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A Very Special Holiday E-Reader Roundup 2

What we like: On paper, the Nook absolutely crushes the competition, and early word was that it was positioned as a Kindle killer. Note: we emphasize on paper. The hardware and software specs read like a techie wish list: a half-inch thin, and just 7- by 5-inches; two gigabytes internal storage (equaling to about 1,500 books) and a microSD slot for expansion; free 3G wireless from AT&T but also Wi-Fi (free access in all B&N stores) and USB access; support for ePub, PDB, PDF as well as most common image formats and MP3 audio files; built-in speakers as well as a standard headphone jack; and 10-day battery life. The most distinctive feature is a small color touchscreen below the main screen, upping the amount of user interface. Since it supports the popular ePub format, you can load it with free and paid books from tons of sources, along with B&N's industry-leading library of a million titles. In short, if we were to design an e-reader, it'd look a heck of a lot like this one.

What's wrong: Like finding Santa drunk under the Christmas tree, our test of the Nook left us confused and disappointed... and covered in pine needles. Somehow, B&N was able to make the whole less than the sum of its parts. Page loads take anywhere from a split-second (turning a book page) up to five -- and even 10 -- seconds in many cases. Navigation was utterly bewildering, and worsened by the slow load times when we'd hit the same button over and over again thinking we'd missed it. For an in-depth review, hit up our bros at Engadget, but the takeaway is that unless a firmware update in the new year can magically triple the speed and responsiveness, wait until the second generation of the Nook or opt for something else. (And if that magical update occurs when the oft-delayed Nook actually appears on the market, we'll happily eat our words.)

Who it's best for: Those who don't want presents under the tree come the 25th -- the Nook is shipping very slowly. Also, early adopters with deep pockets hoping that the Nook will get enough market support to get a redesigned second generation model with more much-needed power. Or, someone looking to fulfill court-ordered anger management classes.

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