Barnes and Noble’s new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight isn’t an all-new, completely re-designed eReader, but it doesn’t need to be. The original Nook Touch remains one of the best eReaders on the market thanks to the comfortable design, simple interface, and speedy performance.
Now the bookseller is adding a new feature: GlowLight. This built-in booklight is meant to make the Nook the best eReading choice whether you’re out in the sun or in a dark bedroom trying to get through the last few chapters of The Hunger Games before bed.
Does this addition make the new Nook a better choice than the original? Read our full review to find out.
$139 Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight
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The Nook Simple Touch’s GlowLight function differs from traditional backlighting, though the effect is somewhat the same. In literal terms, GlowLight isn’t a back light at all since the light isn’t located behind the display.
The soft white/blue lights are situated around the edges, aimed down instead of up. When turned on, the GlowLight bounces off of the display similar to the way natural sunlight bounces up to your eyes. The light itself is less jarring on the eyes than light from an LCD on a tablet or computer.
Though not a backlight, the GlowLight hits the display pretty evenly, similar to a tablet. The light is a bit brighter at the edges if you’re really looking.
Since the brightness is adjustable, the GlowLight works in any situation where you’d normally use a booklight. Obviously it works well for rooms with little or no light, such as your bedroom at night. I also found myself using it where light is dim, such as on an overnight flight or sitting in a cozy cafe with intimate lighting.
Most of the time I didn’t need to turn it up past 25%. The darker the room, the more effective the light at lower settings.
In a bedroom setting, the GlowLight is much less disruptive than leaving a lamp on and lights up the display better than a booklight or lighted cover. Still, the light is visible to other people in the room, even at lower settings. If your bed partner isn’t bothered by a small amount of light that doesn’t travel too far or give off a harsh glow, then you’ll both be able to co-exist peacefully while you read. If even the slightest light is a problem, the GlowLight isn’t a solution.
Battery life on the Nook remains good even with the GlowLight. Barnes and Noble estimates 1 month if readers use the GlowLight every day and 2 months with it off. Based on my experience with the original Simple Touch, the 2 month estimate isn’t that far off, even if you’re a heavy reader. So far the battery shows ample longevity with several hours of reading over five days with the GlowLight on.
In order for the light to spread out evenly over the surface of the eInk display Barnes and Noble had to add an anti-glare coating as a standard feature. The company says this is the same as the anti-glare screen protector available as an accessory for the original Nook Simple Touch. Unfortunately, the anti-glare has the side effect of lowering the contrast on the display.
Both the Nook Simple Touch and the Touch with GlowLight have an ePaper display with 16 levels of grayscale and a 600 x 800 resolution. If you place them side by side, you can tell that the GlowLight version is a shade or two lighter. Same with the Kindle Touch. Even without the comparison, I noticed that the new Nook’s text isn’t as dark as I’m used to. The lighter contrast isn’t as noticeable with the GlowLight on.
It looks like Barnes and Noble made a choice to sacrifice the level of contrast in order for the best performance with GlowLight. They also claim that the anti-glare screen protector is a best-selling accessory, so many Nook users already experience this. The resulting quality isn’t a dealbreaker, but will be a consideration for buyers.
Other than the issue above, using and reading eBooks on the Nook with GlowLight is unchanged from the experience with the previous version. This is not a bad thing.
Over the past year Barnes and Noble has improved the speed and performance of the Nook Simple Touch to the point where the lag that comes from having a low-refresh eInk screen is pretty short. Inside books the Nook’s speed is most apparent when turning pages. Gone are the days when the entire screen flashed and it took up to three seconds to turn. Now it’s effectively instant, with a full screen flash happening every six pages or so. And even then you may not notice, it happens so fast.
The infrared touch technology is fast and responsive. Owners can use a fingernail, the pad of their finger, or a soft tip stylus.
Due to the speedy performance, touch sensitivity, and being able to turn pages any way you prefer — hardware buttons, screen tapping, swiping — it’s easy to immerse into your book without thinking much about the hardware.
