The Barnes & Noble ‘Nook’: A User’s Experience

I tried to warn her. I really tried.

My mom loves books. She has a room full of them stacked to the ceiling. She also loves shiny things and cool toys, but she is not a technical person, by any stretch. So when eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook began to hit the market, it seemed that these cool toys were simple enough for a non-technical person like herself to get a grip on. She imagined a world of reading pleasure, free of bulky dead-tree leaves and lovingly rendered in easy-on-the-eyes, black & white E-ink. For her, there would be no lugging piles of books back and forth to the snow-bird pad in Arizona. This device would be hers, at all costs. Nothing would stand in her way.

Not even this reporter’s impassioned plea, to wait – wait just a few weeks and go put your hands on a soon-to-be-released Apple iPad before you make a decision. Get an idea of what you get, on top of those eBooks, like access to your email, and the internet.

And, ya know, colors. Plus, my folks don’t have a laptop between them, so when they go south, or on one of their long RV trips, there is no internet. So, the iPad solves another problem and saves some money (since my father was about to buy a more-expensive laptop anyway).

And speaking of my father, he had (on his own) discovered and educated himself about the iPad, and already decided he wanted one. This was part of his cunning plan, which was this: Buy a Nook for my Mom, then buy an iPad for himself. That way it would be ‘fair’. Well, now that I’ve experienced the Nook, ‘fair’ is exactly what it was not. Of course, I only suspected this at the time I was trying in vain to get Mom to wait just a bit longer, but nevertheless, I pled with her to hold off on buying the Nook.

But she was having none of this ridiculous stalling. She had her mind made up, and there was no standing in her way. She ordered, and took delivery of her Nook a few weeks back.

And that’s when the trouble began.

At first, all was well. The Nook had a few books pre-installed, and they were… accessible. But the actual book-reading experience wasn’t particularly great. Pages load GLACIALLY slowly. They scroll down choppily from the top with lots of ugly artifacts. Actually getting to the book and generally navigating the UI caused this reporter to keep trying to touch the main screen (blame my iPhone indoctrination for that) but the buttons and lower screen never quite gelled for me as an interface. I’m sure with more than an hour of use it would be fine, but this device wasn’t mine. Watching my mother navigate the system, it seems it never gelled for her either.

Then there was the battery. I asked if the Nook was getting fantastically long battery life, as the promotional copy claimed. Could you really use it for 10 days? “No,” she said. “It doesn’t last that long.”

Well, how much life do you get out of a charge?

“About 3 hours.”

Uh. What?

It was true. After some diagnosis and a trip to support, it was suggested that she would get longer battery life if she “turned on the airplane.” (Editor’s Note – it bears mentioning here that non-technical users may be confused by Airplane Mode, and my mother is the canonical example of a user victimized by a poorly conceived UI. She doesn’t know that she’s turning off the 3g network interface to conserve battery power. All she knows is she’s “Turning on the airplane.” She has no idea why the airplane being on makes her battery last longer, in fact, she’s a bit confounded by it until I explain it. -c)

So, her airplane safely turned on, my mother was able to eke out ONE MORE HOUR of battery life – nothing like the 10 days promised. She used this newfound power to read her eBooks for a few more days.

Then the battery died.

Another trip to the local Barnes & Noble store followed, and the prognosis was not good. She would need a new battery, and to get a new battery, she would have to wait two weeks. “Fine, order the damn thing,” I can hear my father say. There would be no charge, of course, but she would be without a fully functioning reader for a while. In the mean time, she could plug the device into the wall (how retro!) and read to her heart’s content… as long as that happened before she ran out of books. Because, using AC power alone, the Nook user is unable to buy more books via 3G – if she wanted more, she’d have to go in to the store to get them. So for a while, she’d have to put up with reduced functionality.

Until yesterday. That was to be the glorious day when her new battery would come, and finally her eBook reading odyssey could commence. She tore hungrily through the shipping container to find: A power adapter.

Not a battery.

I didn’t get an adequate explanation of the details at this stage. Frustration had driven my poor mother to channel her anger into a sarcastic and darkly humorous rant, delivered through the telephone to a hysterically laughing me. Now (for some reason) Barnes & Noble has informed her that battery orders have been delayed. Getting another battery, they say, will take “about 2 months”. Because “we are very busy.”

I see.

