Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      

Jud Roberts: Nook vs. Kindle

eBooks and Publishing

Here’s a guest post from Judson Roberts, author of the Strongbow Saga trilogy of Viking novels. Jud had given his assessments of these two eReaders in an e-mail discussion, and on my request kindly agreed to put his observations into a blog post.

You can see a larger version of any image by clicking on it.

Two years ago, digital books, or e-books, were something that relatively few people had any personal experience with. Although e-books had actually been around for a number of years, they’d never really caught on. But in mid-2010, that changed. In the months leading up to Christmas, Amazon significantly reduced the price of its Kindle e-book reader. Sales of the device took off, and in January, when millions of new Kindles became activated, the rate of e-book sales exploded. It has been growing ever since.

E-books can be read on a wide variety of devices, including personal computers, tablet computers, smartphones, and dedicated e-book readers. But the tremendous growth in e-book sales that has occurred in the United States (the rate of e-book sales in overseas markets has not yet seen the same level of dramatic growth) has been, to a large extent, driven by repeated price reductions over the past year of the two most popular and widely used dedicated e-book readers: the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, particularly the top of the line Color Nook. In this column, I will offer my personal opinion and experiences with both devices (Why, you might wonder, would I own both devices? I’m an author and have published some of my books as e-books, so I use both devices in part to review my e-book editions prior to releasing them.).

First, their similarities. Neither device is intended by its parent company to be an open source e-reader. By that, I mean that each device is tied to its parent company’s store, and designed to most easily access e-books sold through that store. Unless the user is willing to undertake some work-around steps (which admittedly are not that difficult to do, and which I’ll address in more detail below), a Kindle can easily load and read only Kindle e-books purchased from Amazon; a Nook only Nook books purchased from Barnes & Noble. The actual process of purchasing an e-book is fairly similar for both devices: either on a computer, or directly from the device, you access the parent company’s website, select a book, purchase it (for the devices to be activated when purchased, both require an active account with the parent company), and the book will be sent to your device.

In addition to the parent company’s e-books, it is possible to load documents in various formats, including Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF, onto both devices. The Nook also accepts EPUB files, the mostly widely used e-book format (which Nook e-books are in), and the newer Kindles accept Mobi format files, another e-book format. Thus, if a user acquires or already possesses e-books in the PDF format, they can be manually loaded on either the Kindle or the Nook. Additionally, non-B&N EPUB e-books can be manually loaded onto the Nook, and non-Amazon Mobi format e-books can be manually loaded onto the Kindle. For the present, at least, Kindle readers do not accept EPUB files or books, and Nook Color readers do not accept Mobi files or e-books, or Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format (which is derived from the Mobi format).

Documents and non-Nook e-books are loaded onto the Nook by connecting it via a USB cable (supplied with the device) to a personal computer, and transferring or copying them from the computer to the Nook. Documents and non-Kindle e-books may be loaded onto a Kindle using the same procedure, but Amazon also offers a far easier procedure: each Kindle is assigned an email address, and some formats of documents can simply be attached to an email sent to that address, after which they will appear on the device within minutes. [Luc adds: there’s a free way to do this if you’re willing to receive your documents or eBooks through WiFi only and not through Amazon’s cellular Whispernet by sending it to a address: see your Kindle documentation for details. Also note that purchases from Amazon for the Kindle are automatically downloaded to the device.]

The Nook is WiFi only, which means that it cannot connect to the B&N website and acquire and load new books unless it is connected to a WiFi network. The Kindle is available in two different connectivity options: WiFi only, or an always-available connection via 3G cell phone networks. The latter does not require any additional charge or plan for network access and use, but the 3G versions of the Kindle device are more expensive than the WiFi only versions. Both devices, when connected, offer some degree of web browsing capability.

The two devices differ most markedly in how they operate. The Color Nook is a touchscreen device that looks much like a tablet-style computer, and runs on a version of Google’s popular Android operating system, which is widely used in non-Apple smartphones and tablet computers. Indeed, Barnes & Noble has even advertised the Color Nook as the least expensive Android tablet available. That is a dangerous claim to make, although not because of the price. Compared to other Android devices, the Color Nook is either extremely underpowered or its capabilities have been grossly limited by Barnes & Noble’s restrictive control over the device.

The B&N Color Nook versus the free Amazon Kindle app on a smartphone

The Nook versus smartphone comparison raises another flaw with the Nook. One of the great things about smartphones is the numerous apps you can load and use on them. Their variety and functions are almost endless, and there are countless Android based apps available. As an Android device, the Nook should be able to use them, too. But no—Barnes & Noble does allow a few apps, sold through their store, to be installed and used on the Nook, but the selection is limited and is strictly controlled by B&N, in their own inimitable style. For example, Epicurious is an excellent cooking website with numerous recipes that are well organized, easy to search, and are even rated by users. There is a free Epicurious app available for Android smartphones—my wife loves it, and uses it all the time. Barnes & Noble now offers the Epicurious app through their store for the Color Nook, too—but they charge $5.99 for an app that is available free for other Android devices.

