Let’s Be Honest — I Hate Nook

Since January, my colleague and I traveled the valley, teaching eReader classes at almost every branch in our system. It’s a new initiative we’re launching to get some support from Admin out into the branches and offer services that the branch may not have the time or personnel to handle. After the holidays, there’s always a call for eReader classes because lots of people get eReaders for Christmas. We can show up at a set time, teach a class or two, and all the branch has to do is open a room. It’s been very successful. Besides, we’re trying to train our librarians not to laugh their asses off when we show up and say “Hi, we’re from Admin and we’re here to help.”

Surprisingly not the worst Android tablet I've ever used.

Surprisingly not the worst Android tablet I’ve ever used.

In the last two months, I’ve spent close to 30 hours doing nothing but eReader instruction. I’ve seen them all. I’ve worked on tablets from Apple, Google, Amazon, Polaroid, and some unnamed manufacturer with offices in North Korea. After all, Android runs on everything. I’ve seen eInk devices from Amazon, B&N, Sony, Aluratek, and so on. I’ve helped people install OverDrive Media Console on their phones, computers, and tablets. Pretty soon, I could help people set up library eReading and digital download services on their refrigerators.

In all of that, one set of devices stood above the mad crowds of tech in terms of bad usability, lousy user experience, platform instability, and being generally harder to use than anything else.


Class to class, hour to hour, student to student — I would spend five minutes with this iPad user or ten minutes with that Kindle Fire user. Then the Nook person shows up and I’m in for at least half an hour with them. One lady, the not so proud owner of a Nook HD+? We spent enough time together that we could’ve gone to dinner that night and easily wound up in bed with each other later that evening. Give me a competent student who has a little understanding of their device, and I can show them how to get library eBooks on that device in a few minutes. Give me a competent student who has a base understanding of their Nook, and we’re still looking at about half an hour.

Makes for a somewhat decent Frisbee.

Makes for a somewhat decent Frisbee.

My Nook sessions displayed for me a relationship between Barnes & Noble and their customers that’s about as healthy as the one between Rihanna and Chris Brown. In both cases, I see someone getting abused and going back for more. In each case, each Nook suffered problems I never had with any other device. Sometimes the browser on the Nook Simple Touch wouldn’t work,  which is a fatal problem since our WiFi requires interaction with a browser to hook up to the Net. As it happens, the Simple Touch has a browser, but Barnes & Noble did their damnedest to hide it. I think there was a factor of shame in this decision because finding the Simple Touch browser is like discovering the body of your next door neighbour floating in your pool. Nothing good comes of it.

In a perfect world, smart devices are smart enough to periodically check their operating systems and update them as needed. This happens on my iPad, my Asus Transformer, my PCs, my iPhone, my wife’s Galaxy SIII, and my 2nd generation iPod Touch from 2008. Apparently, none of the Nooks are capable of doing this without the aid of a cattle prod and cheap whiskey. More than once I ran into a wall where we, quite simply, could not install the OverDrive app because, quite simply, the device had never updated since the day the poor sap bought it and it was totally unaware that other apps existed or were at all compatible.

“Sure, we can get that app on there for you and get you some free library eBooks, all we have to do is update your device… and pray.”

Then there’s the interaction with Adobe Digital Editions. With all the other devices, ADE is handled somewhat gracefully in the background (as is the case with the OverDrive app on iOS or Android) or completely avoided (Kindles don’t use ADE). Meanwhile, over on the Nook side of things Nook arrives home early to find its wife in bed with ADE and, rather than being outraged, tries to make a threesome out of it.

“Hello, Nook Simple Touch user! Did you bring your computer with ADE installed on it? No? Then you’re hosed. My sincere apologies.”

Many of our classes came with one student who, through no fault of their own, wound up in possession of a Nook Simple Touch. Here’s the deal. Unless you have:

  1. A Nook Simple Touch
  2. A computer properly set up with Adobe Digital Editions
  3. The data cable for the aforementioned Simple Touch

Then you’re not getting any library books on it. And why should a person bring their computer to the class? Isn’t that what the device is freeing them from? When I Googled around for some instructions on using Nooks and ADE, the top hit was a posting on a B&N Bookclub forum. These instructions are well written and absolutely correct. I know they’re correct because I’ve followed these instructions with success.

