So it turns out Barnes & Noble's big reveal yesterday was a new E-Ink Nook, using a 6" Pearl display. Pearl is the second generation of E-Ink and B&N claims 50% more contrast when compared to the Nook 1.
Of course the big hook here is the touchscreen. Kobo released an inexpensive touchscreen e-reader on Monday, beating B&N by a day (of course, Sony has had a touchscreen e-reader on the market for ages), but I think B&N has outdone them. Where Kobo went for a slick-looking minimalist design (with only one physical button), B&N has coupled a touchscreen with hardware page turn buttons.
While the new Nook doesn't look as sexy as the new Kobo, I think the design is much more practical. Why? Well when I'm navigating through my library, I'm going to want a touchscreen. I personally own a Kindle, and navigating through lists and drilling into sub-menus with 4 hardware cursor keys and a "Select" button feels positively archaic. In fact I often find myself naturally poking the screen, expecting that to work even though I know better. I really want a touchscreen for navigating to the book I want to read.
But! Once I start reading, I don't want to be smudging up the screen with fingerprints. After a bit of practice I was able to hold the Kindle with one hand and hit the Page Turn Forward button with my thumb, and (from what I've seen) the same will be true with the new Nook. My guess is that I'd use the touchscreen to get to my book, then clean the screen (thanks to owning a couple of tablets I have lint-free cloths all over my apartment) and use the hardware buttons while reading, ensuring a smudge free reading experience.
Of course the touchscreen isn't the only improvement. According to GigaOm, the new Nook has improved refresh rate by 80% (thanks to an 800 mhz Texas Instruments OMAP processor) and extended battery life to as long as two months with WiFi turned off. The new device is 35% lighter (7.48 ounces), 6% thinner and an inch shorter than the old Nook.
So is everything great? Well, there's been no 3G model announced yet, and the $139 price isn't super-aggressive. I actually wouldn't mind a taller device with a bit more screen real-estate but I suppose that's a personal preference. But overall this looks, on paper at least, like a better hardware package than what Amazon offers with the Kindle for the same price. Of course in the end the choice of e-reader often comes down to what books you can get on it, and how easily you can get them on there. I'm not sure B&N can beat Amazon in that department, yet (depending on individual needs and other variables, of course).
You can pre-order the new Nook now; it's expected to ship on June 10th.