Barnes & Noble's original NOOK e-reader broke fresh ground with its dual screen approach, but it was getting long in the tooth (you can still pick up the Wi-Fi version for only $119 or $169 for 3G) and the NOOK Color has led the way in capturing those readers who cared about having color LCD capability for their e-reader. The NOOK Simple Touch, released in June, 2011, is intended to be a return to basics: a dedicated, lightweight, simple to use e-reader that takes on the Kindle.
The NOOK Simple Touch certainly drives the simplicity point home. Unboxing the device (B&N ships it with a power adapter/microUSB cable), it looks less like an e-reader than a digital photo frame. While e-readers have tended to mimic the proportions of the paper books they're meant to replace — somewhat tall and narrow in aspect — the NOOK Simple Touch presents a more stubby profile, with an inch wide, rounded bezel surrounding the display.
Looking at the device, it presents a model of minimalist design. There's the now familiar 'n' logo button (which doesn't look like a button at all), a power button that's hidden from view on the back of the device, a covered microSD slot, a micro USB slot tucked out of sight on the bottom edge and two raised ridges on either side of the bezel that function as vestigial page turn buttons. Other than powering the device up, as its name would imply, the NOOK Simple Touch relies on its IR touchscreen to accomplish virtually everything. It's light, fits easily in one hand and is clearly meant to be a dedicated e-reader. Holding the device is a pleasant experience thanks to that feather weight and a rubberized case that offers a grip not only through the texture of the material, but also through a concave depression carved out of its back.
Display: 800x600, 6-Inch E Ink Pearl Touchscreen with minimized flashing
Size: 6.5 inches by 5.0 inches, 0.47 inches deep
Weight: 7.48 ounces
Storage: 2GB (expandable via microSD cards up to 32GB each)
Battery Life: Up to 2 months (with Wi-Fi turned off) or 3 weeks with Wi-Fi enabled
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, USB Micro
Formats Supported: EPUB, PDF, JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
Fonts: 6 fonts with 7 sizes
Dictionary: Merriam Webster
Music Support: None
Price: $139 from Barnes & Noble
Responsive Touchscreen With Buttons
The Touchscreen works quite well, thanks to IR technology like that employed in the Sony Reader line. A tap to the side of the screen or swipe gesture turns pages, while a tap near the bottom of the screen brings up options for searching or customization. Holding a finger on a word brings up a menu for highlighting, adding notes, sharing (via ). When text entry is required, a virtual keyboard is displayed. In all cases, I found responsiveness and accuracy to be good, with few misinterpreted gestures and little delay between input and action. Fingerprints were a non-issue.
For those who like to have the option of having buttons for page turns (and count me among those), the NOOK Simple Touch does retain a set on each side, although they are covered by the rubberized casing material and a little stiff. Usable by both lefties and righties, you also have the option to customize whether the top or bottom set controls forward or backward. I found the buttons still gave the best one-handed reading experience; using touch gestures (even tapping) means lifting your thumb off the front of the device, which makes your hold on it somewhat precarious.
Touch capability aside, the E Ink Pearl display brings the NOOK Simple Touch up to the quality reading experience offered by devices like the 3rd generation Kindle and Sony Reader models. B&N claims a 50 percent boost in contrast compared to the first generation NOOK and it looks it — reading outdoors is a pleasure, with no glare whatsoever. The NOOK Simple Touch also introduces new technology aimed at minimizing flashing, that momentary black screen when switching pages with an E Ink display. This works very well and reduces that flash to once every five pages or so. Equally appreciated is a boosted page turning system that lets you scroll quickly through pages or even continue forward through pages rapidly without the lag commonly associated with E ink e-readers. The only downside to this device affects people who like to read in landscape mode. Fans of landscape reading will have to look to a Kindle or other alternative for their fix as the NOOK Simple Touch only works in portrait reading mode.
Configuration is straightforward and the device works straight out of the box. Shopping online requires access to a Wi-Fi network (free in Barnes & Noble Stores) and a B&N account. Sideloading is easy to accomplish with the included USB cable and thanks to the microSD card expandability, you can pack thousands of books. I can't confirm the three month battery life, but I've been using the test unit heavily for the past three weeks and it's still showing three quarters of a charge remaining — which is pretty good.