Barnes & Noble Updates The Nook

Barnes & Noble has released an update (Version 1.3) for their nook eBook reader. Existing nook owners can trigger the update over the air by going to My Library on the device and tapping Check For New B&N Content. Users can also download the update to their PC and copy it to their nook, which will automatically apply the update.

The update implements the promised free in-store reading function. When you go to a Barnes and Noble store and connect a nook to the Wi-Fi network, the Shop icon on the nook’s color touchscreen displays an In Store banner. Many, but not all, full copies of B&N’s eBooks are available for you to read while connected to the store’s network. Unfortunately, there are some limitations such as you can only stay connected reading for one hour, and most of the eBook navigation features are not available for in-store reading. You can return to the store the next day and continue reading books, and the nook does keep track of which books you have read, but apparently it does not remember where you stopped reading. The time tracking is associated with your Barnes and Noble account, so you cannot just go to another store on the same day to gain another hour of reading.

The update also adds two major features to the nook that take advantage of the Android operating system running on the device. One is a beta web browser that only works on Wi-Fi networks. After applying the update to my nook, I tried the web browser and find it interesting but not very useful. Web pages display on both the main e-Ink display as well as on the color touchscreen. You can use the touchscreen to navigate on the page as well as use the nook’s side buttons. Even on Wi-Fi the page displays are not very fast and navigation is pretty slow. I don’t expect to use the browser much because if I am near a Wi-Fi network, I will probably have a computer at hand for browsing the web.

The second feature is the addition of games, and in this release Barnes & Noble is providing two games: Chess and Sudoku. Game play is done on the color touchscreen, with the game display appearing on the e-Ink display. While most will buy the nook to read books, the games can be handy for killing some time. I expect that more games will be provided in future releases, though I don’t think many people will be clammering for them.

Besides the in-store reading, web browsing, and games, the update includes performance improvements. Paging turning speed has been improved again by decreasing the amount of the screen that refreshes. Highlighting has been slightly improved by changing the selection cursor to a bar that appears to move quicker through a page.

The home screen on the touchscreen has been tweaked with additional options for accessing the Wi-Fi radio settings and the audio player. With the addition of games and the web browser, along with the Wi-Fi and Audio options, you now have to swipe left and right on the home screen to see all of the menu icons. Some will be frustrated by having the Settings icon be the very last on the right of the display, requiring extra steps to open the nook’s settings. Hopefully in a future update Barnes & Noble will allow users to change the location of the menu icons.

You can now buy the nook at Best Buy stores in addition to buying them at Barnes and Noble stores and online. I think the new sales locations, along with this update, show that Barnes and Noble remains committed to the nook, even in light of the Apple iPad and the release of the Barnes and Noble eReader for the iPad that is expected in May.