I've really been looking forward to checking out the Nook e-reader, Barnes and Noble's new major competitor to Amazon's Kindle. I had the most positive attitude in the world last week when I showed up at a big new Nook demonstration booth on the ground floor of the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Union Square in New York City. One reason I've had high hopes for the Nook is that I haven't been impressed by the Kindle's physical specifications or its price, and I'm just waiting for some company to develop a practical, affordable, compact, ergonomic device that will blow the electronic reader marketplace open.
So I picked up a Nook at this display exhibit and tried to navigate around an electronic edition of Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. But I quickly found myself confused about which buttons to press. Maybe I should have read a manual before I started clicking around -- but, then, I can work an iPod or a Droid without reading a manual, so why should I need a manual to work a Nook?
The Barnes and Noble store exhibit was manned by a young hipster, but I was reluctant to ask him questions since he wore the exasperated expression (and hair/beard style) of a clerk in a Kevin Smith movie. I clicked around, trying to find the cover of Tale of Two Cities (I wanted to see if it would be in color) or the table of contents (so I could see how the internal navigation worked), until I finally ended up with an incomprehensible error message. I now called the young salesman over, but he made me feel like I was bothering him. "That's just a demo book," he said. "It's not real, the controls don't all work"
I don't understand why the Nook sales crew wouldn't put real books in their display devices. At least I could admire the device's small size, I thought, since I wanted to find something positive to say about the Nook. "I'm just going to see if this fits in my jeans pocket," I said to the sales guy. He said okay, but when I tried to slip it into my pocket a little cable connection between the device and its display case unsnapped and a loud anti-theft beeper started blaring through the store. The hipster sales guy jumped. "That -- was -- a -- bad -- thing -- to -- do ..." he sputtered angrily. I had clearly ruined his whole day now.
"Sorry," I said. "Didn't know that would happen."
"Yeah," he said, furiously typing in an anti-theft recovery sequence on his computer. "Just ... go."
The Nook didn't make a very good first impression on me. And Barnes and Noble really ought to fire their clueless demonstrator who made me feel like I was wasting his time by asking questions about the device he was there to sell.