Kindle. Hands down, no debate, knock out punch in the first round.
Today I had the opportunity to compared a Nook and Kindle 3G side by side in the Barnes and Noble bookstore. I must say the staff at Barnes and Noble were very nice and helpful, even as it was apparent the Nook was going down in flames.
First: Nook doesn't do text to speech. POW. Dead. Not even a contender. Vainly did the clerk tell me that Nook does do audiobooks. I have not investigated this in the Kindle yet because I've never done audiobooks before, they being so damned expensive. I have downloaded a lot of classics for free with text to speech enabled -- more on that in a separate post. Kindle wins by a knockout on the first blow.
So, having eliminated the Nook as a contender, I went on to examine it as a reading device. First thing I noticed: glare. Lots of it. Not as much as my netbook which is functionally a mirror in bright environments, but way more than the Kindle. I tried the Nook and Kindle side by side at different distances and in different positions. Kindle won hands down every time. Nook has an optimal reading position and distance. Deviate from that and the glare increases dramatically. Worst positions are unreadable due to glare. This does not happen with the Kindle. Worst positions have somewhat more glare than the optimal position, but remains readable. Given that you have to move your hands to turn pages, drink your soda, or other things, this means waving the Nook around a bit until you find the sweet spot.
Really bad screwup by Nook: the anti-glared treatment was applied only to the reading window, not to the touch sensitive menu window. The glare is twice as bad on the menu window, making it really hard to read and use.
The smallness of the buttons makes it really hard to type when using the on screen keyboard and other features. This is about as difficult as the Kindle's tiny little buttons on the keyboard. The difference is, there's a bit of space between most of the Kindle buttons so that an error has null effect (usually), whereas on the Nook the onscreen buttons are side by side, so a minor error on your part means you just hit a button you didn't intend and must backspace, and can result in you visiting random pages you didn't intend. Nook fails for people with fine motor problems. Kindle is not so hot on this, but is not a complete fail.
Looking at the loading of pages and other stuff, I found the Nook hard to navigate and poorly implemented. There is no 'back' button, which on the Kindle has saved me from many of my errors. No, on the Nook, choose wrong, and you're lost. Worse, things like the 'Nook tour' are badly implemented. For example, it tells you 'try this feature'. You try it... and have no way to get back to the tour. You have to already know how to use the Nook so that you know which menu to pick to navigate back to the Nook Tour, open it again, thumb through several pages, and get back to where you were in the tour. #fail
Looking up a word in the dictionary isn't easy, either. You have to magically know which menu items to press on the touch sensitive menu screen, navigate to the dictionary, get the popup arrows, and press them a bunch to select the word. Except, you have to know to move the cursor to the beginning of the word. With the Kindle, the navigation button is right there. You want a word look up? Navigate to it and press the center of the navigation button. Much much simpler and faster.
Unfortunately, the Kindle navigation button is one of the bad buttons that is too close to other buttons, so you are likely to accidentally hit the Menu or Back buttons, so this impedes dictionary usage. Still, it beats the heck out of the Nook.
The Nook will apparently play music for you, as will the Kindle. I have failed to figure out how to get the music from my iMac to my Kindle, which is a #fail on Kindle's part. I saw menu stuff on the Nook relating to music, but I couldn't figure it out either, although I didn't have as much time to spend on it and didn't have access to my own music on my iMac, so it wasn't a fair comparison, but all the same, it does not appear to be simple. No score for Nook on music: game called on account of rain.
Since reading is what both are designed to do, how do they hold up in various situations? I did not have the opportunity to take the Nook outdoors, but I suspect the glare problem would only be worse and the high-glare touch screen unusable. I have had the Kindle outside -- and it reads very well in bright natural light. Kindle's claims to beach reading are validated here. That matters to me -- I'm a tall ship sailor and have been frequently frustrated by glare from my Netbook. The Nook will not serve my needs there.
Low light is another condition often encountered on the ship, or at my desk for that matters. Kindle's tiny keyboard and navigations buttons are a #fail -- I must carry the device into the light to read them. I did not have the opportunity to view a Nook in low light conditions. In my waving it about checking glare I did have it in locations in which there was less light, eg, it was in the shadow of my body, and the glare persisted, so I'm not optimistic about the Nook in dim light. The Nook does have one low light feature that is helpful and beats the Kindle: raised dots on the page forward and back buttons. I have several times fumbled and pressed the wrong button on the Kindle in low light situations. Unfortunately, the raised dots are exactly the same for backwards and forwards, and on each side of the device. It is entirely possible that a blind person, or somebody picking it up in the dark could have it upside down without realizing it and press the wrong buttons. So, raised dots are in fact helpful on the Nook, although they could be better. Nook wins this one.
Nook wins on glitz, too. You can change your wallpaper on the Nook. I don't think you can on the Kindle, which is annoying me to no end. I do not like looking at pictures of famous novelists. I want to put pictures of ships on my Kindle :) This is a cosmetic issue though, so although Nook wins here, you don't buy an ebook reader for its cover.
Shopping proved a pain in the butt with the Nook as well as the Kindle -- due largely to teeny tiny buttons and hard to navigate menus. The Nook displays covers in its touch screen navigation window, which seems pretty spiffy, but is then obscuring my ability to use the navigation window for its intended purpose. How do you get back and forth between the book covers and menu items? No, it would have been much better to show book covers in the display window. The book covers are touchable and will open then, but considering you can only see three book covers in the touch screen window, this does not seem like a very helpful way to thumb through your books.
Conclusion: Kindle wins hands down as a reading and listening device. The Nook advantages are trivial. The Nook defects are huge and glaring. (Pun intended.) Want a trendy device that does a lot of things badly? Nook is your choice.