I've wanted an e-reader for a while now, mainly because my book collection has gotten out of hand. I figured that the only way to avoid having to line every wall of my house with bookshelves was to get an e-reader. I compared the features of the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and Barnes & Noble Nook, and decided on the Nook. I pre-ordered it in November and got it last night. I took a quick tour, downloaded a couple of books, and have a few likes and dislikes, but overall I am pretty satisfied.
Build quality: The Nook feels very solid and well-made in the hand. It's a good size, measuring 7 3/4" high x 5" wide x 1/2" thick. It's nice and sturdy. The buttons for page turning are part of the plastic casing and are flush with it, but have little nubs so you can feel them in low light. Very nicely designed.
Setup: Setup was very simple. Charge the device fully, turn it on, sign in with your B&N account. The Nook automatically connected to an available wireless signal (it uses AT&T's network). The touchscreen keyboard is big enough that I didn't fat-finger anything when signing in, but it was a little slow to react, causing me to type a couple of letters twice. Easily fixed with a backspace, but the responsiveness could use a little speeding up.
Browsing e-books: Browsing e-books and your library is simple. The main touchscreen menu has five sections: The Daily, which contains blogs, daily subscriptions, and the like; My Library, which contains... you guessed it, your library; Shop, where you can buy stuff; Reading Now, which takes you back to whichever book you were reading last (handy!); and Settings, where you can adjust things like the contrast of the screen. I hit up the Shop section first, to buy some books. I used both the Browse Categories and Search functions, and found them both fairly self-explanatory, though I had some issues with the response time of touches on the touchscreen again. It seems to be a software issue, not a hardware one, as it does eventually catch up if I've touched the screen multiple times, so I'm hoping the next firmware upgrade will resolve it.
The other thing I had an issue with is scrolling. If there are more categories than will fit on the touchscreen, you can scroll to view additional ones by swiping your finger on the touchscreen. You swipe up to scroll down, and down to scroll up, which is a little counterintuitive, but works. However, the swipe gesture and the "throw" gesture (as mentioned in the Nook User Guide) are very similar, and the throw gesture causes the list to continue scrolling after you lift your finger up, which is a little annoying. With practice, I'm sure my scrolling will stabilize and annoy me less.
Anyway, since my Nook is registered with my existing B&N account, which has a stored credit card, I was able to purchase books easily with just a couple of touches - one on the book's main page and one to confirm (a step which is necessary, in my opinion, on a touch-based device). Once the book is downloaded, the Nook tells you it'll be in your library within a couple of minutes.
Reading: After purchasing my books, including Death From The Skies! by my awesome friend Phil Plait (a book I highly recommend!), I went into my library to read it. Navigation of books is very simple, and you can skip to different chapters via the table of contents. Turning pages is accomplished by either pressing the next page or previous page buttons on the sides of the Nook or swiping horizontally on the touchscreen. I found the default contrast easy to read and the default font size was a good size, though these are both adjustable in the settings if needed.
Selection: The e-book selection at B&N is really good, with a wide variety of both new and classic books available. The magazine selection is pretty sparse at the moment, but I think that will improve eventually. There are four newspapers available - Financial Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune. I'm hoping the NY Times will join up at some point, but I'm not holding my breath. However, for my main use of the device (books), the selection is great and well-organized.
Overall, I am pretty pleased with the purchase and plan to use the Nook extensively while traveling. In fact, I'll be taking it with me on our next trip without any other backup reading material. There are some minor glitches, but overall the Nook seems to be a great product.
Some photos of the device in use after the jump.