When Barnes & Noble announced NOOKstudy
a few weeks back, we were cautiously optimistic that it was an early salvo in the war on traditional textbooks. We were "really excited, less about NOOKstudy itself than for the future that it portends." Well, NOOKstudy has hit the Web
, and we've given it a good once over. Does it fulfill the hype? Or, does it at least offer a tantalizing glimpse at the (hopefully very) near future of educational texts? Keep reading after the break to find out.
What We Like
NOOKstudy's primary selling point is that it offers an all-in-one repository for your texts, notes and other course documents. The app is integrated in a way that other products (like educational portal Blackboard) can't match. It almost
achieves this goal. It's easy to import PDFs and ePub files, the two most popular formats for distributing e-books and electronic copies of class handouts. NOOKstudy, however, will not import certain documents, including Word Docs. So you'll have to convert any notes, feedback or assignments that come in the Doc format to a PDF before adding it to your database.
NOOKstudy does do an admirable job of incorporating your annotations, offering a simple but flexible set of options, including the options to add notes and "mark up" your text with asterisks and highlights. You can add both tags and links, including page previews, to your notes, which will help you to gather research and form your ideas. We especially liked the ability to color-code our highlights and asterisks, which makes it easy to separate quotes from themes, or important points from words whose definitions we don't know. We also really appreciated the ability to look at two documents or books side by side. It's not exactly a game-changing feature, but it's one that will come in handy.
What We Don't
Unfortunately, this is where we run out of nice things to say about NOOKstudy. Everything about it seems rushed and half-baked, including the execution of many of the admittedly good ideas. For one, it lacks a full-screen mode, a questionable oversight for a piece of software dedicated to serious reading. And, while the ability to highlight words, and look them up on Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and Dictionary.com is welcome, NOOKstudy should load those websites within the app, perhaps in a side bar, instead of launching your Web browser. Relying on an external browser for performing Google searches is annoying, but the fact that the e-textbook shop does the same is simply inexcusable. Dump an ISBN or keyword into NOOKstudy, and it opens your search on the Barnes & Noble
site. From here, adding a text book to NOOKstudy is a convoluted affair requiring too many clicks and manual syncing when you're back in the NOOKstudy app. Once synced, the book will appear in your library, but it's still
not accessible until after you've clicked on the title and explicitly instructed it to download.
Then there are the smaller usability annoyances. For instance, double-clicking on a word doesn't highlight it. In fact, it does absolutely nothing. This means you're forced to draw every selection by hand. To add insult to injury, NOOKstudy suffers from what we'd consider a show-stopping bug: if you click in a text while holding shift, the text disappears, and can only be recovered by being closed and reopened. Since you need to hold down shift to alter a selection (which you'll find yourself doing often, as you have to select everything manually), this should have held up the release of NOOKstudy until it was fixed.
We're more than a little disappointed. It's not just that NOOKstudy failed to live up to the hype; it seems like there was no thought put into it beyond the brainstorming stage. We wanted to like it. We really did. But we walked away feeling like the era of the e-textbook was still quite a ways off. Now if you'll excuse us, we have to go drop a few hundred bucks on some dead trees and an economy-size pack of G2 pens.