Earlier this year, in the spring, Barnes & Noble pushed out its Nook Simple Touch GlowLight e-reader over in the U.S. In a single stroke, the company eliminated one of E-Ink's core issues when compared to tablets for e-reading duties – with the introduction of switchable edge lighting meaning no more need for an external light source.
Of course, the UK didn’t get the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, or the basic Simple Touch (lightless) e-reader – but come next month, that will change. The vanilla Simple Touch is set to emerge for £79 in October, and the GlowLight version we’ve reviewed here will cost £30 more at £109. But you get enough other minor enhancements to make the GlowLight a wise purchase.
Design and GlowLight
When comparing the vanilla Nook Simple Touch with the GlowLight version, there are a few differences in the design, but they're fairly innocuous. It’s the same size at 127 x 12 x 165mm (WxDxH), but B&N managed to shave about five per cent off the weight of the GlowLight. The GlowLight checks in at 197 grams – 16 grams lighter than the Amazon Kindle Touch (which is priced identically to the GlowLight at £109), and only 27 grams heavier than the base model, the non-touch Amazon Kindle. In addition, a light grey plastic band encircles the GlowLight, in place of the dark grey band that blends in with the front bezel of the vanilla Nook Simple Touch. The back panel remains black, though.
The Nook Simple Touch GlowLight is made of a rubberised material that feels slightly less expensive than the Kindle Touch's soft touch form factor, and it still attracts dust a bit more than it should. On the plus side, B&N includes a power adapter in the package, giving it another advantage over the Kindle Touch.
While some have referred to the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight as the "backlit Nook,” that's not technically correct. In fact, it's actually edge lit along the top, although “backlit” gets the point across with far fewer words. To enable the edge lighting, you hold down the Home button at the bottom of the screen for two seconds. To turn it off again, hold it down for another two seconds. That's it. You can even do it while the touchscreen is still locked, making it easy to pick up the Nook in the dark and start reading.
A light bulb icon at the top right of the touchscreen lets you adjust the intensity of the lighting. I liked setting my test Nook to just under half intensity, but you can pump it up and brighten the room a bit, or turn it down to the point where even the lightest sleeper next to you wouldn't notice it without staring directly at the device. Otherwise, the 6in, anti-glare E-Ink screen itself remains the same as with the basic Simple Touch, with an 800 x 600 resolution and 16 shades of grey.
Testing the GlowLight
First off, we did some in-the-dark comparisons with the latest iPad – and found Apple’s tablet goes even dimmer than the Nook, almost to the point of illegibility. With the iPad Kindle app, for example, you get a separate brightness slider that’s independent of the iPad's main brightness control. You can set one all the way down, then set the other all the way down for even less backlighting. Still, I don’t think the GlowLight will disturb anyone. It’s a little tough to read at its lowest few settings; I recommend increasing the font size to compensate, in order to avoid eyestrain.
If you stare at the top of the screen with the lighting on, you'll see tiny bubbles of light that are a bit brighter than the rest of the display, thanks to the location of the edge lighting (see the above image). This isn't a major issue, seeing as you're not looking at that part of the display while reading, and otherwise, the lighting is fairly even. Check out the comparison shot below of the Simple Touch device on the left, versus the GlowLight (with the light on) on the right.
When using the GlowLight device with the light switched off, the text on the screen looks ever so slightly lighter than on the vanilla Simple Touch. This is most likely thanks to the new anti-glare coating, which does help with reflections, although the basic Simple Touch hardly has a problem in this area, anyway.
I did notice something odd with font rendering. On various pages, sometimes a few words (always together, as part of a phrase) would give the slightest appearance of boldface. Sometimes, I'd jump back a page, and then jump forward, and those words would no longer be bold. At other times, they still would. The basic Simple Touch also does this, by the way. It's easy to ignore, and is only noticeable with some fonts, but should still be noted.
In addition to turning pages with the touchscreen, B&N also builds hardware page turn buttons into the bezel, just as with the standard Nook Simple Touch. There are two on each side, and you can configure which ones go forward and which go backward. They’re unnecessarily stiff, though. I found it easier to ignore them and just use the touchscreen to turn pages.
Otherwise, the GlowLight model and basic Simple Touch version are the same. Other smart features include the Nook's ePUB support which opens up a world of books the Kindle can't access. The microSD slot gives you flexibility in side-loading books in various formats. The responsive touchscreen and choice of six fonts – at least three of which are very attractive to my eye – make for a pleasurable reading experience.
You can connect to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks. The GlowLight lops off about half of the Nook Simple Touch's battery life, assuming you leave it on all the time, which you most likely won't. You still get roughly a month’s worth of reading time, assuming half an hour per day with the GlowLight on.
There's also an appeal to this device that isn’t easy to quantify. There's something desirable about a purely focused reading device, and one that you can read at night, while your partner sleeps in bed next to you undisturbed. I could moan about the GlowLight’s £30 premium over the standard Simple Touch, and its shortened battery life. But that seems silly, given how much endurance it still has, and how welcome the GlowLight feature is. After all, if you don't want to use it, you can leave it off and treat it just like the vanilla Nook Simple Touch.
Either way, you really can’t go far wrong grabbing a Nook Simple Touch, or a Simple Touch GlowLight, when they arrive in October. Looking at Amazon’s line-up, for the same price as the GlowLight’s £109 tag, you can pick up a Kindle Touch with Wi-Fi. With the Kindle Touch, you’re getting a sleeker design, slightly darker text, and of course Amazon's superior online store.
However, the GlowLight punches back harder, with its edge lighting, ePUB compatibility, the microSD slot, better fonts, and its slightly lighter weight. And the edge lighting really is a very appealing, stand-out feature – and for all these reasons, the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight bags our Best Buy award.