Barnes and Noble's Nook Steps into the Ring with Kindle

By Jason Griffey |

The Amazon Kindle's first real competitor saw the light of day for the first time this week, and it looks very, very impressive. The Barnes & Noble Nook launched Oct 20th, and it stands toe-to-toe with the standard that has been set by the Kindle, even exceeding it in many ways.

The important bits: The Nook has the same 6-inch eInk screen as the Kindle, and is $20 cheaper (the Nook preorders for $259, while the Kindle 2 is still $279). The Nook also has a remarkable navigation system: a secondary color touchscreen display, directly under the eInk. It's a great-looking innovation, and one that gives the reader's interface flexibility that the Kindle just doesn't have. In my opinion, as you go through the specs, the comparison seems to favor the Nook over the Kindle. Here's the quick rundown of the things I get asked about the most when I talk about eReaders:

  • The Nook will handle PDF's natively, while the Kindle 2 won't (the Kindle DX does, but it's really a specialty device compared to these two).
  • The Kindle ostensibly supports Word files, but only through an email conversion process. The nook does not support word files at all. On the other hand, the Nook supports the open epub standard for electronic texts, which means that converting your Word files locally should be trivial.
  • Nook has a replaceable battery, which is still a big deal for some people given the amount of comments on the topic that still show up around the web. Given that both will run for over a week on a single charge if you switch the wireless connection off, and the lifetime of recharge cycles for a modern battery is longer than you're likely be using the device, I don't see this as a huge issue. Still, some people do, so to reiterate: the Nook has a replaceable battery and the Kindle 2 doesn't.
  • Both devices have 2 gigs of internal storage, but the Nook brings back the possibility of expanding that up to 16 gigs via SD card. Considering that 2 gigs is about 1500 books, that's a ton of storage for text. You could probably hold every book you've ever read on a single card.
  • Both have cellular data connectivity with the Kindle relying on the Sprint network, and the Nook on AT&T. The massive advantage here goes to the Nook, as it also includes WiFi connectivity, with a business model built around allowing you to use WiFi in B & N stores to shop virtually on the nook. WiFi is a huge leg up, but unlike the Kindle, it doesn't look like the Nook actually has a web browser built in, which limits the connectivity to shopping for books. The lack of a browser is a huge disappointment on the Nook, especially since it's running the Android operating system from Google, and could leverage that browser pretty easily.

The B&N device has another leg up on the kindle with it's new LendMe offering, which allows you to "lend" an eBook you purchased to someone else for their reading. They get it for 14 days and it gets "disabled" on your device so that you can't read it during the lend, then shows up once again on your device after the 14-day period. The other advantage here over the Kindle is that the B&N books will be "lendable" to anyone using a wide range of devices: Blackberries, iPhones, PC's and Macs. The Kindle only "shares" between the iPhone and the Kindle, and even then only on the same account; there is no lending to friends.

The language that B&N is using is cagey enough to make me wonder about this service, though. The webpage describing this clearly says that "most" eBooks are lendable, which means that some aren't going to be. I'm assuming that this is a publisher-by-publisher decision, but unless they disclose up-front which books are lendable and which aren't, in my opinion, this is a very limited feature.

It's an interesting model, and I'm curious to see if it is sufficient in meeting people's desire to share their favorite books.

There's a ton more to say about the Nook. While it's not available immediately (Barnes & Noble is taking pre-orders for a November ship date now) it should be in every Barnes & Noble retail location well before the holiday shopping season. It is by far the most interesting eReader to launch since the original Kindle almost 2 years ago. If you have questions about the device, leave them in the comments and I'll answer them there.

It's an exciting time for eBooks, and I know we're all curious to see how the Nook holds up.