New Barnes & Noble Nook Adds Touchscreen

As soon as I removed the new Barnes & Noble Nook from its box, I could tell that this petite e-reader was going to be a worthy challenger to the third-generation Amazon Kindle. Impressively, when I tested the Nook and its new touchscreen, I found that it does indeed out-Kindle the Kindle at its own game in some respects; but in others, the Nook falls shy of topping Amazon's e-reading staple.

The new Nook ($139 as of 7/1/2011) has been completely redesigned, yet retains the same moniker as the original Nook, which is now referred to as Nook First Edition. That missed the mark with a clunky LCD screen for navigating the E-Ink display above it. This new Nook is lighter, more svelte, and introduces Neonode's Zeforce infrared touch technology to simplify access and navigation, as well as a Wi-Fi connection.

Where the Nook First Edition's weight and size made it bulky, unwieldly, and generally unpleasant to use, the new Nook is the polar opposite: It weighs 0.47 pounds--35 percent lighter than the original Nook, and slightly lighter than the Kindle (0.60 pounds). It's also more compact--6 percent thinner and more than an inch shorter the first Nook. It now measures 6.5 by 5.0 by 0.47 inches--notably smaller than its older sibling.

In hand, the difference between the two versions is palpable. The new Nook is clearly made for curling up with and holding in one hand for an hours-long dive into another universe; that's exactly what I did with it on its maiden voyage. Its size and weight do make it easier to hold than the First Edition, and it's even slightly easier to hold than the current , which integrates a physical keyboard and has no touchscreen display. It's remarkably well-balanced to hold, be it in one hand or two; I found it quite comfortable to hold with my thumbs along the bottom bezel, and my index fingers and forefingers bracing the back.

The physical shape of Nook is pleasing in-hand, too: The e-reader's front and back both have a textured rubber finish, much like you'll find on a cell phone. The backplate cover dips in; those millimeters effectively give the Nook a built-in grip to make it even easier to hold. Nice touch.