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Barnes & Noble Debuts Android-Based E-Reader

Barnes and Noble Nook
The Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader. Click to enlarge.
Source: Barnes & Noble
Look out, Amazon: Barnes & Noble's Android-based, dual-screen e-book reader made its own impressive debut today, wowing observers with both its features and its price.

Dubbed Nook, the $259 wireless e-reader is available for pre-sale today, with retail sales set for the end of November.

Similar to the popular Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle, which operates on Sprint's network, the Nook features 3G connectivity courtesy of AT&T. But it also supports Wi-Fi and, in addition to its main E-Ink reading screen, sports a second, tiny color touchscreen for navigation -- enhancements the single-screen Kindle lacks.

It also includes a feature that allows owners to lend their e-books to others. The "LendMe" tool lets users send e-books for free to a friend's Nook, iPhone, iPod Touch, PC and select BlackBerry and Motorola smartphones, for up to 14 days.

In addition, the Nook comes with a 16GB microSD card reader and supports the transfer of .PDF documents from computers. It also supports the open EPUB format adopted by many e-book players -- but not Amazon.

"This puts the Nook competing squarely with Amazon's Kindle 2 -- most likely with a razor-thin margin, if any, for B&N. To steal market share from Amazon and make up for lost time, B&N is pricing the Nook as aggressively as possible," Sarah Rotman Epps, analyst at Forrester Research, wrote in a blog post.

The Nook comes as the e-reader market is seeing a slew of new entries, coming in at different price points and with varying features.

The Nook also represents one of the few non-phone devices to use Android, the Google-backed, open source mobile operating system.

Despite its bevy of features, Epps said pricing is what's critical to success in the increasingly competitive e-book reader landscape -- and that the Nook nails it.

"Getting the price right is crucial to success in this emerging device market. As we published earlier this year, most consumers expect e-readers to be $99 or less. But we expected something in the range of $399, which would make the device competitive with the other touch and wireless e-readers on the market, the Sony Daily Edition and the iRex DR800SG, both of which will be sold at Best Buy among other retailers."

"Pricing the Nook a full $140 below these other devices sends a strong signal that B&N is focused on Amazon, not Sony, as competition," Epps said.

She also pointed out that B&N can use its 700 retail stores for massive marketing reach, and that it will need to leverage that promotional muscle to be successful.

"B&N will need to use all the tools in its arsenal, merchandising it prominently in its stores, promoting it through advertising, e-mail marketing, to make up for lost time since the Kindle's launch in 2007," she said.