Cut to one day later – Barnes and Noble have graciously offered to send a replacement Nook, overnight, to my ailing mother. They’ve also allowed my father 2 weeks to return the old one, so they don’t have to wait. Tomorrow (April 1, no less) is the day that the new Nook should arrive. My fingers are crossed, and I hope for the best. But I’ve stopped short at holding my breath.

Here we are, just 3 days from the iPad launch, and my mom hasn’t had a lot of good things to say about her Nook. My father has expressed his desire to go back to Barnes & Noble, summon a Customer Service employee, and insert the device into one of their darker orifices. (Editor’s Note – in the interest of taste, we cannot print his actual quote. -c)

My advice to them, of course, is to just return the damn thing, and go to an Apple store next week, and put a real iPad in your hands. Play with it for a little while. Then see if you still want a Nook.

…and if you DO still want a Nook, that’s great!

I hope you find one that works.



~ by ChrissyOne on March 30, 2010.

13 Responses to “The Barnes & Noble ‘Nook’: A User’s Experience”

  1. I love it. Well written. I am going to go buy an iPad now.

  2. The nooks that buy a nook deserve to be nooked !!

  3. This is the kind of stories that needs to get around the net. Real world use of a hyped up product rushed to make it look as if it will work just like the iPad. Not!

  4. Its simply amazing how spoiled apple “fanboys” can be (myself included). Hearing the customer service experience of your mother reminds me that not every company is like apple.

    My iPhone (2.5G) had some problems and going to the apple store was painless. They had a new one in my hands within 10 minutes. Done.

    Reading about your mother’s experience with Barnes & Noble is all too familiar for non-apple companies. I’ve had terrible experiences at the Verizon stores, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.

    So my question is this: Why does it take a narcissistic, detail oriented, CEO to have a company actually serve its customers appropriately?

    I guess my question should be: Why do people put up this sh!t?

    • I never wrote about the experience my girlfriend had with her MacBook Pro. Her logic board went out a couple of months ago. She took her 3 year old laptop to the store, with no appointment, and within 5 minutes, she was talking to a guy who quickly figured out exactly what the problem was, and told her it would be fixed for free. They had her machine ready at 4:00 the same day.
      NOTHING compares to Apple’s customer service.

  5. I’m certain that what all of these companies, Amazon and MS included, want to avoid is a side-by-side comparison of their device with the iPad. You can count on a few published rants in the coming months that warn the public not to look into the iPad for themselves…”AVERT YOUR EYES!!!” Ummm…Good luck with that!

  6. Great post, Chrissy! Your writing skills are impressive! I was rolling on the floor within the second paragraph.

  7. Chrissy,

    Do the right thing. Go buy your Mama an iPad and let her get on with her life. I’m sure the good folks at Barnes & Noble will take their Nooks back.

  8. What a mess. I would suggest a Kindle & yes they get great battery life. A 1st Gen Kindle will set you back probably $100-150 on eBay and has a user replaceable battery. I have graduated to a Kindle DX, but miss the smaller size and better button placement of the 1st Gen Kindle. My eyes like the DX screen better.
    I’m a Mac user (MacPro/MacBook/iPhone/Apple TV/iPod Touch) and am skeptical if the iPad as Kindle killer. The Kindle is THE device if your primary desire is reading. If you want a computer you can read eBooks on, the iPad is probably better.

  9. Way before the announcement of the iPad, I bought a nook for my wife. She was one of those “early adopters”. We were both ripped off. Every problem you mentioned and more. The thing would lock up constantly. Page turning was awful. It would not retain bookmarks. I had a Kindle 2 when it first came out, and it was a masterpiece next to this piece (of you know what). Getting a hold of customer service at their 800 number was horrendous – sometimes a 2+ hour wait. Finally I got a hold of a manager, two months after we bought the thing, and she agreed to refund our money on the nook and all accessories.

    Patiently waiting for the 2 iPads I purchased on order day. Too bad they are 3G models – “late April” can’t get here any sooner.

    • @ Ferf – It’s a tough wait, and I don’t know if I’ll make it, especially if actually go try one. My only hope is to stay out of that damn Apple store.

  10. […] The Barnes & Noble ‘Nook’: A User’s Experience I tried to warn her. I really tried. My mom loves books. She has a room full of them stacked to the ceiling. She also […] […]

  11. Thanks to all my readers, this post is #19 today on WordPress’s Top Posts!

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