5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle vs. Nook (updated 6/2/2011), August 28, 2010
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This review is from: Kindle 3G, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 3G Works Globally, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology (Electronics)
When I wrote this review last August, there was only one Nook, which is now called "Nook First Edition." It continues to be available, but there are two new Nooks. The Nook Color was introduced last fall - it's basically a tablet computer, and runs the Android software that is popular on many smartphones nowadays. It's twice as heavy and costs twice as much as a Kindle, but compared to other tablet computers, it is a very good value.

And now (early June 2011), a new e-ink based Nook is coming out. It's called the "Nook Simple Touch." It is just now starting to ship, so obviously I don't have one and can't tell you anything about it that you can't learn by reading online reviews. But the reviews are very favorable, so if you're considering a Kindle, you should take a look at the new Nook Simple Touch, too.

But the Kindle is nonetheless still a compelling option. It's a mature product, very well designed and easy to use, performance is very zippy, it's competitively priced, and no e-ink based reader has a better, more readable display than the Kindle, not even the new Nook Simple Touch. Also, the Kindle universe is quite extensive: the Kindle store is great and has many thousands of free e-books as well as good deals on most other e-books, and once purchased, you can read your Kindle books on nearly any device you own (computer, phone, tablet), not just your Kindle. And there are tons of great cases and other accessories for the Kindle.

So, while my review compares the Kindle to the older Nook, I'll leave it here because it has a ton of information about the Kindle, a great e-reader that deserves your attention, and because the original Nook continues to be available. That said, I urge you to NOT buy the original Nook. It was a respectable e-reader when it came out in 2009, and still had some value when I wrote about it in August 2010, but it is clearly inferior by today's standards.

------------ my original review --------------

If you're trying to choose between a Nook and a Kindle, perhaps I can help. My wife and I have owned a Nook (the original one), a Kindle 2, and a Kindle DX. When Amazon announced the Kindle 3 this summer, we pre-ordered two Kindle 3's: the wi-fi only model in graphite, and the wi-fi + 3G model in white. They arrived in late August and we have used them very regularly since then. For us, Kindle is better than Nook, but Nook is a good device with its own advantages that I will discuss below. I'll end this review with a few words about the Nook Color.

First, reasons why we prefer the Kindle:

* Speed

In our experience, the Kindle is very zippy compared to the Nook. Page refresh speed (the time it takes a new page to appear after you push the page-turn button) was WAY quicker on Kindle 2 than on Nook, and it's quicker yet on Kindle 3. Yet, I read a whole book on the Nook and didn't find the slower page refresh to be annoying - you get used to it, and it's not a problem.

For me, the more important speed difference concerns navigation - moving the cursor around the screen, for example to pick a book from your library, or to jump to a chapter by selecting it in the table of contents. On Kindle, you do this by pushing a 5-way rocker button, and the cursor moves very quickly. On Nook, you do this by activating the color LCD touchscreen (which normally shuts off when not in use, to conserve battery). A "virtual rocker button" appears on the screen, and you touch it to move the cursor. Unfortunately, the Nook cursor moves very sluggishly. This might not be a big deal to you, but it really got annoying to me, especially since my wife's Kindle was so quick and responsive.

In November 2010, Nook got a software upgrade that increases page refresh speed and makes navigation more responsive. I returned my Nook months ago, so I cannot tell you if the Nook's performance is now equal to the Kindle's, but Nook owners in the comments section have convinced me that the software update improves the experience of using the Nook. If performance is a big factor in your decision, visit a Best Buy and compare Kindle and Nook side by side.

* Screen contrast

You've seen Amazon's claims that the Kindle 3 e-ink has 50% better contrast than Kindle 2 or other e-ink devices. I have no way of precisely measuring the improvement in contrast, but I can tell you that the Kindle 3 display definitely has more contrast than Kindle 2 or Nook. The difference is noticeable, and important: more screen contrast means less eyestrain when reading in poorly lit rooms.

In well-lit rooms, the Nook and Kindle 2 have enough contrast to allow for comfortable reading. But I often read in low-light conditions, like in bed at night, or in a poorly lit room. In these situations, reading on Nook or Kindle 2 was a bit uncomfortable and often gave me a mild headache. When I got the Kindle 3, the extra contrast was immediately noticeable, and made it more comfortable to read under less-than-ideal lighting conditions. (If you go with a Nook, just make sure you have a good reading lamp nearby.)

* Battery life

The Nook's color LCD touch screen drains its battery quickly - I could never get more than 5 days out of a charge. The Kindle 2 had longer battery life than the Nook, and Kindle 3 has even longer life: in the 3 months since we received our Kindle 3's, we typically get 3 weeks of battery life between charges. (We keep wireless off about half the time to save battery power.)

* Weight

Nook weighs about 3 ounces more than the new Kindle, and you can really feel the difference. Without a case, Nook is still light enough to hold in one hand for long reading sessions without fatigue. But in a case, Nook is a heavy sucker. The new Kindle 3 is so light, even in a case, we find it comfortable holding in one hand for long reading sessions.

Reasons some people might prefer the Nook:

* In-store experience

If you need help with your nook, you can take it to any barnes and noble and get a real human to help. You can take your nook into the coffee shop section of your local B&N store and read any book for free for up to one hour per day. When you take your nook to B&N, some in-store special deals and the occasional free book pop up on your screen.

