Barnes & Noble knows that people want access for their ebook readers everywhere they go: Barnes & Noble's $259 Nook ebook reader, announced today and shipping by the end of November, sports two kinds of network connections, and that's just right. The Nook has support for AT&T's 3G network as a built-in, no-cost download method, as well as 802.11g Wi-Fi, with an automatic connection to the bookstore's free in-store networks.
The general press coverage doesn't mention the details: AT&T's 3G network is HSPA based, and the chips used for HSPA almost always include all the slower flavors of 2G and 2.5: GPRS, EDGE, and UMTS, which makes it more broadly useful outside of major cities in the U.S. GSM-based 3G is also available worldwide, which makes it easier for B&N to broker deals outside the U.S. later, but by including Wi-Fi, the book reader can be updated anywhere in the world without relying on a USB connection to a host. Download costs over AT&T's network are included in the cost of a book, as with Amazon's Kindle titles.
Amazon recently released a new model of Kindle ($279) that works over AT&T's domestic 3G network and with roaming partners worldwide. It's fairly clear from how Amazon is pricing service in the U.S. for those roaming outside the states, and for customer able to buy Kindles in their home markets, that Amazon is paying AT&T which in turn pays its cellular roaming partners. Ostensibly, Amazon will eventually create direct deals with carriers, too.
The biggest drawback to including Wi-Fi on a device such as this is providing an interface for people to log into networks other than those protected by simple WEP or WPA Personal encryption at home or work. There's apparently no browser--not even an "experimental" one as is found in the Kindle and Kindle 2; the international Kindle apparently omits the browser. Without a browser, there's no way to click Accept buttons or enter credentials on a Web page. That's a shame. One hopes B&N will partner with Devicescape or develop some system to allow simple logins.
I won't go into detail on all the specs, because other outlets can cover those aspects better. In brief, two screens, one for reading and another for touchscreen navigation; 2 GB of built-in memory and (thank you) a microSD slot that supports up to 16 GB; MP3 support with a built-in mono speaker and headphone jack; and it supports PDFs (albeit only via USB), as well as Epub and eReader formats (which can include or exclude encryption).
And, you can loan books to friends for up to 14 days; any content you buy can be used across B&N reader formats (programs for Mac and Windows, apps for mobile devices, and Nook), syncing your current location; and access to Google's 500,000 free downloadable books is part of the deal.