Strong integration with Barnes & Noble's online store
Speedy download of new purchases to the app
Good display customization options
Excellent how-to-use guide on first opening the app
No way to buy ebooks directly through app
No interesting flourishes, like iBooks' page-turning animations
Books: $0.99 and up
One of the major benefits of using the iOS as your platform for reading ebooks is that you're not locked into a single app and store as you are with the Kindle or Nook hardware. While Apple may promote its iBooks app as the best reading experience on the iOS (and I agree with that claim), if you prefer Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or want to use all three, you're able to do so. If you buy ebooks from Barnes & Noble, its Nook app for the iPhone makes reading them easy. While the Nook app isn't as polished as iBooks, and it lacks some features that would be a nice to have, it's a solid app that deserves a place on the iOS device of any book lover.
Reading As You Expect It
When it comes to reading ebooks via the Nook app, Barnes & Noble isn't really breaking any new ground--though that's OK. The Nook app is plenty good for reading.
As you've probably come to expect if you've used any other ebook apps, reading via the Nook app is pretty simple. Text is displayed on the screen and as you finish reading that screen, you simply swipe to move to the next. While Nook lacks the cool touches like the page-turning animation offered by iBooks, the basic reading experience is good and allows you to concentrate on the text to the exclusion of distractions. Text, of course, looks especially great on the high-resolution Retina Display screens offered by the iPhone 4S and 4, and the 4th generation iPod touch.
Plentiful Customization Options
If you're not satisfied with the default look of your book, the Nook app offers many options for changing it. Tap the center of the screen and a number of icons pop up that allow customization. You can change the book's font size, the justification of the text, and the background color that you read on. While you can create your own themes--combinations of background and text color, font face and size, etc.--you can also choose from a number of pre-made themes. If you prefer the one you've created, you can save it for later use.
Other options including making bookmarks for section you want to return to, locking screen rotation and adjusting screen brightness. While you can control screen brightness as a basic setting of the iOS, this option is particularly nice since it controls screen brightness only when you're in the Nook app, not the overall screen brightness for all apps (that remains unchanged).
A Major Drawback
All things considered, the Nook app is a solid choice for reading. Where it's not so helpful, though, is when it comes to buying. Unlike iBooks, there's no link within the Nook app to Barnes & Noble's ebook store, so there's no way to buy books from within the app. Instead, you'll have to do that at the Barnes & Noble website. While not a major drawback, adding the extra steps to the process of getting books is a tad annoying.
That said, it's only partially Barnes & Noble's fault that the Nook app doesn't include a way to buy books. Under Apple's App Store rules, if your app allows users to buy things, those count as in-app purchases, which Apple takes a 30% cut of. Barnes & Noble has likely omitted a purchase feature in the app to prevent Apple from taking a share of its sales; Amazon has made the same decision with its Kindle app. The logic behind these decisions certainly makes sense, but it's not a completely frictionless customer experience.
When it does come down to actually buying books, though, things are easy. Go to the Barnes & Noble website, find the book you want, and then buy it. Once you've done that, launching the Nook app reveals that book on the app's home screen. A single tap downloads the book. In my testing, this was impressively fast. A small collection of short stories downloaded in less than 10 seconds over 3G.
The Bottom Line
The Nook app isn't perfect. Regardless of the business wisdom behind the decision, excluding the ability to buy books from within the app is a drawback. Beyond that, though, the Nook app offers just about everything a book lover expects from an ebook reader app these days. And, since the iOS allows you to use multiple ebook apps on one device, there's no reason not to add Nook to your iPhone or iPod touch along with Kindle and iBooks.
What You'll Need
An iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 3.1 or higher.