Barnes and Noble sells the Nook, with a six-inch, e-ink touchscreen, for $139.

Barnes and Noble’s new reader, the Nook Simple Touch, is a great summer beach companion, with a few social tricks up its sleeve that Amazon’s best-selling Kindle doesn’t have.

I haven’t spend much time with the Nook’s predecessor, but I can say that the company’s low-cost e-reader stands toe-to-toe with the Kindle in terms of screen quality and battery life.

Price: The Nook Simple Touch Reader is $139.

Design: The reader’s six-inch touchscreen is your standard e-ink Pearl screen, which means crisp contrast for easy reading. The reader is light — very light, at 0.46 pounds — without feeling flimsy. Navigation is a breeze, perhaps because the device has only two visible buttons: a power button and a basic home screen button. When reading, you can swipe across the pages or use hidden navigation buttons on the side to make your way through your book or magazine.

The back of the reader is soft and rubberized and has a divot, making it easy to grip with one hand and navigate with the other. Be warned, neat freaks: The Nook is a fingerprint magnet — not in the front, but in the back. The oil from your fingers, especially when helped along by potato chips, can make a lasting impression.

The lack of a physical keyboard on the Nook can make its screen somewhat awkward to hold at first, since it doesn’t feel comparable to a paperback or magazine. But it’s a durable e-reader and can easily slip into a purse, suitcase, briefcase or even a large pocket.

Reading: Barnes and Noble has taken pains to cut down on the white flash that plagues e-ink readers during page turns. For the most part, those flashes are now fairly inconspicuous. The screen only wipes every sixth page. The trade-off, though, is that the text on the previous page appears to morph into the next, which caused a little bit of eye strain for me after a while. Choosing between interpage flashes or morphing text is entirely a matter of choice. I prefer the clean screen between pages.

Navigating through the book is also simple, via a quick tap on the screen. Users can go to the table of contents, search the text of a book, or use a slider to move through the whole text. This menu also lets you change the font, text spacing and margins of a book.

Apart from the basic navigation, the Nook Touch offers a handful of features. For example, holding your finger on a word or phrase pulls up a menu to let you highlight, annotate, share or look up those words.

Typing on the Nook is no picnic, but it’s better than my experiences with the Kindle. If I were writing a thesis or taking long research notes, I’d eventually get annoyed with the lag on the keyboard, but it’s fine for shorter notes.

I couldn’t check out the claim that the battery will last for two months, but I never had to plug my review unit into a wall through a week of heavy use, and the battery meter didn’t deplete much. I rarely have to plug my Kindle in, either. After a week of use, I’d say the battery life was comparable to, if not a bit longer than, the Kindle.

Other features: Barnes and Noble has worked to make the Nook a very social device, letting users lend books to each other and make recommendations through its social network, Nook Friends. Members of this network can browse and borrow each others ’ lendable books. The Nook’s store is easy to steer through, and Barnes and Noble is promoting special deals for Nook owners when they’re in brick-and-mortar stores.

The Nook also has a pseudo-browser, which works okay for some more text-based sites. But it was never meant to be a fully functioning browser, said Michelle Warvel, vice president of creative at Barnes and Noble. You can use it by typing a URL into the “Search” field. Although most Web sites won’t work with it, it’s a feature worth testing if only for fun.

Bottom Line: Overall, the Nook is a solid e-reader and a serious competitor for the Kindle. The touchscreen interface is easy to use, and its on-screen keyboard is a bit smoother than the physical Kindle keyboard.

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