The actual Kindle e-book reader is a completely different kind of device than a touchscreen Nook or smartphone. It is controlled entirely by a manual keyboard below the screen and by various manual buttons, all of which are clearly labeled as to what function they perform. While the result may not present as sleek and elegant an appearance as the Color Nook, it works well and is easy to use. If I want to access the menu, I simply press the button labeled “Menu,” then navigate the options than appear onscreen using the multi-directional navigation and select button. If I want to go to the home page, where all books currently loaded on the device are listed and accessible (and from where I can access other Kindle books I’ve purchased, but which are not currently loaded on the device), I press the “Home” button.  If I wish to advance to the next page, or go back to the previous one, I press the forward or back buttons located on both sides of the device. The Kindle is like a good tool whose design is based on considerations of function first, and appearance second. I liken it to a hammer that so perfectly fits your hand and is so well balanced that you strike true with it every time. It’s a personal preference, but give me function over flash.

Kindle and Nook e-book versions, as well as in print editions).



  1. Lars Hedbor  •  Jul 22, 2011 @9:04 am

    Your criticisms of the Color Nook are well-founded and apt, but I think that by putting it head-to-head with the Kindle, you’re comparing apples and oranges.

    It’s my opinion that the better comparison to the Kindle is the e-ink Nook that you mention in passing. The older-generation version of that device is available in both WiFi and 3G versions, and it boasts comparable battery life and readability to the Kindle.

    The newer Nook is the one I’ve settled on, though, for a large number of reasons. First and foremost is form factor. While still not at the same proportions as a trade paperback or mass-market paperback, it’s significantly closer. Better yet, it’s thin and exceptionally lightweight.

    Unlike either the Kindle or the older Nooks, it has a touch-screen interface, and I have not found that its sensitivity is in any way less than I’d expect. A light tap or swipe has reliably turned pages, and as much as I detest typing on the touch screen of my smartphone, I’ve had no trouble typing on the Nook’s screen.

    Finally, the battery life on the Nook is nothing short of astounding. Going on a two-week vacation, or even a month? Leave the charger at home; you won’t likely need it. They claim a two-month battery life, but that’s probably without daily use. Even so, with daily use, a month without charging sounds pretty wonderful to me.

    I like very much that much more of the new Nook’s surface is devoted to the e-ink page than in the other e-ink devices. The Kindle gives over a substantial area of its front to a permanent keyboard that I don’t need frequent use of, and the old Nook’s token color touch-screen area was never anything but an annoying confusion to me.

    I can’t fault your comparisons of the relative merits of the two ebook stores and marketing approaches, but what matters to me is that they pass a bare minimum of functionality, and B&N’s store does somewhat more than that. Amazon’s may be a better store, but I spend considerably more time reading than shopping, so the new Nook’s inherent advantages over the Kindle outweigh Amazon’s advantage on the store.

    In all, prior to the introduction of the new Nook, I was very much on the fence between the two platforms, but having put hands on the new device, I’m sold. When I do purchase an e-reader with the first royalty check from The Prize , it will be the Nook.

  2. Judson Roberts  •  Jul 22, 2011 @4:57 pm

    Lars, Barnes &Noble released their new touch screen e-ink version of the Nook about the time I finished writing the above comparison. Because I didn’t have access to one, I limited my comparison to the Color Nook, B&N’s top of the line offering.

    The touch screen and low price do make the newest Nook a tough competitor for the Kindle, and your description makes it sound like an impressive device. It was a smart play by B&N.

    There’s another issue to consider, though. The Borders chain went under this week, and Barnes & Noble, as a company, is struggling somewhat. If they should eventually founder, too, Nook e-readers, no matter how impressive or disappointing they may be as devices, will be without a dedicated, connected store, which will make purchasing and loading books onto them much more of a hassle.

    Good luck with The Prize–hope you get a nice check in hand soon.

  3. Tim  •  Sep 19, 2011 @6:15 pm

    The Kindle or Nook decision is a reoccurring debate in my household. I have made it half way through a book on a Kindle and found the E-ink very easy on the eyes. Plus the broad band access on the Kindle is a nice feature.

    With the shaky future of Barnes & Noble, I’m not ready to jump into a Nook. What we ended up deciding on was an Ipad. As mentioned above, you can download the Kindle app and you also get all the veratility with the Ipad. It can be a movie player, music player, and so much more than just a ebook reader.

    The only issue I have no is finding time to read a book when the temptation of Plants Vs. Zombies is there!

  4. Micheal  •  Mar 1, 2012 @7:18 pm

    And the winner is, the Kindle… Kindle Fire that is

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>