I’ve also followed them with a complete lack of success.

Why did it work some times and not others? I’m sure there’s a “your mother” joke in that, but the fact is, I’ve not a clue. There’s also the fact that this set of instructions is almost 800 words long and (using 12 point Calibri) takes up three pages in Microsoft Word.

Or instead of reading all that you can use this Android tablet, this iPad, or this Kindle, and just do it.

Even B&N is losing faith in their Nook, not that I think they had any to begin with. Leonard Riggio, the largest shareholder of Barnes & Noble, doesn’t use a Nook. To me, that says something. When the product isn’t important enough to lie about using it, then you know something went sideways.

A rare, candid picture of Jeff Bezos at home.

A rare, candid picture of Jeff Bezos at home.

The Nook was a reactionary device brought about when B&N finally woke up to realize that the Kindle wasn’t going away, and that Jeff Bezos was using his Kindle sales to build a vault full of money so big, he could swim in it. The Nook arrived on the eReader scene with the same aplomb as a wet fart at a White House dinner. Every facet of it has been reactionary with nothing in the way of innovation. The Nook Tablet hit the market when it became clear that Amazon was working on a tablet of their own. B&N rushed it out, and it shows. The only problem I’ve ever encountered installing an eReader app on the Kindle Fire is when the student hasn’t set up OneClick purchasing, a rather easy fix most of the time. (Provided, of course, they remember their Amazon password.)

While the Nook isn’t ready to throw in the towel, its trainer is standing in the corner wringing the towel in his hands, watching it get beat down like Jon Voight in The Champ. Whether or not Ricky Schroeder winds up crying over its dead body remains to be seen. If so, the biggest loser won’t be B&N, but their customers who didn’t know any better than to buy a Nook.


  1. I actually like the Nook simple touches, but I only use them with public domain ebooks from Project Gutenberg. We circ them because I want our users to get the experience of ereading, but the commercial price points for the current stuff are prohibitive for smaller libraries.

  2. I bought a Nook tablet last year because I loved the hardware (and I still do, except that it doesn’t have Bluetooth… but I knew that when I bought it). I was determined not to root the damn thing, but in less than 24 hours I was Googling “root Nook tablet.” A couple of days later I had it booting to CyanogenMod (a Nook-friendly version of Android) from an SD card, and that’s what I’ve mostly used ever since. I boot it into the Nook interface every once in a while, mainly for my 7-year-old. There are some decent (but not overwhelming) kids’ books and apps in the Nook store, and the way I’ve set it up, it’s difficult for him to do anything I don’t want him to (for now, anyway). And also, I just really like the native Nook ereader app, which is why I bought it in the first place.

    I had the same issues with library books and ADE that you had. I also didn’t realize that was going to be a manual process involving my desktop computer, and I wouldn’t be able to do it over wifi. It’s confusing enough that I have to look it up again every time I do it, even though I have been an active ebook consumer since 2001, and used to have to download books, import them to my PDA’s software, and then sync to get them on the device. Oh, yeah: You have to use the same process to put PDFs on your Nook (well, you might be able to email them to yourself and open them up from your email–I don’t remember whether that worked or not).

    But my biggest problem with the Nook and B&N is that the apps are overpriced. They’re almost always more expensive than the same app in Google Play, sometimes by quite a bit. And unlike Google Play, B&N hardly ever offers a discount on them. Every once in a while they’ll drop a $4.99 app (that costs $2.99 at Google Play) to $3.99 or something, but they don’t publicize it; if they do, it’s usually a footnote in a glitzy, slow-loading promo email that features a bunch of bestsellers I don’t care about.

    I do love the hardware. The narrower width of the Nook tablet is perfect for me to hold, it’s lightweight, and the soft back is just… nice. I can’t explain it. The screen is beautiful and crisp. Before I bought it, I looked at a Lenovo tablet that had just come out at the time–mostly the same specs and a comparable price, but with Bluetooth and maybe slightly faster (I don’t remember now). But the case was slick and glossy, and just a little too wide for me to hold comfortably in one hand, and I went with the Nook instead. And even though I could have returned it and gotten the Lenovo, I didn’t.

    I still like my Nook well enough, but after the warranty runs out next month I might go ahead and root it. MicroSD cards weren’t really meant to be permanent drives, after all. 🙂

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