The last major bookstore chain wants to be all things to all people, but it turns out that's not easy to do.
It's not uncommon to hear someone refer to their ereader app as being a bookstore on their phone or tablet, but the folks at Barnes & Noble get about as close as you can towards making that statement literal. The Nook app is much more than just an ereader app attached to a store, it's an access portal for movies, television shows, newspapers, magazines, and even puzzles and toys that are sold in physical B&N locations. A content portals go, the Nook app is perfectly capable of delivering a tremendous amount of content to your mobile device. Whether or not that means you want to use this app as your primary reading mechanism is another matter entirely.
The ever-changing Nook landscape
While Barnes & Noble has net to see a great deal of success with their Nook devices, even after a partnership with Samsung late last year, the Nook app has taken advantage of the ability to be installed just about anywhere and flourished. Nook's pricing is usually competitive with the rest of the ebook market, and since their Nook tablets run Android the experiences are usually quite similar — though in the past Nook Android devices have been solely focused on delivering content from Barnes & Noble.
One of the things that has endeared Nook to many readers has been the ability to download and upload books to the Nook service with ease. Nook Books were initially just epub files, which has been an industry standard for quite a while. It meant Nook users could add books at will with no problem, and download all of their books if the user decided to try a different app. There's even support for .cbz files, which is a format almost exclusively used for comic books, and was a big deal for Nook users in the early days of comic books making the switch to digital.
Unfortunately, things changed late last year. Barnes & Noble implemented DRM into their books and made downloading their content next to impossible through the app. Books can still be downloaded through the Nook website, and if you know where to look there are tools for removing the DRM, but Barnes & Noble heading in this direction isn't exactly a good sign, especially when importing books from other sources is still fully supported and encouraged.
Reading in Nook world
As ereaders go, Nook hits all the basic check marks. You can sync your progress across multiple instances of the app if you move from phone to tablet, bookmark important sections, and jump from chapter to chapter in much the same way you'd expect any epub-compliant reader to do. The Nook app is broken into three zones when doing the actual reading, making it so you can tap anywhere on the left or right side of the screen to turn the page, with a center section open for access the in-book settings.
Nook users have access to a healthy selection of font and color choices when reading through the Nook app, which helps make up for the lack of app-specific brightness controls while reading. Font spacing and size options aren't buried like we've seen in other apps, which adds some flexibility if you're jumping between books for research purposes. Leaving notes for yourself is also front and center, allowing you to highlight a section with your finger and look up the notes in a list over in a separate section of the app. Overall, the Nook app is simple and straightforward when reading a book, which is impressive given how many options you have for consuming content in the rest of the app.
All about choice
Barnes & Noble does a lot of things right with the Nook app. There are very few places where the app shoves suggested content in your face, it's plenty easy to use, and Nook users aren't necessarily bound to any one ecosystem. As ereaders go, the Nook experience is capable but basic, and as content gateways go it's frustrating to see the recent addition of DRM. The friendly and over all pleasant user experience is more than enough for many users, which is a very good thing, and as an extension of a physical bookstore, the Nook experience stands out in the crowd.