Nook Simple Touch Firmware Update 1.1.0

The Nook Simple Touch received a major software update yesterday. Barnes and Noble’s communications around this update were confusing, and they have not published a detailed list of changes and bug fixes. News outlets have added to the confusion by parroting the Barnes and Noble press release without doing any fact checking.

In this post I’ll lay out the facts about the update, and then I’ll discuss my opinion about these changes in the context of my prior review of the Nook Simple Touch.

Facts about the Simple Touch 1.1.0 update

The first thing to make clear is that this is a software update. The wording of yesterday’s Barnes and Noble’s press release was fuzzy on this point and many sites misreported that new Simple Touch hardware was being released. I called Barnes and Noble customer service today and was told in no uncertain terms that this was a firmware update. There is no new hardware. Barnes and Noble has shared an internal document which lists bug fixes and minor changes but I could not get access to this document. My suggestion to Barnes and Noble: please post detailed 1.1.0 firmware release notes.

All Nook Simple Touches will be updated automatically to 1.1.0 over the coming weeks. But you can update manually, like I did last night. This link takes you to the manual download page, which includes instructions.

Nook Simple Touch Software Updates

If you choose to manually update, I strongly recommend that you reboot your Nook Simple Touch a few minutes after completing the installation procedure. I followed the procedure carefully and found that my Nook Simple Touch was very buggy after the update—until I rebooted the Nook which cleared away all the bugs.

Here is how Barnes and Noble describes the update:

  1. Breakthrough E Ink® display—best just-like paper reading, even in bright sun
  2. 25% faster than any other eReader ” Best-Text™ Technology for sharper, ultra-crisp fonts
  3. Longer battery life—read for over 2 months on a single charge [for one hour per day, not just half hour per day]
  4. Ongoing enhancements and other performance improvements

As advertised, it’s faster, with crisper fonts and better contrast. Pictures appear to me to be a little less clear, including the cover pictures when the Nook is asleep. I can’t comment on the battery which would take weeks to test. See later on in this post for my detailed comments about the new fonts.

Here are the rest of the minor updates and bug fixes I’ve been able to discover so far:

  • touch: left edge of display now responds as well to touch as the right edge of display
  • touch: the book symbol at the upper left now consistently returns the user to the current book when touched
  • touch: The edit shelf button is still small but is easier to touch for those with large fingers
  • browser access removed altogether
  • settings/shop—can “manage credit card”
  • Table of Contents aligns left even for nested TOC
  • Previously, all PDFs automatically reflowed at the third and larger font sizes. Now some PDFs reflow at the smallest font size as well (Is this a bug or a feature?)
  • Speculative: my Nook sometimes required rebooting before the battery could charge when plugged into an electrical outlet. This bug may have been fixed as I have not had this issue since the 1.1.0 update.

I’ll further update this list over the next few days as I discover more changes. I would greatly appreciate comments on any changes I haven’t yet noticed or any facts I’ve manged to get wrong.

How the 1.1.0 update changes my review of the Nook Simple Touch

Both the battery life and page turn speed were so good to begin with that I don’t think improvements in this area will really matter to most people. They certainly don’t matter to me. The improvements to the font rendering and contrast however are very significant.

Quite a few people have expressed a preference for Kindles over the Nook with respect to contrast and font rendering. I don’t have a Kindle to compare to at the moment, but I will later this month when I get my Kindle Touch. So I’ll just compare the Nook Simple Touch to itself, before and after the 1.1.0 update.

All text appears sharper, and is easier to read when glare is present. Before this update, I disliked 5 out of the 6 fonts at the two smallest font sizes. I only used the default Caecilia font, which was a little darker than the others and good enough that I didn’t notice anything odd while reading.

Nook Simple Touch with malabar font after firmware update 1.10
Nook Simple Touch with malabar font

With 1.1.0, the fonts are now rendered so differently that they appear to my eyes to be altogether different. Malibar is now my favorite (above image is at second smallest font size). I still really like Caecilia too. Amasis does not look as sharp as the other 5 fonts, particularly at the two smallest sizes.

I previously commented that the other three fonts reminded me of what print looked like on 300 DPI laser printers when they first came out 15 years ago—so thin and plain as to be distracting. These three fonts are greatly improved and are fine for reading at any size.

It is my understanding that most people find serif fonts like Caecilia, Malabar, and Amasis easier to read on paper, but sans serif fonts like Gill Sans, Helvetica Neue, and Trebuchet easier to read on computer screens. I believe this is because serifs require a higher resolution than most computer displays offer. The Pearl E-ink display of the Nook Simple Touch is enough like paper to my eyes that I prefer serif fonts over sans serif, despite the great improvements to the sans serif fonts. So I’ll be using Caecilia and Malabar.

One thing Barnes and Noble has not changed is the Home Screen. Barnes and Noble delights in pointing out that, unlike Kindles, Nooks don’t have ads. However, there are many ways in which Nooks act as a funnel into the Barnes and Noble store. Nowhere is that more apparent than the home screen, which advertises displays Barnes and Noble books on the bottom half, and only displays “new reads” obtained from Barnes and Noble’s e-store in the upper right corner. Needless to say, I continue to bypass the home screen in favor of the library screen, which only pushes ads Barnes and Noble book samples about once per month (which I then promptly archive).

I was hoping to see the “return to prior screen” button become standard on every screen but that has not yet happened.

Conclusion

So what do I think of this update? The bug fixes are welcome as are the battery and speed improvements. But the show stopper is the software improvements to the display. I’m guessing that improved contrast and font rendering makes the Nook competitive with the Kindle in the area of text clarity, though I won’t know for sure until I get my Kindle Touch.

However, my overall conclusion about the Nook Simple Touch remains the same: If you want a novel-sized, black and white E Ink touch e-reader with varied options for holding and page turning, then you will be very happy with Nook Simple Touch hardware. I like the hardware so much that I’m not particularly hoping it’s someday replaced with improved hardware. If only I could say the same about the Nook’s platform.

The Kindle platform already had a number of advantages over the Nook when I first wrote my Nook Simple Touch review. But Amazon has improved the Kindle platform significantly since then with the addition of personal document sharing, library lending, and a free book per month lending program for Amazon Prime members. Though Kindle hardware trails a bit at the moment, those who are patient can expect popular Nook hardware features to eventually make their way to future Kindles.

The Nook Simple Touch is a great e-reader, made even better with firmware update 1.1.0. Used in conjunction with in-store advantages, it will be the most appropriate e-reader for some. But for those who don’t have ready access to a Barnes and Noble store and who want to easily access their purchased or side loaded content on any device for many years to come, the Kindle platform currently has the edge.

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

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