Android App Review: B&N’s nook

Amazon, Kobo, and Borders have all weighed in with their ebook apps for Android, and now it’s B&N’s turn. They’ve rebranded all their reader apps to “nook”, and finally they’ve released the nook app for Android.

Right from the start, the nook app and I didn’t get off on the right foot. It almost froze the marketplace trying to download! As it turns out, it’s because the file is a whopping 17.69 megabytes! For reference, I have two games on my Droid (Replica Island and HSN Shootout) that are fairly graphic-intense. They clock in at 5.40mb and 13.47mb, respectively. The other ebook apps on my phone range from less than 1mb to just over 5mb. So what on earth does an ebook reader bring that requires that much memory?

The app doesn’t have much to show for the memory bloat either. The only “settings” the nook app has are for fonts. If you love fonts, and changing the style and size of the text on your books, this is the app for you. However, if you value helpful items like changing the background, a day/night mode setting, even a brightness setting, there’s nothing. There’s also no annotation, highlighting, or dictionary lookups. It’s as though B&N got as far as including a handful of fonts and just gave up at that point.

The library view is equally terrible. B&N lists every book in your nook library at once, and the only indicator you’ve downloaded it is the lack of a “download” button on the title. It’s messy, and it slows down navigating the app. This really boggles my mind, as most ebook libraries handle this by giving you separate views of downloaded titles and all titles. I only have a small handful of B&N titles, and I found navigation slow and cumbersome. I can’t imagine even trying if you had a library of 100+ titles.

B&N includes the “page turn” animation they have on their iPad apps here as well. If you don’t like the turning style (I don’t), you can’t change it from inside a book. Instead, you have to go back to the library view to toggle it to a sliding mode instead. Then it’s back into the book again, while you wait for the app to reopen and find where you left off. All this happens at approximately the speed of molasses; apparently the 17+ megabytes of space the app takes up aren’t for caching the book as you go, because it takes forever every time, even if you go from your book to your shelf right back to the same book.

Like the Amazon app, the B&N app lets you shop for and download books. Clicking the “shop for books” option drops you into the web browser on a mobile friendly version of the B&N store. It’s not bad, and while some people ding these apps for not having a marketplace in-app, the overall transition is smooth and isn’t a major downside.

Overall, I can’t recommend the B&N nook app for Android. It’s not just that it’s not as good as the Kindle app. It’s that it’s just not good, period. What really amazes me is that I’m working on a WiFi nook review now, and it’s a great device. Obviously someone at B&N knows how to write software and make a good ebook reader. Give that person a promotion, stat, and have them fire the entire development team who created this Android app. It’s that unpleasant to use, with unacceptably slow page turn and load times, and paltry customization settings. Unless your library is exclusively B&N and you have no other means by which you can read one of your ebooks, I can’t recommend it. And in case you think I’m being especially harsh, here’s what Michael had to say about the app:

I have used the Kindle and Aldiko apps to read on my Droid. They each seem to understand that I am reading on a tiny screen and make the most of that. Also, they get me into my book very quickly.

The nook app instantly reminded me of reading on a Palm or Pocket PC using something like Mobipocket. Adequate, but also antiquated. I tried to get my wife to read ebooks years ago using a PDA and she hated it.

The nook app has huge margins, limited customization, lousy default settings, and is terribly slow. And since the nook readers in general don’t ‘sync latest location read’ across devices (which is good in many ways), I can’t use it to quickly read a page or two on the phone.

This is one of those apps that I might leave on the phone, but the minute I need space it will be one of the first to go.

So clearly neither Michael nor I liked the app very much…but what’s your take? Are we being overly harsh? Share your thoughts below!

What I liked: Reads B&N books; Font choices

What Needs Improvement: Slooooooow; Huge file size; Page turns were sluggish; Confusing and overly “busy” library; No D-pad control, no landscape library view; No contrast controls

Categories: Reviews

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5 replies

  1. Are they going to rebrand their apps on other platforms do you think, Carly? i.e., is the “Barnes and Noble eReader” going to morph into “nook” on iTunes?

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