The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader is more than merely a worthy competitor to the Kindle, as I wrote when I saw the e-book reader demonstrated late last month. Now that we've tested the device in our labs, it actually scores a few points above the Kindle in our tests. [To clarify: The Nook scores 1 point above the Kindle below it in the 6-to-7-inch category. But it ranges from 4 to 5 points higher than other Kindles.]
That marks the first time since the Kindle launched that Amazon's e-book reader hasn't been the top-scoring model in our Ratings (available to subscribers). It also continues the steady improvement in Barnes & Noble's e-book devices since the company rushed out a glitchy first version of the Nook during the holiday season of 2009.
Thanks to a series of firmware updates, that first Nook, which remains available at a reduced price, now scores significantly better than it did at launch.
The new version of the Nook, like the Kindle, has a black-and-white screen that use E Ink Pearl technology. B&N also offers the Nook Color e-book reader. (Amazon has no color device, at least yet, though one is rumored.)
As the full Ratings detail, the Simple Touch (a.k.a. "The All-New Nook," as B&N alternately calls the new device) matches or bests—albeit modestly—its Amazon competitor in almost every aspect of performance. Among the attributes on which we score the devices equally is battery life; despite a power struggle between B&N and Amazon over which device runs for longer, we give both equal credit for a claimed battery life of five days or more. At $140, the Simple Touch, which offers Wi-Fi connectivity, costs the same as the Kindle with Wi-Fi.
B&N has caught up with the Kindle in large part by emulating Amazon's focus on reading with minimal fuss and extra features. The first-generation Nook (now dubbed "Nook First Edition" by B&N) has a second, color screen below the reading screen for navigation and boasts an MP3 player, a game, and a basic Web browser.
The Simple Touch drops those bells and whistles and the second screen. As a result, it (like the Kindle) successfully "gets out of the way and disappears and lets you get on with your reading," as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in praise of the Kindle during my interview with him last month.
Updates to firmware might eventually allow Kindle to reclaim its top rank in our Ratings. Among the pluses that allowed the Simple Touch to edge ahead of the Kindle was its support for e-book loans from public libraries, but Amazon has announced that it will bring library loans to the Kindle later this year; assuming it's implemented well, that functionality might boost Amazon's e-book reader by the few points that now separate it from the Simple Touch.
We're waiting to receive and test at least one other e-book reader: the Kobo eReader Touch, which also has a Pearl E Ink touchscreen. And an announcement is expected this month on a new line of Sony Reader e-book devices; the current Readers also have E Ink touch-screens.