Nook Review – 3G and WiFi, firmware 1.4 rooted version

The subject of this somewhat late review is Barnes and Noble’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle eReader, the Nook. After B&N slashes Nook’s prices to a level it became a compulsory purchase if you are a book lover, so I decided to take the plunge and buy one. I purchased the 3G version but the review will apply to both versions since the only internal difference is the presence of a 3G modem in the 3G version of the Nook and the back cover color (gray for Nook 3G, white for Nook WiFi). The reason the review is somewhat late is because I like to test my new gadgets for a couple of weeks before I review them in order to get a better feel about their usability and ergonomics. Also, the present review will apply to the rooted version of the Nook and I’ll explain in detail the differences between the rooted and the official version. The reviewed firmware version is 1.4.

1. Unpacking

The Nook version I purchased arrived in B&N’s newest package with is lighter and paper only. Very easy to unpack compared with some extremely hard plastic cases I have seen lately that tend to cut your hands. The Nook box contains the Nook unit itself, the USB cable, the charger and a quick start guide. The user guide is of course, available on Nook as expected. The Nook was shipped containing firmware 1.3 which I promptly updated to 1.4. Since I knew Nook uses Android OS I looked immediately online to see if it can be hacked, but more about this later.

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2. Tech Specs

Supported file formats:
  • eBooks: PDF, EPUB , PDB
  • Graphics: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Audio: MP3
Connections:
  • Micro USB connector
  • Universal 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack
  • Expandable microSD slot

Network:

  • Wi-Fi ( 802.11 b/g).
  • Free Wi-Fi in all Barnes & Noble stores.
  • Free Wi-Fi in all AT&T hotspots
  • NOOK 3G+Wi-Fi includes FREE wireless connectivity via AT&T

Dimensions:

Height: 7.7 inches

Width: 4.9 inches

Depth: 0.5 inches

Weight:

  • 12.1 ounces –

    (NOOK 3G + Wi-Fi)

     

     

     

  • 11.6 ounces  - WiFi only version

     

     

     

3. Functionality

3.1 eInk Screen

Nook uses the same eInk screen found in the latest version of Kindle 2 so parameters like contrast and number of gray shades are similar. In terms of quality, the eInk screen is more than acceptable and, unlike the LCD screens, it doesn’t bother my eyes at all. Size-wise, the device is very light and thin and takes almost no space in a regular briefcase. I can even fit it in my pocket while going to work.

3.2 Interface

Nook can be controller two ways. It has hardware buttons for page turning (both ways, both sides) so you can hold it with one hand and easily turn pages. You can also turn pages by swiping the LCD touchscreen in the intended direction. The buttons are a bit harder to press than the Kindle Next/Prev Page buttons.

The main difference between the Nook and the Kindle is the way the user interacts with the unit. While Kindle has a small physical keyboard plus a hardware directional pad and menu/Back buttons, Nook includes a small LCD capacitive touchscreen which is very easy to use and help establish Nook superiority over Kindle, at least in my opinion. You can use the color LCD not only to search for books/words via a iPhone-esque screen keyboard but also to see in full color book covers and sliced of web pages.  The inclusion of the LCD touchscreen opens Nook to a lot more possibilities than Kindle (games?)

I need to mention that, while you can search for book titles/authors in the purchased book library, the search feature is not available for side loaded content (the documents loaded by yourself in “My Documents”). You will have too root the device to be able to search your own content as well.

3.3 Dictionary

Nook features a built in dictionary called “Look Up Words” . You can highlight words to look up or you can type them using the on screen keyboard.

3.4 Music/Games

Nook includes a simple music player that can play mp3 files stored in the unit main memory or the microSD card. The player is very basic but it does its job. The quality using headphones is decent, but the included speakers are way to underpowered to be usable. With newer software, B&N added Chess and Sudoku games which can help fill the long commuting hours.

3.5 Connectivity

Being sold by Barnes and Noble, Nook implements B&N store. Similar with Kindle, Nook can connect via 3G (At&T) to download books from their store, or via WiFi if you purchased WiFi only version. Unlike Kindle though, Nook can only surf the Internet via WiFi, the 3G network is used only for browsing/purchasing B&N store content.

B&N claims over a million books available for download. This number includes a lot of free books and even more Nook compatible free books can be found here. From the B&N store you can also download magazines and newspapers and getting them on your Nook is very fast, even while using the 3G connection.

3.6 PDF Reflow

If you set the text Medium/Larger/Largest, Nook will perform PDF reflow for you and it does a fairly good job at that. You will achieve the best results with text documents, but many documents containing pictures are displayed reasonably well also. If you want to see how a specific document looks like on Nook, you can send it to me and I’ll try to post pictures.

3.7 Clock

It is amazing how you will miss features you never know you needed. After my wife stole my Nook and I was forced to revert back to my good old Kindle, I found myself looking repeatedly in the top right corner for the time, feature which unfortunately is missing on the Kindle, but very useful in my opinion.

3.8. Browser

Starting with firmware version 1.3, B&N includes an Internet Browser for Internet surfing while on WiFi. Unlike Kindle, you cannot browse with Nook while on 3G, you will need a WiFi connection. B&N has a deal with AT&T and you can use their hot spots, but I would still like 3G browsing as well. The speed is reasonable and you can use the color LCD to see the current section of a webpage in color. You will get a better browsing experience if you choose the mobile version of a website. RSS feeds look well though.