The Nook offers seven text sizes and six font faces (half serif, half sans-serif), three line spacing choices and three margin spacing choices. This allows readers to customize their reading experience to the most comfortable. I prefer as much text on the screen as possible, but others need a lot of space in order to focus properly. The Nook has all of those options.
In addition to basic reading there are Notes, Highlights, and Bookmarks. These will sync across Nook devices and Nook apps, but curiously not to the Nook for PC program. Typing notes on the Nook is feasible thanks to an on-screen keyboard that responds well to taps. Since the display is eInk the text lags a bit behind fast typing, but otherwise is similar to a smartphone or tablet.
When connected to the Internet, owners can share quotes or how far they are in a book with lit lovers on Twitter, Facebook, or NookFriends, the Barnes and Noble social network.
Other than adding the GlowLight and the anti-glare screen, Barnes and Noble didn’t change the Nook’s internals and made only one small change to the design. This is a good thing since the Simple Touch is one of the best designed eReaders available.
The Nook with GlowLight has a 6.5 x 5.0 x 0.47 inch footprint and 6.95 ounce weight that makes it easy to fit into small bags/pockets and hold in one hand. The soft-touch, contoured back makes it comfortable to hold whether you do so with two hands or just one.
Just as before, page turn buttons flank the eInk display. They sit comfortably under the thumbs and can be customized based on your hand size or preference. By default, the top buttons Page Forward and the bottom Page Backward. Readers can reverse this in the settings.
Or, you can skip the buttons and either tap the edges or swipe on the display itself to turn.
The n beneath the display now does double duty as a menu button and the GlowLight on/off switch. A wider button flush with the curved back of the device turns it off. As before, a door covers the microSD slot on the right (takes up to 32GB cards) and integrates smoothly into the curve once closed. Other than that, the only port is the microUSB on the bottom.
The hard plastic strip that rings the edge of the device is now a light gray instead of a black that matches the rest of the Nook. This will help distinguish the GlowLight version from the original in households where both exist.
As before, the Nook is Wi-Fi capable and easily connects to available wireless networks and hotspots. No 3G option as with the Kindle. Readers won’t be able to connect to the online storefront from just anywhere, though they will get free access in any B&N location plus any AT&T hotspot.
Barnes and Noble boasts over a million titles available in their Nook catalog, though many of those are free, public domain books. Nook owners have access to several hundred thousand more recent eBooks and over 90% of the current New York Times’ best sellers. Plus, there are ePeriodicals on offer.
Searching for anything other than books in the Shop is difficult since the search engine isn’t very robust. Good thing you can search via your computer’s browser and send the titles you buy to the Nook wirelessly.
Otherwise, the ability to search for, buy and begin reading within a few minutes will satisfy most literary junkies.
Aside from Nook books, Readers can also load ePub eBooks from other sources as well. As long as they use Adobe’s DRM or have no DRM at all. This includes public libraries that offer digital lending.
Users can also load documents to the Nook for reading. Unfortunately, only PDF files are compatible.
People who often find themselves wishing they could use their eReader in any lighting, including dark rooms, will find the GlowLight functionality worth the extra $40 over the original Nook Simple Touch. Those who anticipate needing a booklight will find the GlowLight a superior experience and potentially less than buying one in addition to an eReader.
Users who don’t usually need a light or don’t have issues with their current lighting situation don’t necessarily need to upgrade to the Nook with GlowLight.
While the ePaper display’s contrast issue isn’t a major drawback, if you’re concerned you should see for yourself before making a decision. Good thing you can see the device in person at any Barnes and Noble location or in electronics stores at the beginning of May.
It comes down to which is more important: the darkest text or the lighted screen? If the latter is a bigger deal, then the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight is for you.
|Size||6.5 x 5.0 x 0.47 inches|
|Display (size/res)||6 inches; 600 x 800|
|Expansion||microSD (up to 32GB)|
|Wireless||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n|
|eBook Formats||ePub (Adobe DRM, no DRM), PDF|
|Image Formats||JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP|