In the "who knew they were still in business?" category, Barnes & Noble updated its touch-screen E Ink e-reader. The new Nook GlowLight is now the lightest e-reader on market, has a snazzy new look and costs $119, the same as the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. But before we judge the Nook by its cover, has Barnes & Noble kept pace with the competition's reading innovations?
Gone is the black and gray color scheme of last year's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. The new Nook GlowLight E Ink display is wrapped in white plastic with light gray silicone edging. Sadly, the trim isn't glued on, but simply snapped into place, which results in a visible gap. However, we do appreciate the bounce protection this offers the device, for those that are accident-prone. We also like the soft-touch feel of the backside.
The 6.5 x 5 x 0.42-inch Nook GlowLight is strikingly lightweight at 6.2 ounces. By comparison, the more rectangular, 6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4-inch Kindle Paperwhite 2013 weighs 7.3 ounces.
There are two buttons on the Nook GlowLight: the power button on the right edge, and the N button beneath the display. The N button can be used to turn the GlowLight on and off, wake the device from sleep or return to the Home screen.
Gone are the helpful page turn buttons on either side of the device and the microSD card slot. We would have liked Barnes & Noble to have kept both. There's no headphone jack, but that's no big surprise. Along the bottom edge is the microUSB charging port.
The E Ink display, which is slightly inset, features an infrared-controlled touch screen that is generally responsive. Barnes & Noble's e-reader comes with a built-in anti-glare screen protector. We expected it to feel gritty, but we couldn't discern any difference when compared with the E Ink screen on the Kindle Paperwhite.
The Nook GlowLight features a 6-inch (1024 x 768-pixel resolution) screen with 212 ppi that displays 16 levels of grayscale, identical to the Kindle Paperwhite. When we measured the brightness of both e-readers' backlights, the Nook's score of 490 lux blew away the Paperwhite's 333 score.
When viewing "The Casual Vacancy" on the new Kindle Paperwhite and Nook GlowLight with the backlights at 100 percent, we preferred the uniform light of the new Kindle, but the Nook's type appeared slightly sharper. Also, when viewing a picture of Kate Hudson on the Paperwhite, her skin tone looked much more natural and better defined than on the Nook GlowLight.
Barnes & Noble built in a glare-free screen protection layer for better reading in direct light. However, when compared in bright light with a Kindle Paperwhite, we didn't notice a difference.
Page turns were swift and smooth. In a side-by-side comparison with the Kindle Paperwhite, the Nook was a hair slower. However, gone is the traditional full-page flash that used to accompany every third page turn.
Inside the books are six font face options (half serif and half sans-serif) and seven text sizes from which to choose. Users can also adjust line spacing and margins or choose to use the publisher's defaults for each book.
Barnes & Noble added a swipe to unlock gesture in order to get to the home screen. Most of the time, we found this to be an unnecessary delay, and we wish there were a way in the Settings to turn off this feature. However, we can see how this might save some battery life if your e-reader was constantly turning on and off as it floated around in your bag.
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The GlowLight still runs Android 2.1 with a Barnes & Noble skin. However, once you're on the home page, you may notice that Barnes & Noble has simplified the interface a bit. A "New on Nook" section below recently opened content offers readers access to a curated list of content suggestions. However, we found it odd that only one suggestion is shown on the main page. Amazon shows a similar layout on the Paperwhite, but shows three book suggestions at the bottom of the page.
A persistent navigation bar at the bottom of the page is also new. It offers one-touch access to your library, the Barnes & Noble shop or a search bar. At the top right sits the time, a battery icon, a Wi-Fi icon, a gear for settings and a little light bulb icon that, when pressed, opens a control panel for toggling the GlowLight and for adjusting the brightness.
Pressing All Settings here brings up access to all other controls for the device, including social network syncing, time zone and shopping settings. While Barnes & Noble does not offer any specific parental controls, you can set the store to only be accessible via password.
You will not find games, music, audiobooks or a Web browser on this e-reader. But assuming you're using an e-reader to read, this isn't a big tradeoff.
Barnes & Noble has always offered a solid E Ink reading experience, and that hasn't changed on the GlowLight. However, when compared side-by-side with the Kindle Paperwhite, we prefer the black edging and more even light on the Amazon device.
While there are no physical page turn buttons on the Nook GlowLight, you can turn the pages on the device with a touch or a swipe.
There aren't a ton of bells and whistles inside a book. You won't find anything like Amazon's special features, which include X-Ray, In-Line Footnotes or Vocabulary Builder. These features are nice to have, particularly for students. However, you can highlight sections and leave notes for yourself. You can also jump to any point in a book through the pop-up panel that appears at the bottom of pages in a book.
