Review: Barnes & Noble's new glowing Nook is a winner
Sometimes you just want to read. Digital's best answer for that simple urge is the now venerable E Ink e-reader. These monochromatic devices are not only holding on in the face of stiff LCD-based tablet competition, they're innovating. The latest update comes from Barnes & Noble, which added an LED-based "GlowLight" to its Nook Simple Touch e-reader.
The 6.5 x 5-inch device is not remarkably different from the e-reader Barnes & Noble introduced last year. Its dimensions are, in fact, virtually unchanged. But despite the new lighting tech, this reader is actually 5% lighter than the previous model. It's also somewhat lighter than Amazon's Kindle Touch (6.975 ounces versus 7.5 ounces).
Both Wi-Fi-only readers cost $139. You can get the Amazon Kindle Touch for $99, but then you have to accept special offers (essentially ads) in place of the screen savers.
More importantly, the Simple Touch price includes the power adapter, while Kindle sells it separately for approximately $15.
Still, what truly sets the latest Nook Simple Touch apart from all other E Ink-based e-readers is the patent-pending GlowLight. It makes the lightweight reader ready for night reading without the need for an overhead, clip-on or external light. By contrast, Amazon sells a cover with a built-in LED light for the Kindle Keyboard 3G.
Barnes & Noble is not the first to offer an E Ink reader with built-in LED lighting. Sony did it first a few years ago, but eventually discontinued the larger and more expensive e-reader.
The Simple Touch uses a single array of LED's nestled along the top edge of the device (above the screen, but below the touch-sensitive, anti-glare layer). They light the entire display.
I put the ereader to the ultimate test: bedtime reading. My wife, who was beside me, read by the super-bright light of her Apple iPad 2. I held the much smaller ereader in my hand, and pressed the physical Nook "n" button for two seconds to enable the light . Nook Simple Touch's GlowLight is adjustable, via a touch-screen menu selection.
So I cranked it all the way up (the default, which was set to about 1/3 power, was not bright enough for me). The light across the screen isn't perfectly uniform, but it is highly readable and very comfortable on the eyes. Even after my wife powered down and went to sleep, she didn't complain about my GlowLight.
I also found the touchscreen, which works either with a tap or a sweep of the finger (forward to turn the page and back to turn back the page), worked perfectly and made me wish my Kindle 2 was also a touch-screen device.
Barnes & Noble promises that the Nook Simple Touch's battery life will last for 30 days with an hour of GlowLight-enabled reading a night. I've had the ereader a few days and charged it once.
My original plan was to leave the GlowLight running and test if it could run, as Barnes & Noble told me, for 60 continuous hours. The device's own auto-sleep settings scuttled that plan by putting the Simple Touch to sleep after five minutes of inactivity.
Overall, Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is a winner. It's easy to setup (entering a Wi-Fi password is easy thanks to the touch screen), feels great in the hand, slips into my back pocket and holds thousands of books.
The interface is smartly designed. I like the store design and how easy it is to buy things (pretty much a match for the Kindle store) and found the E Ink screen crisp and responsive.
My only tiny criticism is the power button on the back. You use it to fully turn off the device (and turn it on) and it wiggles a bit too much for my taste. The good news is that, considering the battery life, it's unlikely you'll use it very often.
If I were buying a new E Ink reader right now, I'd go for the Barnes & Noble Simple Touch with GlowLight. It's slightly more affordable than the Kindle Touch (when you include the charger), feature-sensible and now has the killer enhancement: a built-in light.
Those who pre-ordered the e-reader could receive it as early as this week. Barnes & Noble reps tell us that limited quantities of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will be available in stores next month.
What do you think? Would you buy this E Ink e-reader or have you permanently moved on to tablets? Share your thoughts in the comments.