can do this on the Nook, as well, but the archive is GLOBAL. So if I archive a book, it disappears off the other nooks as well.

    2) Last read page sync. On Kindle, you can turn this off. You can’t on the nook. So one never knows what page a book will open on. That’s a great feature with ONE person, multiple nooks. It’s a horrible feature with MULTIPLE people, multiple nooks.

    Book organization:

    1) The home screen cannot contain side loaded content. Only books/magazines/newspapers purchased from B&N. This makes the home screen useless.

    2) “Shelves” are essentially the same as Kindle collections. Except there is NO easy way to find books that are not on ANY shelves, meaning you might look at your various shelves and be missing books. If you click on the books tab, instead, you see ALL your books, making it again hard to find the one that’s missing from a shelf / any shelves. You have to tap and hold on a book to see if “Remove from Shelf” becomes an option, to know if it’s already on a shelf or not. This is tedious.

    3) You can’t remove a book sample except from http://www.bn.com. That this holdover annoyance from the original nook still exists is shameful.

    Social Media:

    1) The sharing option to post a quote to twitter or facebook is only available for B&N purchased media. The button appears on your content, but nothing happens.

    • Don’t forget that the NookColor can’t even search all your books! Searching from outside a book just searches title/subject/author not the contents of the books. You can only search within the book you’re currently reading. So much for finding mentions of something across all your books.

      • Thanks for that update. Didn’t realize search was limited.

      • I didn’t realize that either. I rarely use search, as I’m pretty good about bookmarking and note taking as I go along. When I research scripture, I search a lot, but quite frankly, eReaders are not best for that type of study (reading: yes, research: no). For that, some of the very specialized iPad software such as Logos or Olive Tree is the way to go. I’m curious if that extends to textbooks – it can be a bit sluggish to jump around in an eBook sometimes, although when you are reading, you rarely jump. :)

    • Thanks for those points. A few of those are definite negatives.

  9. I would appreciate a lot an article with an extensive analysis of Kindle vs Textbooks. Whats going on in that arena?

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