The night I attended Galleycat’s Book Pitch Party, I stopped into Barnes & Noble Union Square, hoping to check out the nook color they’d recently announced. I had already purchased the newest Kindle, but I think part of being a writer in the new digital age includes a working knowledge of the platforms on which content is available. In other words, it’s important to know the medium on which you’re delivering a message, as the one can inherently affect the position and reception of the other.
Now, I declaim: I love my Kindle. I seriously haven’t loved a gadget this hard since I first jailbroke and unlocked my first iPhone. I think there might have been something about the tinkering with it, the feeling of empowerment, that really made the phone feel like mine in ways others haven’t. I’m using a Samsung Vibrant now, and I love it, but with some reservations (Dear Samsung: Get Gingerbread on it, hey?). In fact, my purchasing the Vibrant was what ultimately led me to getting a Kindle; the Vibrant comes with Amazon’s app preinstalled, and I’d had it on my iPhone, but hadn’t fully used it.
But I found myself working shite hours and riding the PATH train at 4am for a new gig, and so I did more reading on the Kindle app. And when Amazon announced its newest generation, I bought one sight unseen.
Mainly because I’d already seen the others and knew they weren’t what I was looking for.
What I was looking for: a digital reader.
The iPad is not a digital reader. It’s a tablet-form computer. It runs software, and that software is versatile enough it runs other software. It has apps, little programs that performs different functions like . . . well, mainly launching birds at targets, streaming music over a data connection, and display various media. There are apps for everything.
Some of those apps happen to display books. The main thing that demonstrates, in fact, that iPad is not really a digital reader is that it has not only the iBookstore, but also both nook and Kindle apps.
(This is extraordinarily important.)
The iPad is gorgeous. It has a great screen. A brushed aluminum back. It’s transcends gadgetry to become an objet d’arte, and it loves to be held. Stroked. It’s thin, and it gets, like, ten or so hours of juice on a charge. I once jokingly dismissed it as a larger-what-I-already-had-in-my-pocket, but sometimes one has to admit when one spectacularly misses a point: really, the iPhone is a smaller what-I-already-love-to-use-and-that-makes-calls-too.
And that’s fine, if you want a tablet computer. Lord knows PC makers and Android haven’t yet come up with a tablet experience as refined and comprehensive as Apple’s and iOS.
A tablet, however, is a different category from an ebook reader. A tablet–like iPad–might display ebooks via some app or other, but such display is secondary, rather than primary, to its functionality.
Which means, when it comes down to ebook readers, there are really only two choices: Kindle and nook.
Well, there used to be two choices. Because what’s happened in the past few months is that Amazon refined Kindle to be more user-friendly and viable as an option, while Barnes & Noble . . . well, bluntly, I don’t know what B&N was thinking, because the nook color blows incontinent goats.
Last generation, both generations had strengths and weaknesses. nook had an interesting form factor, ran Android, and used SD cards for memory. Its capacitive touch-screen user-interface was pretty much as clunky and awkward as the silly little joystick Amazon stuck on its second-generation Kindle. The touch interface for the nook is clunky and odd to use, and I’m sure maybe one gets used to it, eventually, but the key to a really good user interface is that one shouldn’t have to. It should really just work.
The new Kindle does, and its a lust-worthy device all on its own. The screen is improved over the previous generation, and has higher contrast. Words beg to be read, and text looks spectacular. There’s no real delay in turning pages. Input is controlled by buttons: page-turning clickers on either side of the screen; a comfortable, soft-rubber, chicklet sort of keyboard for text; and a little five-position d-pad like one might find on, say, a Nokia cellphone or something. A little toggle we’ve all seen before and carried in our pockets.
And then there’s the new nook color. Oh, Heaven help the new nook color.
First, it doesn’t know what it is. It’s supposed to be an e-reader but it has apps. So it’s almost a tablet, but then again, right now, one can only get really full tablet functionality by rooting it–like jailbreaking an iPhone.
Second, the display and interface suck.
Now, when I’ve shown people my Kindle, one of the first things they do is touch the screen. In days of touch screens, its instinctual now. Especially when you’ve used one before.
However, the nook color’s screen sucks. It’s got a matte-ish sort of layer on top, which should ostensibly make it easier to read (and see in daylight, which is difficult on the iPad), but when it comes down to it (and here’s the dealbreaker) is still reading on a screen.
Kindle doesn’t feel like reading on a screen. The contrast and interface is such that, as Bezos claims, the device disappears.
The iPad, as a tablet, disappears. It’s like a window, and it’s like interacting with apps.
The nook color, though, clunks around pokily. Things that require obvious button presses on Kindle require guesses on nook color: do you long press to highlight? How does one increase font size? Repaginate?
Of course, I’m sure all that’s covered in the manual, or whathaveyou, but who reads those, anyway?
Sidenote: how meta is it to read the user’s manual on the device the manual is made for? Funny!
Finally, price. Less than two hundred bucks buys a 3G Kindle. The nook with the e-ink screen costs a little less, depending, but the regular nook’s display doesn’t have as high a contrast ration as Kindle’s, so it doesn’t look as good. It doesn’t look bad, but it certainly doesn’t look like it does on Kindle. Also, Amazon has a better shopping experience, as a site, and probably a larger library.
Advice this holiday season: Kindle.
One day, someone will manage to produce a device with a color, e-ink, capacitive touch screen, and using it will be like turning pages in a magazine.
And should you get a Kindle this season, or use your Amazon gift cards to buy one, don’t forget all the great content that will really make the device yours, all the great books you can put on it.
Like, for instance, mine:
Sparks, the four-story collection I wrote with Simon Smithson.