Those, like me, who pre-ordered the Barnes & Noble Nook ($259) recently received their new gadget. An early holiday present, if you will. So how does the Nook stack up in the increasingly crowded e-reader market? It has definite potential that, in some ways, remains unrealized.

Those, like me, who pre-ordered the Barnes & Noble Nook ($259) recently received their new gadget. An early holiday present, if you will.

So how does the Nook stack up in the increasingly crowded e-reader market? It has definite potential that, in some ways, remains unrealized.

The e-reader - today's hot gadget category - is a handheld device on which you can purchase and read a book, magazine or newspaper, or view PDF documents.

The Nook joins Amazon's Kindle, Sony's trio of e-readers (Pocket, Touch and the soon-to-be released Daily editions), and lesser-known entries like Fujitsu's Flepia (unique with its color screen), iRiver's Story, Bookeen's Cybook Opus, Elonex's eBook, IREX's Digital Reader, Onyx International's Boox, Interead's COOL-ER, ECTACO's jetBook and next year's QUE proReader from Plastic Logic.

Your humble Gadget Guy already purchased and received his Nook, just as I was among the first in line for Amazon's Kindle in late 2007. Anyone ordering the product today must wait until February to receive it. I'm still waiting for my pre-ordered Sony Daily Edition, expected to arrive soon.

Now let me explain that unrealized potential.

Based on appearances, the Nook is impressive. It has a 6-inch diagonal (16-shade grayscale) E-Ink screen that displays reading materials as if they're on a printed page. Unlike any other e-reader, the Nook also has a 3.5-inch color LCD touch screen that assists in navigation through the gadget's other operations (making notes, playing MP3s).

Where other e-readers seem industrial, the Nook appears sleek.

However, once you get past initial appearances, the Nook begins to falter.

The device is perceptibly slower than other e-readers at turning an electronic page, connecting to the B&N online bookstore through AT&T's cellular network or a WiFi connection (the Nook is the first to offer both forms of connectivity), purchasing a book or, really, doing most anything. Swiping your finger on the touch screen is supposed to turn a page (though not easily and, for me, usually not at all).

On the promising front, B&N says using the Nook on their free in-store WiFi network will allow users to browse all the pages of a book at no charge, and to receive special in-store offers - but both features are "coming soon."

B&N allows some, but not all, books purchased on the Nook to be lent to a friend for a 14-day period if that friend has a Nook or B&N's reader software (some reader software won't be available until 2010). B&N allows people to try the reader in the store before buying it, but that's a moot point since Nooks currently aren't available.

Since it seems many of the Nook's shortcomings can be fixed via software updates, if I were buying my first e-Reader, I'd buy the Nook. But if I already owned an e-Reader, there's no reason to junk it for the Nook yet.

Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend? E-mail gspot@columbusalive.com