nook STR

11 June, 2011

That, above, is my new toy, the Barnes & Nobel nook Simple Touch Reader. For about 140 big ones, you too can get one, and I recommend this. 6″ E-ink touchscreen running Android 2.1. Out of the box, it can read nook books, ePub files (say, from a library), and PDFs. Claimed is a 2 month battery life, though most likely shorter. Definitely got some advantages over a Kindle (aside from the constant data of the non-Wifi only models). And frankly, after playing with both, I do like this one better. Don’t exactly know what it is, but it might be just the culmination of features.

I do enjoy reading the occasional book, and the only thing really stopping me was figuring out how to hold the book in certain positions and the bulkiness of some. I’ve been considering some kind of e-reader for a while, but after this device was announced and available for order (I tend to not pre-order things), I bought it. Just came in today, and I’ve already had a field day with it. It’s about the size of a small paperback book and light as a piece of cardboard. The back (pictured below) has a nice curve to it and the material is that soft-touch plastic that’s pretty popular. It feels good in the hand and doesn’t cause fatigue like tablets and some larger books would cause. Really, really nice.

The device is also pretty thin. Unlike a cell phone, this aspect isn’t as important, but is a nicety. Stick in a purse or a bag and it’ll barely even put any bulk in it. Big enough of a pocket, it’ll fit nicely. Also, in the photo above, you can see the cover for the MicroSD card slot. Expands memory up to 32GB for all of those books you want to download. Sweet.

So, start up the nook and the first thing you’ll get to is the home screen. Features what’s being read now, what you’ve bought and not read yet (and I assume downloaded if subscribed to magazines), and the B&N Top 100, should I want to read another book. Not a badly organized home screen.

Press the “n” button, select library, and you come to your library. A nice tiled list of books with covers. You can do a kindle style list if you want, but I think covers look nicer.

Of course, you can buy books too in the B&N nook Shop. Decent prices, though at times Amazon is cheaper.

The best part of this device is the e-ink screen. The text is nice and crisp (cell phone pics do no justice), response time is very fast and usable, and as with any e-ink, can be read outside in full sun. Perfect as a paper book replacement.

So, out of the box, the nook STR is a simple e-reader that pretty much does everything the Kindle does with some differences. Unlike the nookColor, it doesn’t come with a music player, browser (actually, it has a hidden one that isn’t that good), or even an app store. Or apps for that matter. But it runs Android. So, naturally, people want to root it. A short time after this was released, the device was rooted. And shortly after that, Angry Birds was run on it (though not really well).

So, this prompted me to go ahead and get it and see what I can do with it. It was a fairly straightforward process, and in less than 5 minutes, it was rooted. \o/

Then it took me a good several hours to get everything I wanted to run on it. But I finally got it working. It’ll now be more useful to me at work and on the road. I bought it mainly as a book reader, but on the side it can browse the web (thus checking things), take notes (kinda), and read e-books that the nook can’t read out of the box.

The first thing I did was use something I knew Android did when another launcher was installed. I (correctly) assumed that it just ran its own launcher and installing another launcher like ADW.Launcher would cause it to ask me which launcher I would like to use. I used ADB and push installed ADW.Launcher onto the nook, and, once again, \o/. So, with a launcher installed, I could run whatever I wanted without having to use ADB. Interesting to note, the stock software will put a back button and menu button on any non-nook software. Also, the n button will still bring up the nook menu. It will NOT bring you back to home, however, so I had to keep that in mind.

But, I now knew what I needed to do and tried to see what else I could push to the device via ADB.

I would like to do the occasional browsing on the device, so Dolphin Browser was installed. It works much better than the hidden one. Still some qwerks, but overall usable.

For shits and giggles, I decided to install Google Maps. No GPS, so it really won’t find you, but nice if you want a bigger map than what you can see on your phone.

I did want to take notes on my nook, so I installed a drawing application. It’s a big laggy, and really won’t be useful in a fast-writing situation, but I’m working on that one. I can draw, though, so that’s cool. Anyone want to suggest an apk that’s great?

And I do have some Kindle books I wanted to read. So, though this is a bit wrong, I installed the Kindle app on my nook. Still gotta wait for my Kindle books to sync. But awesome never-the-less.

Readability through the Kindle app is also good (after a bit of tweaking since it was optimized for smartphones). Notably, unlike the nook reader app, this app has animations. This does get annoying since page turns are not butter smooth, but every page turn is slightly annoying. I’ll get over it, though.

So, what to do about the lack of hardware buttons? Software ones. Softkeys, written for the nookColor (should you keep stock), works just fine on the nook STR. The only problem is that without certain root-related apps, this can’t be given super-user permission. This means the keys that are written into the nook software (back, menu, search) don’t work. I mostly end up using it for the home button exclusively. But nice.

There are a load of qwerks with this device, but considering I’m making it do what it wasn’t designed to, it’s not surprising. Twitter crashes, and some other apps require Android files missing from the nook. Also, the hardware buttons seems to be mapped differently, so the Softkeys doesn’t come up with a push of the “n” button. Mildly disappointed, and the little button used to call it up does get in the way (though movable). But, this is exciting. I’m not a big-time hacker, so I’m probably not going to go as far as trying to figure out how to flash my own ROM on my own, but I may figure out what the buttons are mapped to. Other than that, it’ll just be time before the nook community will release more and more for this device. It’s really only in its infancy.