We were also disappointed that Barnes & Noble hasn't jumped on the parental controls bandwagon. From iPhones to tablets, to now even the Kindle Paperwhite, parents should feel safe in handing off their devices to kids. Kindle is bringing its FreeTime service to the Paperwhite, which means not only will parents be able to determine what content is safe for their children to read, but also how long they read. The Paperwhite parental controls will also offer badges for reading comprehension and sending parents report cards. You'll find none of that on the Nook GlowLight.
The on-screen keyboard of the Nook GlowLight features small square keys. Tapping one causes it to blink black for a second. We would have appreciated Barnes & Noble adding predictive typing, as Amazon did. But hopefully, you won't need to type that often on this device. It's just a tiny bit too large for one-handed typing. There is a bit of a lag, which makes it frustrating for typing more than a word or so into a search bar.
Books, Newspapers and Magazines
Barnes & Noble boasts a selection of 3 million titles in its Nook store. About 2,000 of those will fit into the 4GB of internal storage on the GlowLight. Amazon, whose Paperwhite only offers 2GB of storage, won't admit to its library selection size.
The Nook Newsstand has more than 2,080 magazines and 515 newspapers available for digital subscription that start at around $1. By comparison, the Kindle store offers 172 magazines and 172 newspapers.
Barnes & Noble, like Amazon, lets users lend some books to other Nook owners. Eligible books -- those marked as LendMe -- can be borrowed by your Nook Friends. New friends can be added through your social contacts, which are set up through the Social section of the Settings Menu. A loan lasts 14 days.
Downloading books proved as painless as ever, as we were able to download "A Dance with Dragons" by George R.R. Martin in less than 20 seconds. In addition to Wi-Fi, Barnes & Noble offers free in-store Wi-Fi to all Nook users, plus free Wi-Fi at AT&T hotspots across the United States (more than 24,000 so far).
Unfortunately, the Nook search function is still flawed. No matter the section from which you're browsing, searching for a phrase brings up results from the entire catalog, not just books or magazines. And the results you do get don't always make the most sense. For instance, we couldn't specify magazines when searching for "Time." And the well-known publication doesn't show up on the first page of results. Instead, the first result was for a magazine called "Tea Time."
We do like that Barnes & Noble has ported its Nook Channels over from the company's tablets. Channels are curated lists based on common personality/interest types. For instance, for the History Buff, you'll find a special list of current content that may interest you.
Since the Nook uses the EPUB file format, owners won't be limited to Barnes & Noble's store. Books from Google, Kobo and Sony will work, too. And you can borrow local library books for free. However, users won't be able to read Amazon e-books or Apple's iBooks here. Barnes & Noble's e-reader also only supports PDF-formatted documents. We were disappointed not to find RTF, DOC or TXT file support.
Notes and Sharing
Creating notes is as easy as pressing and holding your finger over a word in the text of a book. When you've got the word or quote highlighted, a pop-up menu appears at the bottom of the display for highlighting, adding notes, checking a definition or sharing passages via email, Facebook or Twitter. Thankfully, you do not have to see every passage that other readers have thought important enough to highlight, as you do on the Kindle by default.
On Facebook messages, the book's cover appears with a link to buy the book, along with the quote. Via Twitter, a select passage automatically carries a shortened link to buy the book and the hashtag #Nook. Although you can connect your Google+ contacts through the Nook GlowLight, you cannot share a passage easily to Google+. Instead, this connection is more useful for adding Nook Friends.
When you select Add Note, a pop-up text box and keyboard appear. Selecting Done closes this window and puts a small Post-it icon in the margin near the highlighted text.
Nook Friends connects users with Barnes & Noble accounts for social reading. Limited to Nook and Nook Color users (not those with just the mobile apps), this basic social network is meant to mirror the ways people share books and recommendations offline.
On the Nook, you can see a news feed of updates from your Nook Friends, including how far they are in books and the ones they've reviewed. You can also see which of their books are lendable and request a book from a friend. We didn't find this feature particularly useful because it offers such a limited user base. You can invite friends to join, but they'll still need to be Nook owners.
Barnes & Noble claims the Nook GlowLight will last 8 weeks on a charge. That's a huge improvement over last year's model that was only meant to last 3 weeks. The bookseller's claim is based on a half-hour of reading at a time with one page refresh per minute with GlowLight on at default brightness. This claim is on par with Amazon's endurance claims for the Kindle Paperwhite.
The new $119 Nook GlowLight is incredibly lightweight, offers more storage than the competition and features a very bright backlight. And, although there are only 700 Barnes & Noble stores left in the United States, we do like that there's a physical location we can bring a Nook to get it serviced.
For the same price, though, the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite offers a dimmer, but more even backlight, and includes more features, such as X-Ray, parental controls and Vocabulary Builder. For Barnes & Noble bookworms, the new Nook GlowLight might be a nighttime page-turner. However, if you can live without a backlight and you're tied to Barnes & Noble content, we'd recommend you pick up the Nook Simple Touch for just $79.