By Harry McCracken | Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 1:49 am
Unlike Apple and Amazon, bookselling behemoth Barnes & Noble didn’t have an e-reading app available for the iPad on day one. But it’s just released an iPad version of its eReader–please don’t call it Nook–thereby bringing all the e-books B&N sells to the iPad, including any you’ve already bought on a Nook or in other versions of eReader. And it’s good enough that it feels like the iPad e-reader race is currently a three-way tie.
The Barnes & Noble software isn’t quite as pretty as its rivals from Apple and Amazon–there are no fancy page-flipping animations–but in terms of raw functionality it’s nicely done. You can bookmark pages, add notes, look up words in Google or Wikipedia, and (unlike in the Kindle app) search a book’s text. It’s also got a far more tweakable display than iBooks or Kindle, including eight fonts, adjustable spacing and justification, multiple color choices, and the ability to save a group of settings as a theme.
Like iBooks, eReader formats text into two columns for easy scanning when you read in landscape mode. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that it sports B&N’s LendMe feature, which lets you lend out certain books to a friend–but only once, and only for two weeks.
Rather than use the iPad’s in-app content delivery features to sell books within eReader (and pay a cut of book sales to Apple), B&N has followed Amazon’s lead by taking you out to Safari to buy books. The approach is ever so slightly less elegant than iBooks’ inside-the-app bookstore, but it’s not a major flaw.
Another not-terribly-serious downside: You don’t seem to be able to adjust the screen’s brightness from within the app. (You may want to bop out to the iPad’s overall settings and crank it down–if you leave the iPad in autobrightness mode, it tends to be too vibrant for comfy reading.) But the one thing about this app that genuinely irked me is that the Wall Street Journal and New York Times issues I’d subscribed to on the Nook showed up in the iPad app’s library, complete with thumbnail images–but when I tapped on them to read, the software told me they weren’t actually available. So why get my hopes up by showing them at all?
I persist in thinking that the first truly great app for reading books on the iPad hasn’t been written yet–I want something with more of what we love about dead-tree books–beautiful layouts, plenty of pictures–plus more features that go beyond anything that ink-on-paper can do. For instance, wouldn’t it be slick if you could tap on the name of any person and see his or her photo without leaving the app? Or read annotations contributed by other bookworms?
For now, I’m just glad that there’s genuine competition among iPad e-reading programs and bookstores–and I hope that it’s not a fait accompli that iBooks dominates the market simply because it happens to be from Apple.