* User-replaceable battery

Rechargeable batteries eventually lose their ability to hold a charge. Nook's battery is user-replaceable and relatively inexpensive. To replace Kindle's battery, Amazon wants you to ship your Kindle to Amazon, and they will ship you back a DIFFERENT Kindle than the one you sent (it's the same model, for example if you send a white Kindle 3, you get a white Kindle 3 back, but you get a "refurbished" one, NOT the exact one you sent them). I don't like this at all.

However, several people have posted comments here that have eased my concerns. Someone looked up statistics on the Kindle's battery and did some simple calculations to show that it should last for 3 or more years. Before that happens, I will surely have upgraded to a newer Kindle model by then. Also, someone found some companies that sell Kindle batteries at reasonable cost and have how-to videos that demonstrate how we can replace the battery ourselves. Doing this would void the Kindle's warranty, but the battery will probably not fail until long after the warranty expires.

[update June 2011: The batteries in the Nook Color and Nook Simple Touch are not replaceable, but the battery in the original Nook is.]

* ePub

Nook uses the ePub format, a widely used open format. Amazon uses a proprietary ebook format. Many libraries will "lend" ebooks in the ePub format, which works with nook but not kindle. However, a free and reputable program called Calibre allows you to translate ebooks from one format to another - it supports many formats, including ePub and Kindle. The only catch is that it doesn't work with copy-protected ebooks, so you can't, for example, buy a Kindle book (which is copy protected) and translate it to ePub so you can read it on a Nook.

* Nook's color LCD touchscreen

The original Nook has a small color LCD screen on the bottom for navigation. This could be a pro or con, depending on your preferences. It makes the Nook hipper and less drab than Kindle. Some people enjoy using the color LCD to view their library or navigate. I did, at first. But after two weeks of use, and comparisons with my wife's Kindle, I found the dedicated buttons of the Kindle easier and far quicker to use than the Nook's color touchscreen. I also found the bright light from the color screen distracting when I was trying to read a book or newspaper (though when not in use, it shuts off after a minute or so to conserve battery).

* expandable capacity

Nook comes with 2GB of internal memory. If you need more capacity, you can insert a microSD card to add up to 16GB more memory. Kindle comes with 4GB of internal memory - twice as much as Nook - but there's no way to expand that. Kindle doesn't accept memory cards of any type. If you mainly use your device to read ebooks and newspapers, this shouldn't be an issue. I have over 100 books on my Kindle, and I've used only a tiny fraction of the memory. Once Kindle's memory fills up, just delete books you don't need immediate access to; you can always restore them later, in seconds, for free.

A few other notes:

Kindle and Nook have other features, such as an MP3 player and a web browser, but I caution you to have low expectations for these features. The MP3 player on the Kindle is like the first-generation iPod shuffle - you can't see what song is playing, and you can't navigate to other songs on your device. I don't like the browser on either device; e-ink is just not a good technology for surfing the web; it's slower and clunkier than LCD screen technology, so even the browser on an Android phone or iPod touch is more enjoyable to use. However, some commenters have more favorable views of either device's browser, and you might, too.

* ebook lending

If you have a Nook or a Kindle, you can "lend" an ebook you purchased to someone else with the same device for up to two weeks. The Nook has always had this feature. The Kindle just got this feature as of December 2010. Most but not all purchased ebooks are lendable, due to publisher restrictions.

* PDF support

Kindle and Nook both handle PDF files, but in different ways. When you put a PDF file on your nook, nook converts it into an ebook-like file, then you can adjust the font size, and the text and pagination will adjust just like with any ebook. But you cannot see the original PDF file in the native format in which it was created. Kindle 3 and Kindle DX have native support for PDF files. You can see PDF files just as they would appear on your computer. You can also convert PDF files to an ebook-like format, and then Kindle handles them just the way the Nook handles them - text and pagination adjust when you change the font size. Unfortunately, some symbols, equations, and graphics get lost or mangled in the translation - even when viewing PDF files in their native format on the Kindle. Moreover, the small screen size of the Kindle 3 and the Nook is not great for PDF files, most of which are designed for a larger page size. You can zoom and pan, but this is cumbersome and tiresome. Thanks to commenters who suggested viewing PDF files in landscape mode on the Kindle (I don't know if you can do this on Nook); this way, you can see the entire top half of the page without panning, and then scroll down to the bottom half. This works a little better.


Nook and Kindle each offer their own advantages. We like the nook's user-replaceable battery, compatibility with ePub format, and in-store experience. But we strongly prefer Kindle 3 because its performance is zippier, its higher-contrast screen is easier to read, and it's smaller and lighter so it is more portable and more comfortable to hold in one hand for long reading sessions.

* Nook Color

Everything I wrote about the Nook in this review applies to the original Nook (which continues to be available), not the new Nook Color. To me, the Nook Color is in a different product category than the Kindle or original Nook. Nook Color has an LCD screen, like an iPad or most computer monitors. That's a big disadvantage for people like me, who get headaches from reading a computer screen for long periods of time. Amazon's Kindle product page has an informative section on e-ink vs. LCD displays.

But many people don't have problems reading from computer screens, and the Nook Color is getting glowing reviews in the press and by owners. For the money, it offers a lot of functionality such as a good web browser and the ability to play games and watch movies. But keep in mind: it costs a lot more than the Kindle, it weighs nearly twice as much, it doesn't come in a 3G version, and (unlike the original Nook) the Nook Color doesn't have a user replaceable battery.