Barnes & Noble has given mixed signals about whether it will continue to build colour tablets, but it has always stayed the course with its eBook reader line. The new Nook GlowLight is the company's best E-Ink-based reader to date, with dramatically improved edge lighting, a nicer lightweight design, more internal storage, and an upgraded display.
That said, the new GlowLight – which is out in the US for $119 (£73), and will hopefully be arriving in the UK soon – doesn’t quite do enough to unseat the faster Amazon Kindle Paperwhite from its position as top dog. However, it's a close second, and the Nook GlowLight is a fine choice for B&N fans.
The Nook GlowLight measures 130 x 10 x 165mm (WxDxH) and weighs 175 grams, which is 30 grams lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite, and roughly equivalent to Kobo's svelte Aura reader. You can feel the weight difference pretty easily, although I wouldn't necessarily call the Kindle Paperwhite heavy.
The Nook GlowLight is fashioned from white plastic, with a durable-feeling grey silicone trim around the edges, and a soft-touch back panel that's clearly a step up from the rubberised Nook Simple Touch. That said, it's a little thicker than the Kindle Paperwhite, and oddly, we found we could pull the silicone trim away from the unit pretty easily, leaving the plastic internal ridge and hardware power button exposed on the left side. A microUSB charger port sits on the bottom edge. There are no other ports, and the only other physical control is the Home button below the screen.
Barnes & Noble says the Nook GlowLight contains the company's highest resolution, anti-glare E-Ink display to date, with 62 per cent more pixels than last year's Nook Simple Touch GlowLight. The new screen packs 212 pixels per inch and has a 1,024 x 758 resolution, the same specs as the Kindle Paperwhite's display. Text looks reasonably sharp and well detailed, with a few caveats (see below).
The improved edge lighting is arguably the GlowLight's biggest upgrade; it's much brighter and more uniform than the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, and it's also brighter than the Kindle Paperwhite. There's a little shadowing and blooming at the top edge, whereas the Paperwhite's light is more even, but otherwise it's a huge improvement over the initial model, which to be fair, was the first edge-lit eBook reader to hit the market.
The box includes the Nook GlowLight, a white microUSB charging cable, and a small Quick Start guide; there's no more bundled AC adapter, unfortunately. Optional covers cost $22 (£13) each directly from Barnes & Noble – you can get them in grey, lilac, or red.
User interface and reading
The user interface has also received some enhancements. From the home screen, one single tap gets you to what you're currently reading, a “Now on Nook” display from the store, and three tabs along the bottom: My Library, Shop, and Search. The top of the screen shows a toolbar with a clock, backlight control, Wi-Fi, a battery icon, and a Settings icon.
B&N has done a lot of work on the screen fonts. Malabar and Amasis carry over, but the Nook GlowLight gets new Monotype-sourced Georgia, Tipperary, Avenir Next, and Joanna Sans fonts, which the company says have all been optimised on a letter-by-letter basis. Other niceties remain in place, such as real page numbers – unlike the Kindle Paperwhite, which does support page numbers on selected eBooks, but uses its confusing location system the rest of the time.
A B&N spokesperson told me that the goal this time around was to eliminate ghosting and screen blackouts, and that appears borne out in the time I spent with the device; I never saw it black out the screen while flipping pages. It should never happen during normal reading anymore, although pages with heavy images, or a switch to the home screen or flip through the store, will still generate blackouts on occasion. After some page turns, though, text became heavier towards the bottom of the page – at other times it looked more even, and this difference was particularly noticeable in smaller font sizes.
Otherwise, the GlowLight offers up reasonably fast page turns, although they’re still a bit slower than the latest Kindle Paperwhite when compared side by side. The exception is when the GlowLight sometimes freezes up for a minute or so as it loads heavy images, and that’s disappointing to see. Speaking of page turns, there are no more hardware buttons for that; you must use the touchscreen now. That's the direction both Amazon and Kobo have gone in, so it doesn't surprise me to see it here, too. It's something to note if you've grown used to the buttons on a Simple Touch or earlier Nook.
In the store, B&N prides itself on its new recommendation engine, which is meant to be a cool, complementary way that the user can browse books. Categories include Books to Talk About, History Buff and Crossover Teen, among others, promising to add a little bit of what makes in-store browsing so appealing. You can buy (or just download in the case of free titles) any of three million books, and you can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines.
You can connect to the store via Wi-Fi – Barnes & Noble says the Nook GlowLight supports 802.11b/g/n wireless networks. Our loan unit only saw 2.4GHz networks in our test lab. There's no 3G cellular version, which is fine since it seems Amazon sees few takers with its more expensive 3G Kindle Paperwhite models anyway.
On board, you now get 4GB of storage, which means the Nook GlowLight can carry more than 2,000 books. The downside is that the memory card slot has been removed. To end on a positive note, the battery life is now up to 8 weeks of continuous reading, assuming 30 minutes per day with Wi-Fi turned off, with the light on or off.
In the US, the Nook GlowLight costs $20 (£12) less than the equivalent Kindle Paperwhite without ads, and the same price as the one with ads. The existing Nook Simple Touch GlowLight has been discontinued, but the non-edge-lit Nook Simple Touch remains on sale for $59 (in the UK, it’s just £29 currently).
Is all of this enough to win over some Kindle customers? It's possible, certainly, and the Nook GlowLight is impressive due to its lesser weight, and brighter edge lighting than the Paperwhite. However, Amazon’s e-reader is still our favourite, thanks to its faster performance, more even lighting and font rendering, and the Paperwhite’s still best-in-class eBook store. But if this Nook GlowLight speaks to you, then you can easily buy it with confidence when the device emerges this side of the pond.
Manufacturer and Model
Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight
130 x 10 x 165mm (WxDxH)
802.11n (2.4 GHz only)
Storage Capacity (as Tested)