I've been trying to get my nook to provide a more pleasant experience reading PDFs. In all honesty, I saw PDF capabilities as one of the nook's biggest selling points. I had hoped to take all of the academic papers I was interested in and throw them on the nook, saving on time and paper. I was disappointed to find that the reflowing, which is fine for single column, non-technical material, was a huge pain for a large quantity of the papers I wanted to read.

Recently, I discovered that the nook will not reflow a PDF if the text size is set to small. While this is not at all obvious, it is easy enough once you are aware of it. One problem remains: there is no ability to zoom or pan on the nook. So, for a multicolumn paper with generous margins (fairly typical in academic literature), the text becomes either truly unreadable or straining to the eye. As of firmware update 1.5, this has not been addressed.

The ironic thing is that these missing features are simply huge. I am sure from reading the nook forums that there are a great many others who are or were excited about the nook because of its ability to read PDFs (something that the Kindle DX 3 is supposed to have, alongside panning and zooming). Moreover, since they are using Adobe Editions on an Android platform, the feature would not have been hard to add. Finally, from a UI perspective, I think all that we really want is for panning to work on the PDFs the way it works on the web browser and for there to be an extra zooming feature.

Fortunately, there are some tools to get around these shortcomings, at least in the short term. These all revolve around chopping the PDF a little bit, and most also work by rasterizing the PDF so that the nook's retouching has no effect.

  1. briss is an application to crop PDFs. While one could also do this with ImageMagick, briss first analyzes the PDF, clustering the pages into a couple/few layouts, then allowing the user to set the cropping boundaries manually. It is important to note that, of the three listed here, briss is the only one that does not actually rasterize the PDF.
  2. papercrop is an application that analyzes a PDF, dividing each page into one or more "crops", which it then puts in order and outputs. Because of the analysis it does on the documents, it is particularly well suited to multicolumn PDFs. It was originally built with academic use in mind, so it works especially well for PDFs that fit that mold: computer generated documents of low to medium complexity. Unfortunately, it does not do so well with scanned documents, such as those that come from the Internet Archive, because it treats the speckling from the scans or from dirt on the page as being legitimate parts of the document, reflowing its crops around them.
  3. pdfread was one of the first applications developed for the purpose of making PDFs readable on dedicated ebook readers. It rasterizes the content, then breaks it down into image chunks that fit well onto the ereaders screen. It does not support the nook as such, but the Sony Reader PRS-500 profile works perfectly on the nook, since the two devices have the same screen resolution.

In my experience, for whatever that is worth, briss is the best option with single column materials with wide margins. Simply cut the whole PDF down and the nook display is just fine. I use papercrop for anything in which layout design is important. I do not use pdfread that often, to be honest with you, but it is still handy to have around for the odd ball document.

In the final analysis, this toolkit has made a large number of documents readable on my nook, including such fine titles as the Unix Haters Handbook and Paul  Graham's tome, On Lisp, but in a perfect world (one with panning and zooming on the nook) it would seldom, if ever be necessary.