By Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The e-book reading device is the gadget gift of the season. Both Sony and Barnes & Noble have sold out of their new models, and new buyers will have to wait until January for delivery. So why are e-book readers still such clumsy, annoying devices?
I've been trying Barnes & Noble Inc.'s $259 Nook for a few days, and I'm not eager to prolong the acquaintance. Some of its problems are specific to the Nook, but most of them have to do with the screen technology the industry has settled on.
It's known as electronic ink, and it looks more like a printed page than any other technology. It also doesn't consume a lot of power. But the disadvantages make these screens seem out of place today. They don't show color. They have no backlight. Most importantly, they're very slow to change from image to image. A regular LCD monitor updates its screen 60 times per second, while a fast e-ink screen might do so once per second.That means e-ink screens are very cumbersome to navigate. If you have a list of 10 books in your library, and your selection is marked by a highlight, it takes a second for that highlight to travel to a new selection. To users accustomed to the instant responses of computers and phones, this is what hell feels like.
The Nook tries to get around the slowness of e-ink by including a small, fast, touch-sensitive color screen below the main, 6-inch e-ink screen. While the main screen shows the text of a book, the small screen offers navigation options such as switching to another book.
This would have been a good idea if all the navigation took place on the color screen, but it doesn't. That screen is too small, so the Nook uses the e-ink screen to display lists of books, clickable links and so forth. Not only does your eye constantly have to travel between the screens to figure out your options, you also have to wait for the e-ink to update. The setup effectively shackles the color screen to the millstone of e-ink, and our voices rise from the depths of gadget hell.As if this wasn't enough, everyone I showed the Nook to tried to touch the e-ink screen. It's the natural thing to try because the color screen is touch sensitive, but it's a waste of time. Making the e-ink screen touch-sensitive as well would degrade its precious readability, apparently.