Will the Nook checkmate the Kindle?

Barnes & Noble has unleashed twin weapons in its battle with the Kindle and iPad: the company is updating its Nook reader to offer both chess and sudoko games!

OK, OK, that’s not the main selling point. The firm is also adding an “experimental web browser” which will run in the main grayscale window rather than the smaller color touchscreen. It will only work on Wi-Fi.

The publicity for the update somewhat downplays this feature, which probably suggests it doesn’t want to invite comparisons to the web experience on other devices, including those with color screens. One benefit it has noted is that users can now access Wi-Fi networks which use a log-in page.

There’s also a particularly creative offer: Nook users will be able to spend up to an hour a day reading books from the Nook catalog without charge. The catch is that it only works when the user is at a physical Barnes & Noble store. It’s possible this feature will mainly be used by freeloaders and cheapskates who’ll be slow to splash the cash, but it’s certainly one way to get people into stores.

It’s not yet entirely clear if the entire online range of books will be available, or just a selection. Barnes & Noble has confirmed users will be able to read books that aren’t physically stocked in a store and that it will be adding magazines to the free reading options later.

This all sounds great, but the problem for Barnes & Noble is that the device is still struggling to find a market where it can lead. If you want something that does everything well in a pleasing way, there’s the iPad. If you want something that does everything well and offers full computing power and control, there are netbooks. If you want something that does one thing — e-Books — well, there’s the Kindle. At $259, it’s hard to think of many people for whom the Nook would be either the best value or the perfect solution.