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Book retailer spins Android e-reader

Oct 20, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 5 views

Barnes & Noble announced its long-anticipated eBook reading device, which it bills as being the first Android-based e-reader. The “Nook” offers the usual six-inch E Ink display, but also supplies a 3.5-inch color subdisplay for an Android interface, plus 2GB storage, a microSD slot, WiFi, and 3G, says the company.

The $260 Nook may not be the first Android e-reader to be announced, as Spring Designs jumped the gun on Barnes & Noble this week by tipping its "Alex" e-reader, which also offers a dual display. However, the Alex won't ship until early next year, while the Nook is available for preorder now, with a ship date scheduled for Nov. 30. The Nook not only has the advantage of being first, but it's also linked to one of the world's largest online bookstores,, rivaled only by

Barnes & Noble's Nook

(Click to enlarge)

Like the Alex and Amazon's market-leading, Linux-based Kindle 2 (pictured below, side by side with the Alex), the Nook uses the new 16-grayscale version of E Ink's Vizplex electrophorescent (EPD) monochrome display.

Spring Design's Android-based Alex (left) and Amazon's Kindle 2

Like the Alex, the Nook also offers a 3.5-inch color touchscreen subdisplay controlled by Android in the place where the Kindle 2 offers a keyboard. There are some key differences between the Alex and Nook approaches, however. First, the Alex appears to offer a standard sized display while the height of the Nook screen is much shorter, offering a wide-screen display with a side to side scrolling motif.

More importantly, the Alex bills itself as offering a full Android web browser, with interactive links possible between the text content on the grayscale display and multimedia and web links on the color display. By comparison, the Nook's display and Android UI appears to be dedicated to Barnes & Noble access and a few other intriguing features, and there does not appear to be a generic web browser. Barnes & Noble says nothing about linkages between the two displays, aside from mentioning that subdisplay selections can bring up new content on the main display (see farther below for more software details).

Nook, bottom view

Like the Kindle, the Nook ships with 2GB of memory, but unlike Amazon's e-reader it also offers a microSD slot for expansion. (Amazon's original Kindle did offer a microSD slot.) Like the Alex, the Nook offers both WiFi and 3G support (via AT&T's network), as opposed to the Kindle, which is limited to Sprint's 3G network. As with the Kindle, the 3G plan is free. Audio features include an MP3 player, mono speaker, and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

Nook dimensions

Slightly smaller than the Kindle 2, but not quite as thin, the Nook manages to weigh in at an ounce heavier, at 11.2 oz. The Nook supplies a micro-USB port for charging, as well as a standard power connection. The device provides a battery touted as lasting 10 days without wireless use, compared to 14 days for the Kindle 2, which is not surprising, considering the additional display.

Aside from the subdisplay, the Nook's key advantages over the Kindle lies in software. The device supports PDFs, unlike the Kindle, as well as EPUB and eReader formats, says the company. It also promises the ability to send synchronized notes and annotations between devices, and offers a unique "LendMe" feature by which users can send purchased content to others for two weeks' worth of viewing on iPhone, iPod Touch,BlackBerry, PC, and Mac OS devices. (Oddly, Android phones or other Linux-based devices don't appear to be on the list.)

Nook with main subdisplay menu options

A video on the Nook website shows that the Android interface on the color display offers five main categories, laid out horizontally: The Daily (news and articles), My Library (currently downloaded titles), Shop (access to B&N's online store), Reading Now (last read title), and Settings. The latter includes features such as font size controls, screen brightness, bookmarks, and the ability to highlight passages. Users can also add personalized screensavers, and B&N offers backside book covers for the device, available in four colors (see image below).

Book covers available for Nook

(Click to enlarge)

The display interface is simple, attractive, and based on horizontal touch scrolling and selections. However, anyone hoping for a full Android device with an e-reader will apparently need to wait for the Alex or other anticipated Android e-readers.

Specifications listed for the Nook include:

  • Memory — 2GB
  • Flash expansion — MicroSD slot for additional memory
  • Display — 6-inch E Ink Vizplex monochrome display with 16-level grayscale; 3.5-inch color TFT touchscreen
  • Cellular — 3G data on AT&T network (free)
  • WiFi — 802.11 b/g
  • USB — Micro-USB slot with cable
  • Audio — MP3 player; mono speaker; 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
  • Supported text formats — EPUB, eReader, PDF
  • Supported image formats — JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files for customizable screensaver
  • Battery — replaceable battery with up to ten days with wireless off; charges via Micro-USB or power adapter (3.5 hours)
  • Other features:
    • 4 x back cover color choices
    • Page turn and home keys
    • Synchronized notes/annotations between devices
    • LendMe (digital lending with iPhone, iPod Touch,BlackBerry, PC, and Mac OS)
    • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
    • More than 1 million titles, including 500,000 free eBooks
  • Dimensions — 7.7 by 4.9 by 0.5 inches
  • Weight — 11.02 oz. (317 g)
  • Operating system — Android (Linux/Java)


The Nook is available now for pre-order for $260, and will be available Nov. 30 at Barnes & Noble stores, says Barnes & Noble. Many bestsellers and new titles are said to cost as low as $10 per eBook. More information may be found here.

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