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Like many, I received an eBook reader for the holidays. I've just finished reading my first eBook, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (a very good read, BTW, that my sister-in-law turned me on to), and I thought I'd share some of my impressions of the eBook experience.

We talked a lot about eBooks at our recent sales meeting. EBook sales are growing by leaps and bounds, though faster in some market segments than others. The fastest selling genre of eBook is romance novels, mostly, it seems, because no one can see that you are reading a trashy book on an eBook reader, a fact you can't hide with a print book. There was some disagreement as to whether the electronic reading experience was better or worse. One publisher stated that once people get a taste of reading electronic books, they will never go back to print, because the experience is so much better. Another person chimed in that this wasn't the case, that book people will continue to favor print. I had mixed emotions about reading on a small screen, but watching my 10-year old son explore the new iPod Touch he got for Christmas reinforced for me that if my generation is slower to adopt this new reading paradigm, the next generation won't hesitate.

I was doing my eReading on a B&N Nook Color device. I chose this device over the Kindle for a couple of reasons. First, it was color. Second it was a touch screen. Third, it was a mini-tablet that has web browsing, games, music, photos, etc. Fourth, it supported ePub format books, which the Kindle does not. I liked the open standards support of being able to load ePub books purchased through vendors other than B&N. It can also read Kindle edition eBooks if rooted, so the Nook seemed much more open than the Kindle. Finally, it runs the Android OS. Having just purchased a Droid smartphone, I liked the idea that my eBook device ran on the same platform as my phone.

I had one other less tangible reason for going the the Nook: bookstores are dying. I find it incredibly sad that the only bookstore in my town, a Borders, will likely close soon. I wanted to support the efforts of the local bookstore chain to transform itself into an eBook distributor, and so hopefully preserve the local presence of the B&N store in my area. So part of my purchase was a declaration of allegiance to the local bookstore over the online giant Amazon.

The Nook is a great little device. It is much more compact than an iPad yet more fully functional than a Kindle. I think B&N has hit a sweet spot for a mid-range device. The price is very reasonable too ($249 for the wifi version). 

I had some concerns before I started reading The Shadow of the Wind on the Nook. How would the text look on the touch screen display, which is not as vivid as the eInk technology used by lower end Nooks and the Kindle? Would my eyes hurt from reading on a backlit screen for too long? Would the glare on the touch screen display be too distracting? Would fingerprints on the screen be distracting? How would the battery hold up? Would it be easy to find my place or have a good sense of where I was in the book? None of these concerns turned out to be an issue for me. The text, though not as crisp as an eInk display, was clear and not at all a problem to read. The glare was not an issue, and was better than what I'd seen on devices like the iPad. The battery life was great (about 8 hours of continuous reading), and the navigation was good, with the touch screen being very responsive.

So what was it about this experience that made one of our publisher's state that the eBook experience was far superior to print? Several things really. The thing I got the biggest kick out of was looking up definitions in the built in dictionary. I had long ear marked pages in books when I ran across a word I didn't know, fully intending to come back and look it up later. Most of the time, I never did go back to look the word up, and if I did, it was a word out of context. With the Nook, one tap on the unknown word and you can get a definition instantly. I was worried that this was being looked up online and that I wouldn't have access to this feature if I was not on wifi, but that wasn't the case. The dictionary is built in, so you can look up words even when flying. This is a huge benefit over the static print format, and it is the core of the promise of the eReading experience: interactivity. Not only was I able to get the information I needed immediately, but the meanings of the words were easier to digest and recall because I was learning them in the context of the book.

I also loved the highlighting feature. I've long dog eared books and highlighted passages I loved, but those notes would be hard to find in a print book. With the Nook, all your highlights and notes are not only maintained in the text, but they are also cataloged in the content menu, so you can easily read just your highlighted text or jump directly to the section of the book you highlighted. This is an incredibly powerful feature for studying. It essentially allows you to build a crib sheet on the fly with a single tap. Very cool. The search functionality is also great, though not as useful when reading fiction.

I also loved the backlit screen. I often read at night or in the morning and don't want to turn on the light to disturb my wife. The backlit screen allows you to read in low light without having to worry about attaching a booklight to your book. I also liked the fact that you can easily hold the device in one hand, as opposed to a book that you have to hold open. Finally, it's great to be able to bring multiple books with you wherever you go on just a single, thin device.

So what were some of the downsides to the eBook experience? The electronic medium does have some drawbacks. When reading on a plane, they make you shut off your book for takeoff and landing, so you need a print backup for those kinds of circumstances. And if the battery dies on you, you're stuck. I also have some concerns about backing up my notes and highlights, though I think I've got a solution for that. Sharing books isn't very easy and requires a like device.

Overall, my first eBook experience was great. After finishing my first eBook, I can honestly say that even as a book person, I agree with the publisher who said that once you go digital, you won't go back.

What do you think? Are you a print or digital reader? What are some other advantages/disadvantages of eBooks? What has your experience been with the Nook Color or other eReaders?