4. Rooting

Although Nook uses Android as an OS, the device is locked to the user so you cannot install your own applications. Also, you won’t be able to add/hide menu entries and, most annoying, you won’t be able to use the search feature to search the side-loaded content. Fortunately, soon after launch Nook was rooted and now it is perfectly possible to add new applications to the devices. Rooting Nook won’t transform it to a free Internet surfing device because 3G functionality is locked to B&N’s own store, but there are many other advantages described below. Let’s see how it is done first! (thanks to Nook Devs). I included a simple version of the instructions. If you need more help, I would suggest to read the excellent guide provided by Nook Devs.

1. You will need to downgrade your Nook to version 1.0.0 (The one version that allowed the root exploit)

2. Copy the firmware 1.0.0 to your Nook drive (connect the Nook to your PC via USB first)

3. Disconnect the cable after you copied the file. Nook will start to automatically install version 1.0.0. Upon completion, it will restart itself

4. Download the rooted Nook software, version 1.4 from here.

5. Important: You will need at least 20% battery life to perform the following steps as you don’t want to brick your Nook by running out of power during the upgrade process.

6. Install a microSD card inside your Nook (see 6. Memory Expansion and Internals for instructions)

7. Copy the rooted Nook downloaded at step 4 on the root of the microSD card

8. Disconnect the USB cable again

9. Turn your Nook off by pressing the power button until the screen becomes blank.

10. Push and hold the upper page turn button on the right side of your Nook. While holding, push for a short time the power button and then release it. Wait a couple of seconds until you see “checking for update message” and release the upper page turn button as well. The Nook will start the update and install the rooted 1.4 software.

11. If the Nook starts normally instead of checking for update, you pushed the buttons in the wrong order/timing so go back to step 9

12. After the Nook installs the rooted software and is fully started, you will need to re-boot it again. Power it down by pushing the power button 5-6 seconds and then power it up again.

13. That’s it, you have a rooted nook right at step 13 :D.

5. Android applications

The rooted 1.4 firmware contains goodies as Trook – feed reader, Twook - Twitter client, Nook Library (the one that allows to search side-loaded content – your own files for example), Nook Wifi Locker (keeps the WiFi on when you surf/twitter/listen to Pandora Radio), File Manager and App Manager. You will also find a Nook Launcher with icons resembling the old Nook firmware icons, etc. Pandora Radio can also be installed on your Nook but it will quickly drain the battery and I prefer to use my iPhone for music anyway.

6. Memory Expansion and Internals

Unlike Kindle, Nook’s memory can be expanded by using a microSD card which is a big advantage. If you want to upgrade Nook’s memory, first power off Nook by pushing the power button (top side) for 5-6 seconds until the screen turns blank, then you will need to remove the back-cover by pulling with your nails from the small holes on the side. Don’t be afraid to pull harder if the back-cover doesn’t come off right away. To insert the microSD card, lift with a small screwdriver (or your nails) the metal microSD cover and place the microSD card with the contacts facing down. It should securely fit into its position. Then, push down the memory cover back down. Turn your Nook back on and after the boot up process is finished, by connecting the Nook to your computer, you should now see two storage units, the one labeled Nook and the second one which is your microSD card. Nook supports SDHC standard  and my 8GB microSDHC card was recognized immediately.

The main components inside Nook:

  • CPU – Samsung S3C6410
  • Internal 2GB Sandisk microSD card for internal storage – not accessible directly unless you completely open your Nook
  • Touchscreen controller - Synaptics TM1369
  • Sierra Wireless MC8777V wireless modem in data only mode (3G version only)

7. Battery life

To be honest, the stated 10 days battery life stated by Barnes and Noble is way above real world performance. You can probably get half of that, depending of your daily reading habits and only if you never use the LCD screen and never turn on the wireless. Otherwise, your battery can be drained in under two days of heavy usage (using Pandora on WiFi will kill your battery in less than a day). Kindle’s battery life is much better, but then again, Kindle doesn’t use Android OS and has no color LCD screen. The good news is that you can easily replace the battery yourself so if needed, you can carry several around. The charging time is around 3 and a half hours and you can charge the Nook using your PC USB connection.

8. Conclusion and Wife’s opinion

Nook is a remarkable device and B&N certainly studied Kindle before designing their own reader (USB socket, charging light, speakers are located in the same place). Using Android OS opens the device to interesting possibilities and, while Nook doesn’t have an android store yet, it could certainly come in the future.  Meantime, if you are the adventurous type, you can root it and make it better.

W.O.

Under Wife’s opinion (W.O.) section, I can only mention that she stole the Nook from me and now I had to revert back to my Kindle. She really likes the Nook, completely opposite to her attitude towards Pandigital Novel 7 eReader.

Pros: EPUB compatibility, PDF reflow, capacitive LCD touchscreen

Cons: Cannot read at night without an external light source, but that’s no a flaw of the device itself

Conclusion: With Nook, Barnes & Noble demonstrated that if you wait until your competition releases their product first, you have a good chance to learn from their mistakes and improve the design. I like Nook much better than Kindle mainly for three reasons: Android, EPUB support and the color capacitive LCD touchscreen. Check Nook’s website for more information.

9. Gallery

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  • http://www.yboris.com Boris

    Thanks for you thorough reviews! Wife Opinion is a nice touch :)